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Bassist Haynes in His Element at Spaghettini


SEAL BEACH — The bass solo, the butt of uncountable musicians' jokes, is considered by many to be the down time of a jazz tune. After the excitement of the horns and the harmonies of the piano, the lowly bass gets a quiet chorus or two as if to say, "I exist, too, damn it!"

It's the time fans often start to fidget and the bartender fires up a blender full of margaritas. If you've got something to say to your companions, the bass solo is the time to do it.

But at Spaghettini on a busy Saturday night, things are a bit different. People actually quiet down to hear the bass player work up an improvisation to Sonny Rollins' "Doxie." The bassist, Bobby Haynes, rewards them with fleet, well-pitched phrases, lines that toy with the famous melody while developing character of their own.

Haynes' fingers race up and down his instrument as he crouches to hit notes in the higher register. Then slowly standing erect as the tones descend in pitch, Haynes breaks back into the classic bass walk as the sax and keyboard rejoin him.

Later, with vocalist Pat Livingston crooning "Summertime," Haynes seems to take on an added role. He decorates the spaces between Livingston's lines with quick fills that echo and embellish her singing, before falling back into the rhythmic framework.

Haynes has been weaving his bass dreams on Saturdays at Spaghettini for almost five years now. The well-traveled session man, whose resume includes stints with Percy Mayfield, Chico Hamilton, Lou Rawls, Lena Horne and John Mayall, has found a home in the Italian restaurant's comfortable lounge.

That suits him just fine.

"I'm finally getting to be a bandleader after all these years," Haynes, 60, says.

Haynes was born in East St. Louis where, family legend has it, Miles Davis' father was his dentist. He moved to Los Angeles with his family when he was 10, took up the bass at 14 and studied with the same instructor who coached Charles Mingus during high school.

He hung out in his teens with trumpeter Don Cherry, and the two frequently played Armand's, the now-defunct East L.A. club. A drummer there recommended the young bassist to Percy Mayfield and suddenly, Haynes was touring the country with the R&B crooner-pianist who wrote "Hit the Road, Jack."

Haynes spent some 30 years on the road, touring with everyone from Dexter Gordon to Raquel Welch. He worked with drummer Stix Hooper's band, the Nighthawks, before they became famous as the Jazz Crusaders. He recorded instrumental tracks for a host of Motown acts including Marvin Gaye, the Supremes and Martha & the Vandellas.

But after six years with blues man John Mayall, Haynes decided it was time to settle down, leaving the band in 1990. Though he's been seen in a number of L.A. clubs, including Lunaria, Mum's in Long Beach and the Paradise Club, and he's scheduled to play the Coffee Plantation in the Newport Beach's Fashion Island shopping center on Thursday, Haynes' steady gig is at Spaghettini, where he also books acts two other nights of the week.

"Spaghettini has been great for me," he says. "It's just what every musician wants--a place to call home."

In turn, Haynes seems to have been good for Spaghettini, bringing in a crowd to hear his quartet-plus-vocalist explore jazz standards, R&B numbers and the occasional request. Currently, the band includes saxophonist Clarence Webb, who's worked with the likes of Joe Williams, Ernie Andrews, Sonny Stitt and Jimmy Witherspoon, plus pianist Michelle Faber and drummer Maurice Miller.

Haynes was instrumental in the production of the recent "Live at Spaghettini" compilation album, which gives a good overview of the type of music found there. Now he's concentrating on his own project, a collection of standards and Haynes' originals arranged by saxophonist Gordon Brisker, Anita O'Day's longtime musical director.

"It's not going to be full of bass solos, but oriented more toward being a music [album], a sounds album," he said. "There'll be four horns on the date, and the songs are very hip. Gordon has given me a sound I wouldn't have thought of myself.

"I might go on the road to promote the album," Haynes said, "but I'll never turn my back on Spaghettini. They've really been good to me."

* The Bobby Haynes Quartet with Pat Livingston plays Saturdays at Spaghettini, 3005 Old Ranch Parkway, Seal Beach. 8 p.m. No cover. (310) 596-2199.

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