Bradford Hayes is known for playing the alto sax, but he is also known, at least to a large and growing group of people in Newark, as a teacher. For the past 26 years, he has been a schoolteacher, and for the past 16 years he has been a music teacher and bandmaster at Luis Munoz Marin Middle School in Newark.
He has actually encouraged those studying music in college to major in music education rather than music performance. The children in our schools need responsible adults to teach them about life, and musicians can teach music to children in the same manner, Hayes says. “You may not always get the gig, but you can always teach the youngsters who need you,” he said. About 85 percent of Hayes’ students have gone on to Arts High School in Newark, which has produced jazz greats such as Wayne Shorter, Woody Shaw, and Sarah Vaughan.
Hayes will be performing in two venues this week. On Thursday, August 7, he appears at Millyard Park on South Clinton Avenue in Trenton as part of the Mercer County Cultural and Heritage Commission’s summer Concerts in the Park series. On Monday, August 11, he will appear at the Princeton Public Library.
At his performances this week, Hayes will be playing music from his latest record, “The Jazz Life.” He will be sharing the stage with Michael Cochrane on piano, Takashi Otsuka on bass, and Greg Searvance on drums.
Hayes, 49, has performed all over the United States, including shows in Carnegie Hall, the Beacon Theater, Birdland, Tavern on the Green and S.O.B’s in New York. He has also played gigs in Paris, Tokyo, Veracruz, Mexico, Ghana, and Canada. Hayes has appeared, either live or on record, as a sideman with the late, iconic Nigerian drummer Babatunde Olatunji, with whom he was associated for 15 years, as well as artists such as Yusef Lateef, Ted Curson, Joe Lee Wilson, Jimmy Heath, Al Grey, Cecil Payne, Rufus Reid, Ray Bryant, Winard Harper, Ben Riley, Dr. Lonnie Smith, Cecil Brooks III, Jerry Butler, and the Dells.
He has been a traveler for some time. A native of Petersburg, VA, Hayes was raised primarily by his aunt and uncle, Katherine and Odell Reese, after his parents, Morris and Ethel Hayes, broke up when he was a young child. “My mother and father without any doubt loved me very much and I always knew this, but when they couldn’t get along I became a pawn in that chess game of divorce,” he says. He first moved to his maternal grandparents’ home and then to that of another aunt and uncle before moving in with the Reeses.
Odell and Katherine Reese, Hayes says, were “gifts from God. They raised me as if I were their own.” The family lived on a farm in Dinwiddie County, where “we had chickens, hogs, and all of the fresh vegetables one could ever dream of.” Hayes’ aunt and uncle were strict disciplinarians. “Believe me, I needed it,” he says. “Without them having been in my life, I would be nothing. I owe them everything; I owe God for putting them on Earth for me.”
Hayes now lives in Hillside, Union County, with his wife, Carolyn, his daughter Bianca, 12, and twin sons Bradford Jr. and Morris Odell, 7. Morris Odell, of course, is named for his father and his uncle.
Before ending up in Dinwiddie County, VA, Hayes spent his early elementary school years in Anchorage, Alaska, where his uncle, Tommy Jackson, was an Army drill sergeant stationed at Fort Richardson. After returning to Virginia as a third-grader, Hayes began becoming interested in music. At the age of 11, he began playing the saxophone. It soon became a passion. Hayes credits his music teachers in junior high, high school, and college for continuing to foster this passion.
“I am the first musician in my immediate family,” he says. “I was hooked on the saxophone at the age of 11, and I did learn the basics of the instrument very quickly.” His elementary school music teacher at Rohoic Elementary, Mr. Crummett, was Hayes’ first influence. “He was very patient and made sure that we knew the basics and learned how to read music.”
Then, at Dinwiddie County Junior High and High School, his teacher was Robert Harvey. “Mr. Harvey is the main reason I am so passionate about teaching today,” says Hayes. “He was really big on learning how to read music.” Growing up in rural Virginia, however, Hayes never got a real chance to listen to or play jazz. He listened primarily to what he could hear on the radio in the 1970s: Earth Wind & Fire, and R&B and pop bands such as Newark’s own Kool and the Gang, as well as Cameo, the Commodores, the Doobie Brothers, and Chicago. It was after he heard the Crusaders, with Wilton Felder and Grover Washington Jr., the man who created smooth jazz, that Hayes began really wanting to play the music as part of his life. “It just drew me in more and more,” he says.
Football was also a passion. After graduating from high school, Hayes went to North Carolina A&T State University, a historically black school in Greensboro, where he was a member of the football squad. The male athletes there were encouraged by teachers and others to major in physical education. Hayes, as a youth, had wanted to become an NFL player, but after high school, he decided that music was a better option and refused to major in phys ed, he says. “Being the difficult one, I just said no.”
At A&T, as in junior high and high school, Hayes was fortunate to encounter some high-quality mentors. “I didn’t know who Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, Duke Ellington or any of these cats were until I went to North Carolina A&T State University,” he says. He credits two professors, Ted McDaniels and William C. Smiley, with teaching him what real jazz was.
“Even then I was embedded in the R&B world, and I had to mature into what a saxophonist should be really focusing on. I would say I started getting serious about this at around 20 years old, and then I still had to be de-programmed and then re-programmed,” Hayes says.
In 1981, Hayes graduated from North Carolina A&T with a bachelor’s degree in music education. He believes he has had a fulfilling life as a teacher and a performer. “Teaching is something that I never thought that I would be doing 25 years later, but as I said I am the first musician in the family, and I was raised to be responsible for myself. Education was my way of repaying all the blessings given to me. Every year my objective has been to give my students the best possible opportunity go to a good high school, giving them a chance to go on to college and have the best possible life that they can,” he says.
Bradford Hayes Quartet, Thursday, August 7, noon, Millyard Park, South Clinton Avenue, Trenton, Trenton. Concert featuring the group’s newest CD, “The Jazz Life.” Free. 609-448-7107.
Also, Monday, August 11, 7 p.m., Princeton Public Library, 65 Witherspoon Street. 609-924-9529 or www.princetonlibrary.org.