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Robin Kenyatta: 1942-2004
Robin Kenyatta

Born: March 6, 1942 in Monk's Corner, SC
Died: October 26, 2004 in Lausanne, Switzerland

Versatile reeds player and educator

by Ayo Kenyatta Haynes
Copyright © 2004 Ayo Kenyatta Haynes

Saxophonist and educator Robin Kenyatta, whose bright career included service with Sonny Stitt, Dizzy Gillespie and B.B. King, died in his sleep on Tuesday, October 26, 2004, in Lausanne, Switzerland, where he was preparing for a sold-out concert in Lucerne. He was sixty-two years old.

Born Robert Prince Haynes on March 6, 1942, in Monk's Corner, South Carolina, Bobby, as he was affectionately called by his family, was the third child of Thomas and Rebecca Haynes. He moved to New York with his family at the age of four. While in high school, at fourteen, he began playing the alto saxophone. After graduation he spent two years playing as a sideman in local clubs and had his first gig at 19 at a hotel in the mountains of the Jewish Borscht belt. In 1962 he enlisted in the Army where he played in the jazz band. During that time, he met the composer Russell Garcia and learned to write music while perfecting his sound on the tenor, alto, and soprano saxophones and flute. After two years, he went back to the clubs of New York and formed his first band, which played the music of his heroes, Charlie Parker, John Coltrane and Ben Webster. Likening his music style to that of his political idol, Jomo Kenyatta, Robert Prince Haynes forevermore became known as Robin Kenyatta.

At 23, he got his first chance to record when he supported pianist Valerie Capers on her 1965 album ''Portrait in Soul.'' The next year, he performed on Sonny Stitt's album Deuces Wild: Introducing Robin Kenyatta, which announced his arrival to the jazz world. His own first album,Robin Kenyatta: Until, released in 1968, showcased his love and savvy for avant-garde and be-bop styles.

In 1969, he went to Paris for two weeks and stayed for three years. Upon moving back to New York, he landed a contract with Atlantic Records. His version of ''Last Tango in Paris'' garnered industry respect for his incredible sound and became one of his biggest hits. While with Atlantic, he went on to record Gypsy Man, Terra Nova and Stompin' at the Savoy, the latter of which led critics to christen him "The Magician of Swing".

Robin felt that American jazz was becoming too conservative and status quo and went back to Europe, where the audiences embraced him and his musical style. While making his home in Switzerland, he traveled the world sharing his music with jazz lovers. In over thirty years in Europe he performed at some of the most esteemed jazz festivals of the world, such as the Montreux Jazz Festival, and with incomparable performers like Dizzy Gillespie, George Benson and B.B. King, just to name a few. Although not on a major record label for many years, Robin continued to record and produce albums featuring music he instinctually knew audiences wanted to hear. With a discography of over twenty records, Cool Blue, recorded in New York in 2001, was an autobiographical album that reflected the maturing of Robin's music and person, and his desire to return to his roots.

Between concerts, he taught at the Ecole de Jazz Musique Actuelle and later founded Hello Jazz Music School, both in Lausanne, Switzerland. Robin loved teaching adults and children the fundamentals of jazz while they also learned how to play various musical instruments. In 2002, this love of teaching opened the door for his return home to the United States and his reintroduction to the American jazz scene. Robin landed a job he enjoyed immensely, teaching several music courses to business students at Bentley College in Waltham, MA, the alma mater of his daughter.

January of 2003, at the Regatta Bar in Boston, marked Robin's first performance in America in over twenty years. Robin followed up that performance with several more in New York and Boston. Never one to just sit home, Robin enjoyed looking up old friends and colleagues from his early days in New York, and took great satisfaction in reintroducing himself to old fans while making new ones.

Over the last year, the music that Robin became incredibly passionate about and longed to record was his jazz interpretations and arrangements of American Negro Spirituals. A consummate professional and performer Robin loved keeping his audiences guessing as to what was next for him musically. A natural charmer with a smile that could warm the coldest heart, Robin was a musician that commanded and demanded respect of his music. His regal dress and distinctive style told the world that he was a step above the rest. He was a man who loved life and looked forward to garnering the acclaim he had once achieved in the 60's and 70's.

Robin was the proud father of three children who will miss him sorely: Ayo, his daughter, and his two sons, Brandon and Lorin. Also left to mourn him are his mother Rebecca, brother Thomas, sister Doris, grandchildren Shantelle and Brandon, Jr., great-aunts Lethabell Brown, Ella Mae Brown, and Jane Crawford, nephew Terrence and nieces Sherrell, Erin and Nicole. And though not related by blood but mourning him like a brother nonetheless, his dear friends Joseph Boua and Peter Treichler, and friends of all ages too countless in number and too precious in memory to miss listing.

Through his music, Robin was blessed to have made many friends around the world, and considered Switzerland to be his second home. Two memorial services will be held in his honor. The first in Lausanne on Tuesday, November 2 and the second in New York City during the week of November 8th. More details on the latter service will follow.

(Ayo Kenyatta Haynes)

Ayo Kenyatta Haynes
Ayo Kenyatta Haynes is the daughter of Robin Kenyatta.

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With 4 reader comments, latest September 15, 2008