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Eugene Haynes

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EAST ST. LOUIS - Classical pianist and composer, native son Eugene Haynes, died Monday. He was 80.

As a contemporary and friend of "cool jazz" innovator Miles Davis, Haynes played piano to Davis' trombone in the school band at Lincoln High School. After graduating in 1944, both went on to the Juliard School of Music.

While Davis took the jazz route, Haynes stuck to the classics. He performed and recorded a range of music -- from Rachmaninoff to Scott Joplin to his own gospel compositions.

"I liked jazz but that was Miles' music," Haynes said in a 2005 interview.

After graduating from Juliard, Haynes moved to France to hone his musical talent. During the early and mid-1950s, Haynes toured major concert halls in France, Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands, becoming fluent in French and Danish. He befriended the reclusive writer, Isak Dinesen, author of "Out of Africa," who would become his benefactor.

In 1958, Haynes performed at New York's Carnegie Hall. Critics described Haynes "one of the greatest musical talents America has produced." Teacher and critic Isidore Philip described him as "a musician to his fingertips."

Haynes returned to the states in the 1960s and became a professor and artist-in-residence at Lincoln University in Jefferson City, Mo. In the 1980s, he served as the director of the Katherine Dunham Center for the Performing Arts at Southern Illinois University-East St. Louis campus.

After his retirement, Haynes moved back home to East St. Louis. Just weeks before his death, he entered a Belleville nursing home. A cause of death was not released by the family. Haynes never married and had no children. His extended family included sisters, nieces and nephews.

Haynes' last album, "The Eugene Haynes Collection, Volume I," was released in 2005. He also published an autobiography, "To Soar With Eagles." Both are available at www.eugenehayes.com.

Funeral arrangements have not been finalized.

Published in Belleville News-Democrat on Feb. 9, 2007
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