Hazy Ray trombonist Michael Hayes plays shirtless on the stage of Chelsea’s Cafe. Hayes and lead singer Joshua Ray started the jazz and blues band in 2011 while the two were in college at Louisiana State University.
By: Leah Stogner
He steps into the spotlight with a new shirt. Wait, that’s not a shirt. That is skin. Female eyes turn to the stage in a ripple effect. The chiseled, tattooed man with a trombone in his hands continues to play—shirtless.
“It’s amazing what you can accomplish with positivity,” musician Michael Hayes said. “Confidence is part of it.”
From the audience’s perspective, the trombone player of Baton Rouge’s Hazy Ray band is nothing shy of confident. Hayes says he has not always been so self-assured. His childhood was the complete opposite.
As a child, Hayes struggled with his weight. He would not take his shirt off to swim, and sports were a challenge for him. He said that happiness is not something he remembers from his younger years.
Yet, Hayes soon found happiness when he developed an interest in music. However, he found even then that his weight affected his choice in musical instruments. Hayes wanted to play the flute, but his body type didn’t match the instrument’s size.
“I was too fat to play the flute,” Hayes said. “My fingers were too short and fat to cover the holes.”
In junior high, Hayes discovered the baritone, a larger, brass instrument, and he began to develop a love and talent for playing music. With the music came confidence, Hayes admitted that he became a “cocky asshole” when he realized just how good he was on the baritone.
The newfound confidence led him to advance quickly in the high school band. Hayes said he became bored because he thought he knew everything there was to know. His arrogance caused him to have little respect for authority.
“I started doing my own thing, which wasn’t good,” Hayes said. “Well, to my director’s eyes it wasn’t.”
When Hayes graduated from high school and joined Louisiana State University’s Golden Band from Tiger Land in Baton Rouge, he became less haughty. He remained confident in his ability to play music but he still lacked confidence when he looked in the mirror.
“LSU really triggered the body issues,” Hayes said. “I realized at that point that I had tools available for me to get better.”
With a meal plan and a free gym, Hayes used his resources to overcome what he called the “body image complex” that he had developed. He began to shed weight, and he began for the first time to feel confident in his new physique.
“Keeping my physical body healthy is important to me on a multitude of plains,” Hayes said. “It’s important for me because I cherish life and want to enjoy it.”
Enjoying life is what Hayes does since he graduated from LSU with a degree in music performance. The trombonist and his band travel through the United States to play bluesy, jazz shows. During his performances, he often sheds his shirt.
Hayes said he began his shirtless ritual after seeing David Shaw of The Revivalists do it at Varsity Theatre in Baton Rouge. Shaw’s confidence had an effect on Hayes—an effect that Hayes wanted to create.
Going topless started as a selfish thing, Hayes said, but now it’s a part of the show. However, Hayes said his cocky side, which is now part of his past, is strictly a stage act.
“Me on the stage is a separate entity,” Hayes said. “That arrogance isn’t who I am on a daily basis.”
While the musician is not playing brass on stage, he is pursuing other outlets. The tattooed trombonist’s interests off-stage include personal training, music and modeling. Hayes said he will be happy to use whichever outlet that offers opportunity.
Hayes said his ultimate goal is “to be greater than just living.” He said he wants to have a positive impact on others whether it is through his music or not. The optimist’s end goal is to become a public speaker.
“Whichever outlet works, I just want to reach the most people in the fastest way with the most positive impact,” Hayes said. “You never really know what can happen.”
Video Credit: Sahara Lounge in Austin, Texas