Coleman Hawkins

Scott Yanow’s biography of Coleman Hawkins – He was one of the most important tenor saxophonists of all time. Hawkins, a consistent modern improviser whose understanding of chords and harmonys was unparalleled, enjoyed a 40 year prime (1925-1965), during which time he was as good as any competitor. Coleman Hawkins began piano lessons at five years old, then switched to cello when he was seven and, two years later, started tenor. Hawkins wanted to create his own sound at a time when the Saxophone was a novelty instrument. Hawkins, who was 12 years old when he became a professional, was playing in a Kansas City pit band when Mamie Smith hired Hawkins to join her Jazz Hounds. Hawkins played a supporting role with the blues singer from June 1923 to June 1923. He was also occasionally heard on instrumentals. He left Smith to freelance around New York and played briefly with Wilbur Swatman. In August 1923, he recorded his first recordings with Fletcher Henderson. Hawkins was the star tenor of Henderson’s January 1924 permanent orchestra. Coleman Hawkins, due to a lack of competition, was the best tenor in jazz at that time. However, his staccato runs as well as use of slaptonguing sound very old today. But, Hawkins was able to learn from Henderson’s relaxed, legato style and quickly advanced after he joined Henderson later that year. Hawkins had become a prominent soloist by 1925. His solo on “Stampede”, the next year, was influential. Hawk, who doubled on clarinet and bass Sax in his early years, would continue to be with Fletcher Henderson’s Orchestra until 1934. During this period, he was the clear pacesetter among tenors. Bud Freeman was about as close to Hawkins’s sounding tenor than Hawkins. Hawkins recorded with McKinney’s Cotton Pickers and he also recorded solos with Henderson. In 1929, Hawkins released his first ballad, “One Hour,” which he co-wrote with Red McKenzie. Coleman Hawkins was fed up with the Fletcher Henderson Orchestra’s struggling and forced him to move to Europe. He spent five years (1934-1939), overseas. First, he played with Jack Hylton’s Orchestra of England and then freelanced across the continent. The 1937 recording of his most well-known recording was a date with Benny Carter and Alix Combille. This resulted in the classic renditions “Crazy Rhythm” (and “Honeysuckle Rose”) Hawkins made his return to America in 1939 as World War II was near. Hawkins proved that he was still a strong force in the music industry by winning several heated jam sessions. Hawkins’ recording of “Body and Soul”, which he recorded in 1940, became his most well-known record. Hawkins, who was a member of a large band that failed to gain popularity in 1940, broke the group up and became a fixture at 52nd Street. His best recordings, including the stunning quartet version “The Man I Love”, were made in the first half 1940s. Hawkins, a 20-year-old veteran, encouraged younger musicians to be bop-oriented and didn’t need to change his harmonically advanced style to play with them. Thelonious Monk was his 1944 quartet. He also had Miles Davis and Oscar Pettiford as sidemen. In California, he toured with a sextet that included Howard McGhee. And in 1946, he used J.J. Johnson on record dates. Hawkins was a frequent tour leader with Jazz at the Philharmonic from 1946-1950. He also visited Europe on a few occasions and recorded “Picasso”, the first solo saxophone solo unaccompanied, in 1948. Some considered Hawkins to be out-of-fashion by the mid-’50s as the Four Brothers’ Lester Young-influenced sound had been a greater influence on young tenors that Hawkins’. Hawkins continued to work and record, and was enjoying a revival in the middle of the 1950s. Sonny Rollins, a young musician, considered Hawkins his main inspiration. He began to work with Roy Eldridge regularly in an exciting quintet (their appearance in the 1957 Newport Jazz Festival was noteworthy), and he proved that he is still in his prime. Coleman Hawkins was seen in a variety of settings. He played with Red Allen’s Dixieland band at The Metropole and led a bop date with J.J. Johnson and Idrees. Coleman Hawkins recorded with Duke Ellington in the first half 1960s. He also collaborated with Sonny Rollins on a bizarre session and even did a bossa Nova album. Hawkins, who seemed to be ageless by 1965, was already showing the influence John Coltrane through his explorative flights. Unfortunately, 1965 was Coleman Hawkins last good year. Hawkins lost interest in life, whether it was frustration or senility. Hawkins stopped eating and began to drink more. He then quickly lost interest in life. Hawkins’ final three-and-a-half years of work, during which he almost stopped recording, are not up to the standard one would expect from the master. There are many outstanding Coleman Hawkins recordings available and, as Eddie Jefferson stated in his vocalese rendition of “Body and Soul”, “he was the King of the Saxophone.”

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