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Hawkins, Coleman 1904–1969

Coleman Hawkins 19041969

Jazz saxophonist

At a Glance

Saxophone Boy

Thrived in After-Hours Jams

Wowed With Body and Soul

Selected discography

Sources

Listen to recordings of any jazz saxophone player made in the last 50 years and you will be hearing the influence of Coleman Hawkins, the Father of the Tenor Saxophone. During the early part of his career Hawkins was known simply as the best tenor player in the world; but he now has the rare distinction of being considered a revolutionary, virtuoso performer at a level attained by only a small collection of great jazz musicians. His legacy is a combination of dazzling live performances, a myriad of recordings that remain a vital component of our musical treasury, and innovations and tasteful creativity that continue to inspire musicians and listeners.

As an artist, Hawks life contained many contradictions. In his younger days he redefined the role of the saxophone with bold and insightful solos, but in later years he hated to listen to his recordings from that period. He helped launch bebop but never fully embraced it and though he was the consummate jazz musician, he did not follow in the degenerative footsteps that led to early death or poverty for so many of his contemporaries. When Hawkins died in 1969, he was remembered at his memorial service by virtually every important jazz musician of the time, as well as a throng of admirers who lined up on the streets outside to pay homage to the great American musician, the man known affectionately as Bean.

Hawkins was born in 1904 in the small town of St. Joseph, Missouri. His parents both loved music, especially his mother, who was a pianist and organist. When he was five years old, Hawkins began piano lessons and took up the cello, learning classical music, which would provide a foundation for his exploration into more modern music. As John Chilton stated in his book Song of the Hawk, He was well versed in the classics, as in popular tunes, but his destiny lay in granting form and beauty to the art of improvising jazz. Although Hawkins practiced piano and cello conscientiously, his mother insisted that he demonstrate even more effort and would entice him to play with small rewards. When young Coleman discovered the saxophone, however, he no longer needed enticementhe had found the instrument that would bring him international fame.

Hawkins landed his first professional gig when he was overheard trying out a new mouthpiece by a musician, who then gave the precocious 12-year-old work in local dance bands. When famed blues singer Maime Smith came to Kansas City, Missouri, she hired Coleman to augment her band, the Jazz Hounds. The band was so impressed that they asked the

At a Glance

Born November 21, 1904, in St. Joseph, MO; died May 19, 1969, in New York, NY; mother was a pianist and organist; wives names were Gertrude and Delores; children: Rene (a son), Colette, Mrs. Melvin Wright. Education: Attended Washburn College.

Began playing professionaly in local dance bands, 1916; performed with Maime Smith and the Jazz Hounds as Saxophone Boy and made recording debut, 1922-23; performed with Fletcher Henderson Band, 1923-34; performed and recorded in Europe, 1934-39; formed own band and recorded Body and Soul, 1939; led own big band at Daves Swingland, Chicago, 1944; returned to Europe for series of engagements, 1947; played on 52nd St., New York City, late 1940s-early 1950s; continued to record and perform, U.S. and Europe, late 1950s, 1960s.

Awards: Numerous first-place honors in Esquire best tenor saxophone poll.

teenager if he would like to join them on tour. Garvin Bushell, a reed player with the Hounds, recalled to Chilton that, despite his age, Hawkins was already a complete musician. His sight reading and musicianship was faultless even at that young age, Bushell said of the young sax player.

Saxophone Boy

Though she had encouraged her talented son to become a professional musician, Hawkinss mother deemed him too young to go out on the road. But when the Jazz Hounds returned two years later, they were still interested in recruiting Hawkins; so, in 1922with the stipulation that Maime Smith become his legal guardianMrs. Hawkins relented, and Hawkins, billed by the Jazz Hounds as Saxophone Boy, set out on his first long-term touring engagement.

In May of that year Hawkins made his recording debut with Smith on Mean Daddy Blues, on which he was given a prominent role. Hawk learned a great deal on the tour and, playing everyday, developed a self-confidence that eventually enabled him to leave the band and set out for New York to play the Harlem cabaret circuit. These were good days for an accomplished musician like Hawkins, and there was no shortage of gigs or challenging after-hours jam sessions.

Eventually Hawkins was discovered by bandleader Fletcher Henderson, who recruited the young man for his big band, one of the most successful outfits of the 1920s. It wasnt long before Hawkins established himself as an exceptional talent, even among the exceptionally talented musicians already in the band. He was only 20 years old, but he was making good money and was carving out a reputation in and around New York as the king of the sax.

In addition to his playing, Hawkins stood out among his peerswho had nicknamed him Bean for the shape of his headin terms of speech and manner. Always the sophisticate, he now made it a point to be stylishly dressed as well. This did not go unnoticed by the women in his circle, who generally found Coleman a charming and irresistible companion. And if he were unable to charm some musical colleagues with his quiet personality, his horn playing usually did the job. Evidence of this came when Hawkins had a run-in with a club owner, who demanded that Henderson fire Hawk on the spot. But the band stood by their tenorman and threatened to walk if Hawk were ejected.

In 1924 the Henderson Band was joined by a young trumpet player named Louis Armstrong, who, though he never really got along with Hawkins, provided a musical challenge to the saxophonist, as well as an influence in phrasing and rhythm that Hawk would eventuallythough he would be reluctant to acknowledge itincorporate and expand on. Armstrongs arrival brought new breadth to Hawkins musical expressiveness, Chilton remarked, and, more importantly, streamlined his phrasing.

This dynamic would be repeated; Hawkins later expressed disaffection for his chief rival on the tenor, Lester Young. Although with Armstrong it seemed to be a personal dislikeHawkins never disparaged the trumpeters playingwith Young he expressed on more than one occasion an inability to understand Youngs popularity.

Thrived in After-Hours Jams

After engagements with the Henderson band, Hawk would regularly head uptown to the Harlem cabarets, where he would sit in on jam sessions and challenge other musicians, preferably other horn players. During these cutting sessions, Hawk would routinely leave his competitors grasping for air as he carved them up in front of the delighted audience, reported Chilton. When a young cat came to New York, Chilton quoted Hawkins as having explained in the magazine Cadence, I had to take care of him quick.

Regardless of his undisputed position and popularity at the time, though, Hawkins hated looking back on this early period of his career. In the November, 1946, issue of Metronome, he told jazz writer Leonard Feather, I thought I was playing alright at the time, too, but it sounds awful to me now. I hate to listen to it. Im ashamed of it. In fact, Hawkins lamented in an interview with English journalist Mark Gardner, printed in liner notes to the Spotlight album Disorder at the Border: The Coleman Hawkins Quintet, despite electrifying live shows, the Fletcher Henderson Band never recorded well. I never understood why that band could never record, Hawk told Gardner. Yet in person it was the most stompin, pushinest band I ever heard.

In 1934, after 11 years with Henderson, Hawkins left and went on a five-year sojourn to Europe, an experience so rewarding that he enthusiastically looked forward to returning in later years. He was originally scheduled to play only in England, but his dates there were so successful that he was quickly signed for a year-long European tour. In a 1962 issue of Down Beat, Hawkins recalled his first international exposure: It was my first experience of an audience in Europe. And it was a huge stage. Just to walk out there was something. And then I was very well received.

After his work in England, Hawkins traveled to Scandinavia and the Continent, where he received consistent praise and adulation from audiences and reviewers alike. During his stay he developed lasting friendships, as well as an expanding admiration for the art, theater, and larger culture of Europe. He may have remained abroad longer, but the gathering of political storm clouds prompted his departureand triumphant return to the States.

News of Hawkinss conquest of Europe quickly reached the U.S. and when he resumed his place on the New York jazz scene, it was not as a sideman, but as a leader; he formed a nine-piece band and took up residency at Kellys Stable, from which his outfit received a recording deal.

Wowed With Body and Soul

On October 11, 1939, Hawk took his band into the studio and came away with one of the most famous records in the history of jazz. According to many jazz musicians of the time, the day after Body and Soul was released, everyone was talking about it. Hawks solo on the tune was a lilting, dynamic, and incomparable work of art never before even suggested, and it would change the way solos were conceived and executed from that day on. As Chilton stated, [With Body and Soul] Coleman Hawkins achieved the apotheosis of his entire career, creating a solo that remains the most perfectly achieved and executed example of jazz tenor-sax playing ever recorded.

In 1957 pianist Teddy Wilson told Down Beat that it was the best solo record I ever heard in jazz. Hawks Body and Soul was also a huge popular success. Its funny how it became such a classic, Hawk told Down Beat in 1955. Its the first and only record I ever heard of, that all the squares dig as well as the jazz people I wasnt making a melody for the squares. I played it like I play everything else, and yet they went for it. Indeed, Hawkins played simply and from the heart, and the recording blazed a trail of new opportunities in jazz for creative expression. It would become not only his trademark, but a trademark for all of jazz as well.

By this time the big band era was at its height, and Hawkins, buoyed by the success of Body and Soul, began an engagement at New York Citys Savoy. But Hawk was never an aggressive or well-organized businessman; as a result, his band never reached the wild popularity of Duke Ellington and Count Basies. After the Savoy engagement ended, Hawk found gigs becoming more scarce. In 1944 he went to Chicago to headline a big band at Daves Swingland.

While in Chicago he made some recordings for the Apollo label that have since been hailed, according to Chilton, as the first recordings of Bebop. In Down Beat in 1962, Bean explained his relationship to bebop and two of its pioneerssaxophonist Charlie Parker and trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie: Charlie Parker and Dizzy were getting started, but they needed help. What they were doing was far out to a lot of people, but it was just music to me.

Despite repeated efforts by critics and fans to associate musicians with a style or school, Hawkins never felt comfortable being pigeonholed into any single category, including bebop. As much as jazz was his medium, he remained passionately devoted to classical music, playing it at homemainly on the pianoand maintaining a formidable collection of classical music and opera. He particularly enjoyed the work of Johann Sebastian Bach and would often cite it as an example of true musical genius. He rarely bought jazz records, preferring instead to revel in the vitality of live performances.

By 1947 the once-thriving 52nd Street scene in New York was beginning its decline and Hawk, finding gigs less available, packed up and left for Paris, where he was received warmly by those who had remembered him from his prewar visits. For the next several years Hawk divided his time between Europe and the States, often playing with Jazz at the Philharmonic, which featured many jazz legends, among whom Hawk was always a headliner. As was his way, during this period Hawkins often found time sit in on recording sessions; his recorded output is indeed extensive.

Whether playing live or in the studio, Hawkins was popular not only with the public, but with that more demanding group, his fellow musicians, who always respected the master. Many musicians, regardless of their instrument, had listened to Body and Soul over and over until they had memorized Beans solo, and they continued to listen to his flowing and lyrical tenor for new gems that they could employ. Bean, said saxophonist Sonny Stitt in Down Beat, set the stage for all of us. In a conversation with Song of the Hawk author Chilton, pianist Roland Hanna expressed his admiration for Hawks musicianship, revealing, I always felt he had perfect pitch because he could play anything he heard instantly. He was the complete musician; he could improvise at any tempo, in any key, and he could read anything.

Hawk explained his own theories on solos and improvisation in Down Beat: I think a solo should tell a story, but to most people thats as much a matter of shape as what the story is about. Romanticism and sorrow and greedthey can all be put into music. To be sure, throughout his life, Coleman Hawkins told many stories with his flowing and lyrical style. To this day, jazz musicians around the world have been telling and retelling those stories.

Selected discography

Body and Soul, RCA, 1939.

Soul, Prestige, 1958.

Disorder at the Border: The Coleman Hawkins Quintet, Spotlight, 1960.

The Hawk in Holland, GNP Crescendo, 1968.

In Concert With Roy Eldridge and Billie Holliday, Phoenix Jazz, 1944, reissued, 1975.

The Complete Coleman Hawkins: Vol. I, reissued, RCA, 1976.

At Ease With Coleman Hawkins (recorded in 1960), Moodsville, reissued, Fantasy/OJC, 1985.

The Genius of Coleman Hawkins (recorded in 1957), Verve, 1986.

Body and Soul (recorded 1939-56), Bluebird, 1986.

The Complete Coleman Hawkins on Keynote (recorded in 1944), Mercury, 1987.

Coleman Hawkins and Confreres, Verve, 1988.

Hawk Eyes (recorded in 1959), Prestige, reissued, Fantasy/OJC, 1988.

In a Mellow Tone (recorded 1958-62), reissued, Fantasy/OJC, 1988.

Coleman Hawkins: Hollywood Stampede (recorded 1945-57), Capitol, 1989.

Jazz Tones (recorded in 1954), EPM, 1989.

Thanks for the Memory (recorded 1937-38 and 1944), EPM, 1989.

Night Hawk (recorded in 1960), Swingville, reissued, Fantasy/OJC, 1990.

Desafinado (recorded in 1962), MCA/Impulse, 1990.

Wrapped Tight (recorded in 1965), reissued, GRP/Impulse, 1991.

1926/40, EPM, 1991.

1929-1934, Classics, 1991.

Dali (recorded in 1956, 1962), Stash, 1991.

April in Paris Featuring Body and Soul, Bluebird, 1992.

Bean and the Boys, Fresh Sound, 1992.

(With Roy Eldridge and Johnny Hodges) Hawkins!Eldridge!Hodges!Alive! At the Village Gate, Verve, 1992.

Jam Session in Swingville, Prestige, 1992.

The Hawk Relaxes (recorded in 1961), Moodsville, reissued, Fantasy/OJC, 1992.

Rainbow Mist (recorded in 1944), Delmark, 1992.

Loverman (recorded 1958-64), Esoldun, 1993.

Body and Soul Revisited, Decca Jazz, 1993.

Bean and the Boys, Fantasy, 1993.

The Hawk in Paris, reissued, Bluebird/RCA, 1993.

Sources

Books

Chilton, John, The Song of the Hawk: The Life and Recordings of Coleman Hawkins, University of Michigan Press, 1990.

Periodicals

Down Beat, January 12, 1955; October 31, 1957; February 1, 1962; November 21, 1974.

Metronome, November 1946.

New York Times, May 20, 1960.

Additional information for this profile was obtained from an interview with Mark Gardner that appears in liner notes to Disorder at the Border: The Coleman Hawkins Quintet, Spotlight, 1952; and liner notes by Daniel Nevers to The Complete Coleman Hawkins: Vol. I, RCA, 1976.

David Waldstein

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Hawkins, Coleman

Coleman Hawkins

Saxophonist

Professional Debut at 12

Thrived in After-Hours Jams

Resisted Pigeonholing

Selected discography

Sources

Listen to recordings of any jazz saxophone player made in the last 50 years and you will be hearing the influence of Coleman Hawkins, the Father of the Tenor Saxophone. During the early part of his career Hawkins was known simply as the best tenor player in the world; but he now has the rare distinction of being considered a revolutionary, virtuoso performer at a level attained by only a small collection of great jazz musicians. His legacy is a combination of dazzling live performances, a myriad of recordings that remain a vital component of our musical treasury, and innovations and tasteful creativity that continue to inspire musicians and listeners.

As an artist, Hawks life contained many contradictions. In his younger days he redefined the role of the saxophone with bold and insightful solos, but in later years he hated to listen to his recordings from that period. He helped launch bebop but never fully embraced it and though he was the consummate jazz musician, he did not follow in the degenerative footsteps that led to early death or poverty for so many of his contemporaries. When Hawkins died in 1969, he was remembered at his memorial service by virtually every important jazz musician of the time, as well as a throng of admirers who lined up on the streets outside to pay homage to the great American musician, the man known affectionately as Bean.

Hawkins was born in 1904 in the small town of St. Joseph, Missouri. His parents both loved music, especially his mother, who was a pianist and organist. When he was five years old, Hawkins began piano lessons and took up the cello, learning classical music, which would provide a foundation for his exploration into more modern music. As John Chilton stated in his book The Song of the Hawk, He was well versed in the classics, as in popular tunes, but his destiny lay in granting form and beauty to the art of improvising jazz. Although Hawkins practiced piano and cello conscientiously, his mother insisted that he demonstrate even more effort and would entice him to play with small rewards. When young Coleman discovered the saxophone, however, he no longer needed enticementhe had found the instrument that would bring him international fame.

Professional Debut at 12

Hawkins landed his first professional gig when he was overheard trying out a new mouthpiece by a musician, who then gave the precocious 12 year old work in local dance bands. When famed blues singer Maime Smith came to Kansas City, Missouri, she hired Coleman to augment her band, the Jazz Hounds. The band was so impressed that they asked the teenager if he would like

For the Record

Born November 21, 1904, in St. Joseph, MO; died May 19, 1969, in New York, NY; mother was a pianist and organist; wives names were Gertrude and Delores; children: Rene (a son), Colette, Mrs. Melvin Wright. Education: Attended Washbum College.

Began playing professionally in local dance bands, 1916; performed with Maime Smith and the Jazz Hounds as Saxophone Boy and made recording debut, 1922-23; performed with Fletcher Henderson Band, 1923-34; performed and recorded in Europe, 1934-39; formed own band and recorded Body and Soul, 1939; led own big band at Daves Swingland, Chicago, 1944; returned to Europe for series of engagements, 1947; played on 52nd St., New York City, late 1940s-early 1950s; continued to record and perform, U.S. and Europe, late 1950s, 1960s.

Awards: Numerous first-place honors in Esquire best tenor saxophone poll.

to join them on tour. Garvin Bushell, a reed player with the Hounds, recalled to Chilton that, despite his age, Hawkins was already a complete musician. His sight reading and musicianship was faultless even at that young age, Bushell said of the young sax player.

Though she had encouraged her talented son to become a professional musician, Hawkinss mother deemed him too young to go out on the road. But when the Jazz Hounds returned two years later, they were still interested in recruiting Hawkins; so, in 1922with the stipulation that Maime Smith become his legal guardian-Mrs. Hawkins relented, and Hawkins, billed by the Jazz Hounds as Saxophone Boy, set out on his first long-term touring engagement.

In May of that year he made his recording debut with Smith on Mean Daddy Blues, on which he was given a prominent role. Hawk learned a great deal on the tour and, playing everyday, developed a self-confidence that eventually enabled him to leave the band and set out for New York to play the Harlem cabaret circuit. These were good days for an accomplished musician like Hawkins, and there was no shortage of gigs or challenging after-hours jam sessions.

Eventually Hawkins was discovered by bandleader Fletcher Henderson, who recruited the young man for his big band, one of the most successful outfits of the 1920s. It wasnt long before Hawkins established himself as an exceptional talent, even among the exceptionally talented musicians already in the band. He was only 20 years old, but he was making good money and was carving out a reputation in and around New York as the king of the sax.

In addition to his playing, Hawkins stood out among his peerswho had nicknamed him Bean for the shape of his headin terms of speech and manner. Always the sophisticate, he now made it a point to be stylishly dressed as well. This did not go unnoticed by the women in his circle, who generally found Hawkins a charming and irresistible companion. And if he were unable to charm some musical colleagues with his quiet personality, his horn playing usually did the job. Evidence of this came when Hawkins had a run-in with a club owner, who demanded that Henderson fire Hawk on the spot. But the band stood by their tenorman and threatened to walk if Hawk were ejected.

In 1924 the Henderson Band was joined by a young trumpet player named Louis Armstrong, who, though he never really got along with Hawkins, provided a musical challenge to the saxophonist, as well as an influence in phrasing and rhythm that Hawk would eventuallythough he would be reluctant to acknowledge itincorporate and expand on. Armstrongs arrival brought new breadth to Hawkins musical expressiveness, Chilton remarked, and, more importantly, streamlined his phrasing.

This dynamic would be repeated; Hawkins later expressed disaffection for his chief rival on the tenor, Lester Young. Although with Armstrong it seemed to be a personal dislikeHawkins never disparaged the trumpeters playingwith Young he expressed on more than one occasion an inability to understand Youngs popularity.

Thrived in After-Hours Jams

After engagements with the Henderson band, Hawk would regularly head uptown to the Harlem cabarets, where he would sit in on jam sessions and challenge other musicians, preferably other horn players. During these cutting sessions, Hawk would routinely leave his competitors gasping for air as he carved them up in front of the delighted audience, reported Chilton. When a young cat came to New York, Chilton quoted Hawkins as having explained in the magazine Cadence, I had to take care of him quick.

Regardless of his undisputed position and popularity at the time, though, Hawkins hated looking back on this early period of his career. In the November, 1946, issue of Metronome, he told jazz writer Leonard Feather, I thought I was playing alright at the time, too, but it sounds awful to me now. I hate to listen to it. Im ashamed of it. In fact, Hawkins lamented in an interview with English journalist Mark Gardner, printed in liner notes to the Spotlight album Disorder at the Border: The Coleman Hawkins Quintet, that despite electrifying live shows, the Fletcher Henderson Band never recorded well. I never understood why that band could never record, Hawk told Gardner. Yet in person it was the most stompin, pushinest band I ever heard.

In 1934, after 11 years with Henderson, Hawkins left and went on a five-year sojourn to Europe, an experience so rewarding that he enthusiastically looked forward to returning in later years. He was originally scheduled to play only in England, but his dates there were so successful that he was quickly signed for a year-long European tour. In a 1962 issue of Down Beat, Hawkins recalled his first international exposure: It was my first experience of an audience in Europe. And it was a huge stage. Just to walk out there was something. And then I was very well received.

After his work in England, Hawkins traveled to Scandinavia and the Continent, where he received consistent praise and adulation from audiences and reviewers alike. During his stay he developed lasting friendships, as well as an expanding admiration for the art, theater, and larger culture of Europe. He may have remained abroad longer, but the gathering of political storm clouds prompted his departureand triumphant return to the States.

News of Hawkinss conquest of Europe quickly reached the U.S. and when he resumed his place on the New York jazz scene, it was not as a sideman, but as a leader; he formed a nine-piece band and took up residency at Kellys Stable, from which his outfit received a recording deal.

On October 11, 1939, Hawk took his band into the studio and came away with one of the most famous records in the history of jazz. According to many jazz musicians of the time, the day after Body and Soul was released, everyone was talking about it. Hawks solo on the tune was a lilting, dynamic, and incomparable work of art never before even suggested, and it would change the way solos were conceived and executed from that day on. As Chilton stated, [With Body and Soul] Coleman Hawkins achieved the apotheosis of his entire career, creating a solo that remains the most perfectly achieved and executed example of jazz tenor-sax playing ever recorded. In 1957 pianist Teddy Wilson told Down Beat that it was the best solo record I ever heard in jazz. Hawks Body and Soul was also a huge popular success. Its funny how it became such a classic, Hawk told Down Beat in 1955. Its the first and only record I ever heard of, that all the squares dig as well as the jazz people... I wasnt making a melody for the squares. I played it like I play everything else, and yet they went for it. Indeed, Hawkins played simply and from the heart, and the recording blazed a trail of new opportunities in jazz for creative expression. It would become not only his trademark, but a trademark for all of jazz as well.

By this time the big band era was at its height, and Hawkins, buoyed by the success of Body and Soul, began an engagement at New York Citys Savoy. But Hawk was never an aggressive or well-organized businessman; as a result, his band never reached the wild popularity of Duke Ellington and Count Basies. After the Savoy engagement ended, Hawk found gigs becoming more scarce. In 1944 he went to Chicago to headline a big band at Daves Swingland. While in Chicago he made some recordings for the Apollo label that have since been hailed, according to Chilton, as the first recordings of Bebop. In Down Beat in 1962, Hawkins explained his relationship to bebop and two of its pioneerssaxophonist Charlie Parker and trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie: Charlie Parker and Dizzy were getting started, but they needed help. What they were doing was far out to a lot of people, but it was just music to me.

Resisted Pigeonholing

Despite repeated efforts by critics and fans to associate musicians with a style or school, Hawkins never felt comfortable being pigeonholed into any single category, including bebop. As much as jazz was his medium, he remained passionately devoted to classical music, playing it at homemainly on the pianoand maintaining a formidable collection of classical music and opera. He particularly enjoyed the work of Johann Sebastian Bach and would often cite it as an example of true musical genius. He rarely bought jazz records, preferring instead to revel in the vitality of live performances.

By 1947 the once-thriving 52nd Street scene in New York was beginning its decline and Hawk, finding gigs less available, packed up and left for Paris, where he was received warmly by those who had remembered him from his prewar visits. For the next several years Hawk divided his time between Europe and the States, often playing with Jazz at the Philharmonic, which featured many jazz legends, among whom Hawk was always a headliner. As was his way, during this period Hawkins often found time to sit in on recording sessions; his recorded output is indeed extensive.

Whether playing live or in the studio, Hawkins was popular not only with the public, but with that more demanding group, his fellow musicians, who always respected the master. Many musicians, regardless of their instrument, had listened to Body and Soul over and over until they had memorized Beans solo, and they continued to listen to his flowing and lyrical tenor for new gems that they could employ. Bean, said saxophonist Sonny Stitt in Down Beat, set the stage for all of us. In a conversation with Song of the Hawk author Chilton, pianist Roland Hanna expressed his admiration for Hawks musicianship, revealing, I always felt he had perfect pitch because he could play anything he heard instantly. He was the complete musician; he could improvise at any tempo, in any key, and he could read anything.

Hawk explained his own theories on solos and improvisation in Down Beat: I think a solo should tell a story, but to most people thats as much a matter of shape as what the story is about. Romanticism and sorrow and greedthey can all be put into music. To be sure, throughout his life, Coleman Hawkins told many stories with his flowing and lyrical style. To this day, jazz musicians around the world have been telling and retelling those stories.

Selected discography

Body and Soul, RCA, 1939.

In Concert With Roy Eldridge and Billie Holiday, Phoenix Jazz, 1944, reissued, 1975.

Disorder at the Border: The Coleman Hawkins Quintet, Spotlight, 1952.

Soul, Prestige, 1958.

The Hawk in Holland, GNP Crescendo, 1968.

The Complete Coleman Hawkins: Vol. I, reissued, RCA, 1976.

At Ease With Coleman Hawkins (recorded in 1960), Moodsville, reissued, Fantasy/OJC, 1985.

The Genius of Coleman Hawkins (recorded in 1957), Verve, 1986.

Body and Soul (recorded 1939-56), Bluebird, 1986.

The Complete Coleman Hawkins on Keynote (recorded in 1944), Mercury, 1987.

Coleman Hawkins and Confreres, Verve, 1988.

Hawk Eyes (recorded in 1959), Prestige, reissued, Fantasy/OJC, 1988.

In a Mellow Tone (recorded 1958-62), reissued, Fantasy/OJC, 1988.

Coleman Hawkins: Hollywood Stampede (recorded 1945-57), Capitol, 1989.

Jazz Tones (recorded in 1954), EPM, 1989.

Thanks for the Memory (recorded 1937-38 and 1944), EPM, 1989.

Night Hawk (recorded in 1960), Swingville, reissued, Fantasy/OJC, 1990.

Desafinado (recorded in 1962), MCA/Impulse, 1990.

Wrapped Tight (recorded in 1965), reissued, GRP/lmpulse, 1991.

1926/40, EPM, 1991.

1929-1934, Classics, 1991.

Dali (recorded in 1956, 1962), Stash, 1991.

April in Paris Featuring Body and Soul, Bluebird, 1992

Bean and the Boys, Fresh Sound, 1992.

(With Roy Eldridge and Johnny Hodges) Hawkins!Eldridge! Hodges!Alive! At the Village Gate, Verve, 1992.

Jam Session in Swingville, Prestige, 1992.

The Hawk Relaxes (recorded in 1961), Moodsville, reissued, Fantasy/OJC, 1992.

Rainbow Mist (recorded in 1944), Delmark, 1992.

Loverman (recorded 1958-64), Esoldun, 1993.

Body and Soul Revisited, Decca Jazz, 1993.

Bean and the Boys, Fantasy, 1993.

The Hawk in Paris, reissued, Bluebird/RCA, 1993.

Loverman Live 1958/64, ROIR, 1994.

Sources

Books

Chilton, John, The Song of the Hawk: The Life and Recordings of Coleman Hawkins, University of Michigan Press, 1990.

Periodicals

Down Beat, January 12, 1955; October 31, 1957; February 1, 1962; November 21, 1974.

Metronome, November 1946.

New York Times, May 20, 1960.

Additional information for this profile was obtained from an interview with Mark Gardner that appears in liner notes to Disorder at the Border: The Coleman Hawkins Quintet, Spotlight, 1952; and liner notes by Daniel Nevers to The Complete Coleman Hawkins: Vol. I, RCA, 1976.

David Waldstein

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Hawkins, Coleman." Contemporary Musicians. . Encyclopedia.com. 24 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Hawkins, Coleman." Contemporary Musicians. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 24, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/hawkins-coleman

"Hawkins, Coleman." Contemporary Musicians. . Retrieved August 24, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/hawkins-coleman

Coleman Hawkins

Coleman Hawkins

The American jazz musician Coleman Hawkins (1904-1969) transformed the tenor saxophone from a comic novelty into jazz's glamour instrument. He was one of the music's all-time preeminent instrumental voices.

Coleman Hawkins was born on November 21, 1904, in St. Joseph, Missouri. His mother, an organist, taught him piano when he was 5; at 7, he studied cello; and for his 9th birthday he received a tenor saxophone. By the age of 12 he was performing professionally at school dances; he attended high school in Chicago, then studied harmony and composition for two years at Washburn College in Topeka, Kansas.

His first regular job, in 1921, was with singer Mamie Smith's Jazz Hounds, and he made his first recording with them in 1922. Based in Kansas City, the band played the major midwestern and eastern cities, including New York, where in 1923 he guest recorded with the famous Fletcher Henderson Band. A year later he officially joined Henderson's band and remained with it until 1934.

The first half of his tenure with Henderson served as a valuable apprenticeship, and by 1929, inspired by Louis Armstrong's improvisational concepts, Hawkins had developed the hallmarks of his mature style—a very large tone, a heavy vibrato, and a swaggering attack. Hitherto the tenor saxophone had been regarded as a novelty instrument serving chiefly for rhythmic emphasis (achieved by a slap-tonguing technique) or for bottoming out a chord in the ensemble, but not as a serious instrument and certainly not as a serious solo instrument. Hawkins' artistry singlehandedly altered its status.

Fame on Two Continents

The Henderson band played primarily in New York's Roseland Ballroom, but also in Harlem's famous Savoy Ballroom, and made frequent junkets to New England and the Midwest. As a result, Hawkins' fame grew as much from public appearances as from his showcase features on Henderson's recordings. When he finally left the band, he was a star.

From 1934 to 1939 Hawkins lived in Europe. He was guest soloist with the celebrated Jack Hylton Band in England, free-lanced on the Continent, and participated in a number of all-star recording sessions, the most famous of which was a 1937 get-together with the legendary Belgian gypsy guitarist Django Reinhardt and the great American trumpeter-alto saxophonist Benny Carter.

In a move very likely prompted by the imminence of war, Hawkins in 1939 returned to the United States, where he formed a nonet and played a long engagement at Kelly's Stables on New York's jazz-famed 52nd Street. The highlight of that year, however, was his recording of "Body and Soul, " illustrating in three masterful choruses his consummate melodic and harmonic command—a stunning performance that had the jazz world buzzing. That year Down Beat voted him #1 on tenor saxophone, the first of many such honors. Late in 1939 Hawkins formed his own big band, which debuted at New York's Arcadia Ballroom and played at such other locales as the Golden Gate Ballroom, the Apollo Theatre, and the Savoy Ballroom. In 1941 Hawkins disbanded and reverted to small groups, including in 1943 a racially mixed sextet (a rarity in that era), which toured primarily in the Midwest.

Most of Hawkins' contemporaries bitterly resisted the mid-1940s bebop revolution, with its harmonic and rhythmic innovations, but Hawkins not only encouraged the upstart music but also performed frequently with its chief practitioners. As early as 1944 with modernists Dizzy Gillespie, Max Roach, and Oscar Pettiford he recorded "Woody'n You, " probably the first bop recording ever. In 1945, a watershed year for the new music, he performed and recorded in California with modern trumpeter Howard McGhee.

His long tenure, begun in 1946, with the Jazz at the Philharmonic (JATP) tour brought him inevitably into musical contact with virtually all the top-flight younger players. Also, as a leader on his own American and European engagements in the late 1940s and early 1950s he enlisted the talents of such outstanding young musicians as trumpeters Fats Navarro and Miles Davis, trombonist J.J. Johnson, and vibraphonist Milt Jackson. Hawkins' democratic acceptance of the newer jazz idiom is admirable and somewhat surprising considering the difficulties he had in adapting his own sharply-defined style to it. There is frequently a rhythmic stiffness in his attempts to integrate his sound with theirs, and he thrived best in that period when he collaborated with his fellow swing era stalwarts, playing more traditional material.

In the 1950s Hawkins teamed often, both in and out of JATP, with swing era trumpet giant Roy Eldridge. He made television appearances on "The Tonight Show" (1955) and on the most celebrated of all television jazz shows, "The Sound of Jazz" (1957). His working quartet in the 1960s consisted of the great pianist Tommy Flanagan, bassist Major Holley, and drummer Eddie Locke, but his finest recording of the decade was a collaboration with a small Duke Ellington unit in 1962.

By the late 1960s Hawkins' chronic alcoholism had resulted in a deterioration of his health. He collapsed in 1967 while playing in Toronto and again a few months later at a JATP concert. In 1968, on a European tour with the Oscar Peterson Quartet, ill health forced the cancellation of the Denmark leg of the tour. Despite failing health, he continued to work regularly until a few weeks before his death. He appeared on a Chicago television show with Roy Eldridge early in 1969, and his last concert appearance was on April 20, 1969, at Chicago's North Park Hotel. He died of bronchial pneumonia, complicated by a diseased liver, at New York's Wickersham Hospital on May 19, 1969.

The Man and His Music

Hawkins, despite the snappy nicknames "Hawk" and "Bean, " was a private, taciturn man, and an attentive listener to all kinds of music: among his favorite recordings were those of opera singers, whose rhapsodic quality he captured in his own fiercely passionate playing. A married man with three children, Hawkins' consumption of alcohol seemed to be his only vice.

Hawkins is perhaps overly identified with "Body and Soul." Masterwork though it certainly is, it is only one of a great number of sublime performances. A partial listing of his best work would include: "Out of Nowhere" (1937, Hawk in Holland); "When Day Is Done" (c. 1940, Coleman Hawkins Orchestra); "I Surrender, Dear" and "I Can't Believe That You're in Love with Me" (1940, The Tenor Sax: Coleman Hawkins and Frank Wess); "I Only Have Eyes for You, " "'S Wonderful, " "Under a Blanket of Blue, " "I'm Yours, " and "I'm in the Mood for Love" with Roy Eldridge equally featured (1944, Coleman Hawkins and the Trumpet Kings); "April in Paris, " "What Is There to Say?" and "I'm Through with Love" (1945, Hollywood Stampede); "Say It Isn't So" (1946), "Angel Face" (1947), and "The Day You Came Along" (1956, Body and Soul); "La Rosita" and "Tangerine" in tandem with tenor great Ben Webster (1957, Tenor Giants ); "Mood Indigo" and "Self Portrait of the Bean" (1962, Duke Ellington Meets Coleman Hawkins); and "Slowly" and "Me and Some Drums" (1962, Shelly Manne: 2, 3, 4).

Further Reading

There are many treatments of Coleman Hawkins' art, but not many on the life of this private man. The most valuable articles are Humphrey Lyttleton's in The Best of Jazz and Stanley Dance's in The World of Swing. The first full-length study is British critic Albert J. McCarthy's Coleman Hawkins (London: 1963). British trumpeter and critic John Chilton has written a landmark biography, The Song of the Hawk: The life and Recordings of Coleman Hawkins (1990).

Additional Sources

Chilton, John, The song of the Hawk: the life and recordings of Coleman Hawkins, Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1990.

James, Burnett, Coleman Hawkins, Tunbridge Wells Kent: Spellmount; New York: Hippocrene Books, 1984. □

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Hawkins, Coleman

Coleman Hawkins, 1904–69, American jazz musician, b. St. Joseph, Mo. He began playing saxophone at the age of 9. He was part of Fletcher Henderson's band from 1924 until 1934. Hawkins established the tenor saxophone as a major jazz instrument. His enormous tone, vigorous attack, and improvisatory genius both in ballads and up-tempo pieces made his influence pervasive. Because his style constantly evolved, Hawkins was distinguished even in the company of avant-garde jazz musicians from 1945 until 1969.

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Hawkins, Coleman

Hawkins, Coleman (1904–69) US jazz saxophonist. His definitive recording of “Body and Soul” was one of the first recordings of an extended jazz solo. From 1934 to 1939, he lived in Europe, where he recorded with ‘Django’ Reinhardt.

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