Hawkins, Coleman (Randolph)

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Hawkins, Coleman (Randolph)

Hawkins, Coleman (Randolph), famed and influential jazz tenor saxophonist; b. St.Joseph, Mo., Nov. 21, 1904; d. N.Y., May 19, 1969. At the age of four Hawkins began to study the piano, at seven the cello, and at nine the saxophone. He studied music at Wash-burn Coll. in Topeka, Kans. (where he’s not found in the records but may have gone part-time), and in Chicago. At 16 he was playing professionally in and around Kansas City. In the summer of 1921, he was signed by Mamie Smith to joinher Jazz Hounds and began recording with her that year. He toured extensively with Smith until early in 1923, when he left her to remain in N.Y. Hawkins gigged with various bands and also did freelance recordings with Fletcher Henderson. He was partof a group of freelance musicians who chose Henderson to front them for an auditionin 1923, and landed a gig. Hawkins was a regular member of Henderson’s Orch. from 1924 until early 1934, occasionally doubling on bass sax and very occasionally soloing on clarinet. His early solos were rugged and sometimes used siap- tonguing;in later years, he disowned these early attempts. However, by 1929, he had a smoother sound and a flowing use of double-time as on the medium-slow “One Hour.” In 1932 he was experimenting with free rhythms in a string of solos with Henderson such as on“Honeysuckle Rose” and “New King Porter Stomp.” Though Hawkins was not generally known as a composer, in 1933 Henderson recorded his whole-tone essay “Queer Notions.” By the end of that year he haddeveloped a rhythmically more straightforward, harmonically complex style and had met Lester Young and other tenor challengers at a legendary Kansas City jam session in December. Atan invitation from Jack Hylton of England, he left Henderson to tour Europe as a soloist. He arrived in England in March 1934 and remained abroad until July 1939, working all across Europe accompanied by various local bands and also other expatriates including Benny Carter. Hawkins returned to N.Y. in July 1939 and formed his own big band for club work by November. Hawkins recorded “Body andSoul” that month (the band only provides the closing chord), a Top 20 hit at the time and an enduring jazz classic. The big band was active until February 1941, then reverted to a small band that worked through 1943. Unlike many of his generation, he had no problem with bop; he led what is often called the first bop session, a medium-sizedband with Dizzy Gillespie and Max Roach, in February 1944. He recorded and toured in1944 with Thelonious Monk, whom he would continue to champion. Hawkins led his own sextet in Calif, with Howard McGhee for most of 1945, including an appearance in the film The Crimson Canary. Perhaps during that year, or a few years later (manysources says 1949), he recorded the first unaccompanied saxophone solos: “Hawk Variation” and the astonishing “Picasso,” which appears to bevery loosely based on an out of tempo treatment of thechords to a standard (“Body and Soul” or “Prisoner of Love”) but more importantly retains the feeling of free improvisation. It was said to have required 11 takes but theothers appear to be lost. (He did other solo saxophonepieces in the 1950s, inspiringSonny Rollins to do the same.)

In 1946, Hawkins took part in first national Jazz at the Philharmonic tour. He used as sidepersons young musicians Miles Davis, Fats Navarro, J. J. Johnson, and HankJones; this group made the first recordings of Monk’s tunes “Well YouNeedn’t” and “I Mean You.” Hawkins returned to Europe in May1948 for appearances at Paris Jazz Festival, and again visited Europe in late 1949-50. During the 1950s he did extensive touring with Norman Granz’s J.A.T.P, including several trips to Europe. He also co- led a successful quintet with Roy Eldridge and toured American Service Bases in Europe with Illinois Jacquet’s Band (autumn 1954). Through the 1950s, Hawkins made prolific freelance recordings; he was featured at all major jazz festivals in the U.S. and appeared on major television shows and films devoted to jazz. During the early- to mid-1960s, Hawkins continued to work N.Y. clubs leading his own small groups. In 1962, he recorded with Duke Ellington. During the last years of his life he toured Britain as a soloist in November1967. Hawkins continued to work regularly until a few weeks before his death, and appeared with Roy Eldridge on a Chicago television show early in 1969.

Hawkins’s harmonic detail, full tone, and wide vibrato became the standard for tenor saxophone. Some credited him with being the first great jazz performer onthe instrument, although Hawkins himself granted this honor to earlier musicians. Nonetheless, he was considered the unchallenged leader on the instrument until the advent of Lester Young in the late 1930s. (Hawkins pointedly omitted Young when discussing saxophonists, perhaps his way of dealing with the perceived competition.) During the late 1940s, Hawkins initiated a second career, championing younger musicians and adapting to the changing musical landscape from swing to bop. He remained a vibrant player into his later years, outliving his rival.


H in Holland (1935); Body and Soul (1939); At the Savoy Gardens (1940); Thanks for the Memory (1944); Rainbow Mist (1944); Bean’s Talking Again (1944); Hollywood Stampede (1945); H Variation (1945; solo saxophone); Bean and the Boys (1946); C. H. Set (1949);Disorder at the Border (1952); Think Deep (1957); H Flies High (1957); C. H Encounters Ben Webster (1957); C. H. and His Friends (1958; Art Ford soundtracks); H Eyes (1959); Dali (1959); Centerpiece (1959); Blowin up a Breeze (1959); At the Bayou Club, Vol. 1, 2 (1959); Essen Jazz Festival All Stars (1959; w. Bud Powell); C.H.(1960; with Thad Jones); Bean Stalkin (1960); HA Eldridge! Hodges! Alive (1962); HA Alive! at the Village Gate (1962); Duke Ellington Meets C. H (1962); Desafinado (1962); Today and Now (1963); Wrapped Tight (1965); Rifflide (1965); Meditations (1965); Sirius (1966).


J. Chilton, The Song of the Hawk: The Life and Recordings of C H (Ann Arbor, Mich., 1990).

—John Chiltion Who’s Who of Jazz/Lewis Porter

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