Best Jazz Albums: Coleman Hawkins

By: Scott Yanow

Always harmonically sophisticated, Coleman Hawkins never had any difficulty playing with the younger generation of modern jazzmen. The setting and music might have changed but Hawkins’ playing fit right in.

Rainbow Mist (Delmark):

Coleman Hawkins was very busy in the recording studios during 1944. In addition to appearing at the Esquire All-American concert on a few numbers with Louis Armstrong and Art Tatum (which were later released on LPs), he led nine sessions of his own and appeared as a sideman on four dates by Cozy Cole, two by fellow tenor Walter “Foots Thomas,” and on one session apiece led by Georgie Auld, Leonard Feather, Charlie Shavers, George Wettling and Mary Lou Williams.

His most historic recordings of the year are arguably the six selections that he recorded on Feb. 16 & 22, 1944 which is considered the first bebop record date. For the project, Hawkins invited some of the up-and-coming young beboppers who impressed him including trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie, pianist Clyde Hart, bassist Oscar Pettiford and drummer Max Roach, and such saxophonists as Leo Parker, Don Byas and Budd Johnson. While some of the performances are ballad features for Hawkins (including “Rainbow Mist” which is based on “Body And Soul”), “Bu Dee Daht,” Hawkins’ catchy “Disorder At The Border,” and particularly Gillespie’s “Woody’n You” look towards the future.

Bean And The Boys (Prestige):

While Coleman Hawkins was not thought of as an important talent scout (unlike Fletcher Henderson, Art Blakey and Miles Davis), he was the first to recognize and record with Thelonious Monk. His four quartet numbers with Monk from Oct. 19, 1944 show that the pianist already had his unique and immediately recognizable style together.

The Bean and the Boys album is also noteworthy for a Dec. 1946 octet date that utilizes such young and modern talent as trumpeter Fats Navarro, trombonist J.J. Johnson, pianist Hank Jones, vibraphonist Milt Jackson, and drummer Max Roach. One cannot imagine any other alumnus from Mamie Smith’s band excelling on “I Mean You” and “Bean And The Boys.”

Hollywood Stampede (Capitol):

The mid-1940s were a prime period for Coleman Hawkins. In addition to touring with Norman Granz’s  Jazz At The Philharmonic (an occasional association that continued through 1960), he led one of his finest combos, a sextet with trumpeter Howard McGhee, pianist Sir Charles Thompson, rhythm guitarist Allan Reuss, bassist Oscar Pettiford, and drummer Denzil Best.

While not thought of as a major composer, during that period Hawkins wrote a series of catchy and swinging riff tunes that put new melodies on top of chord changes taken from standards. Hollywood Stampede has the dozen selections by the group with McGhee; trombonist Vic Dickenson is added on four songs.

On such Hawkins’ originals as “Rifftide,” “Stuffy,” “Hollywood Stampede,” and “Bean Soup,” the tenor and McGhee prove to be a mutually inspiring team, playing music that falls between swing and bop. Also included on this CD are four songs from a 1947 session that has Hawkins leading a septet that includes Miles Davis and trombonist Kai Winding.

Body And Soul Revisited (Decca):

As one of the few swing giants to not only accept bebop but fully embrace it, Coleman Hawkins was a father figure to the movement. His 1948 unaccompanied tenor performance of “Picasso” (recorded as part of Norman Granz’s multi-artist project The Jazz Scene on Verve) was considered a bit revolutionary and would be an inspiration for Sonny Rollins a decade later.

But with the rise of cool jazz and the dominance of Lester Young as an influence among young tenor-saxophonists, Coleman Hawkins found himself considered a bit out of date by the early 1950s. While he was as advanced harmonically as nearly any jazz artist, his phrasing, which was frequently on-the-beat on uptempo tunes (unlike his more adventurous phrasing of the mid-1930s), and his large tone were thought of as being part of an earlier style. Although the wiser musicians knew better, some of the younger ones generally overlooked Hawkins, thinking of him as a historic figure rather than a contemporary artist.

Hawkins recorded less frequently during 1950-56 and, while some of his dates could be easy-listening, he was capable of greatness at any time. Body & Soul Revisited has a cross-section of the tenor’s better recordings from 1951-58 including numbers with a string section, a big band, an unaccompanied “Foolin’ Around” from 1955, a hot combo led by Cozy Cole, and three numbers that team Hawkins with the cool-toned clarinetist Tony Scott.

The Hawk In Paris (Bluebird):

Coleman Hawkins, a lover of classical music, had always wanted to record a full project with strings. The Hawk In Paris from 1956 was his chance and it is surprising in ways. The tenor recorded a dozen songs having to do with Paris and France (including “April In Paris,” “Mimi,” “La Vie En Rose,” and “I Love Paris”) while joined by an orchestra performing arrangements by Manny Albam.

What is surprising is that Hawkins does not merely embrace most of the melodies but plays with a lot of passion, sometimes taking heated double-time lines as on “My Man”. Unlike on many other jazz with strings projects, Albam’s arrangements do not weigh the music down but inspire Hawkins to play with creativity throughout.

The Hawk Flies High (Original Jazz Classics):

In 1957 Coleman Hawkins made a “comeback” although, as the cliché goes, he had never been away. At 53 he was far from a senior citizen but, because his career went so far back, some thought that he might be a bit over-the-hill; that is until they heard him play.

The Hawk Flies High really started the momentum in Hawkins’ later years. Teamed with much younger players (trumpeter Idrees Sulieman, J.J. Johnson, Hank Jones, guitarist Barry Galbraith, Oscar Pettiford and Jo Jones), Hawkins is in exuberant form throughout the set, particularly on his joyful and gospel influenced “Sanctity,” easily holding his own with his sidemen and showing that he was far from finished.

Coleman Hawkins and Roy Eldridge: At The Opera House (Verve)

During a time when Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane were the new voices on the tenor and Lester Young was still capable of greatness, Hawkins seemed to be everywhere.

In 1957, Hawkins recorded Hot Swing/Dixieland with the Red Allen All-Stars (appearing with them on the classic Sound Of Jazz telecast) and more modern music with his former sideman Thelonious Monk on a session that included John Coltrane. He also co-led an album with Ben Webster (who always considered Hawkins to be his main influence), recorded remakes of early swing charts with the Fletcher Henderson All-Stars, and did well on an album with Dizzy Gillespie and Stan Getz.

That year he began playing regularly with the fiery and competitive trumpeter Roy Eldridge. Their concerts were invariably quite exciting. At that year’s Newport Jazz Festival (in a set recorded by Verve), they took explosive solos on “I Can’t Believe That You’re In Love With Me.”

The Opera House CD (which is actually music drawn from two concerts, one apiece in Chicago and Los Angeles) offers a strong example of the Hawkins/Eldridge team. While there are concise ballad statements, it is the uptempo tunes (including “Bean Stalkin” and “The Walker”) that are most stirring. The CD also includes a lengthy version of Hawkins’ “Stuffy” by the Jazz At The Philharmonic All-Stars with Eldridge, J.J. Johnson, Stan Getz, Lester Young and Oscar Peterson.

The Genius Of Coleman Hawkins (Verve)

This project could be called Coleman Hawkins meets the Oscar Peterson Trio Plus One. Recorded during his great year of 1957, Hawkins is joined by Peterson, guitarist Herb Ellis, bassist Ray Brown, and drummer Alvin Stoller.

The tenor stretches out on a set of some of his favorite swing standards with the CD reissue adding some alternate takes that show that Hawkins was constantly improvising. Because Peterson was such a remarkable soloist, it is sometimes forgotten how talented and tasteful he could be as an accompanist. Although they did not play together that often, on this album Hawkins and Peterson sound as if they had worked together every night for years.

Duke Ellington Meets Coleman Hawkins (Impulse):

1962 resulted in this gem. Hawkins always admired Duke Ellington’s orchestra and, although he never had an opportunity to record with the full group, this set is a delight. Hawkins plays with a septet drawn from the Ellington band, taking his solos next to cornetist-violinist Ray Nance, trombonist Lawrence Brown, altoist Johnny Hodges, baritonist Harry Carney, and Duke himself on piano. Highlights include “The Jeep Is Jumpin,’”  “Limbo Jazz,” “Self Portrait Of The Bean” and Hawkins’ feature on “Solitude.”

Today And Now (Impulse)
Desafinado (Impulse)
Back In Bean’s Bag (Columbia)

After the success of the Ellington album, Coleman Hawkins was signed by Bob Thiele to the Impulse label where he recorded most of his last significant albums. Today And Now, a quartet date with Flanagan, Holley and Locke, has Hawkins excelling on some unusual material including “Go Lil Liza,” “Don’t Sit Under The Apple Tree,” and “Put On Your Old Grey Bonnet.” He takes the simple melodies for extended rides, giving those folkish themes definitive jazz treatments.

The unexpected success of the Stan Getz/Charlie Byrd Jazz Samba album had recently launched a bossa nova craze in the U.S. Hawkins, who sounded nothing like Getz, seemed like a particularly unlikely candidate for a bossa nova album but on Desafinado, while accompanied by two guitars, bass, drums, percussion and Tommy Flanagan’s claves, Hawkins sounds very much up for the challenge. His versions of “Desafinado,” “I’ll Looking Over A Four Leaf Clover,” “One Note Samba,” and “O Pato” are surprisingly effective.

Also from that fertile year of 1962, Back In Bean’s Bag was Hawkins’ only full-length collaboration with trumpeter-flugelhornist Clark Terry. C.T.’s perennial good humor and brilliant playing always inspired musicians and that is certainly true in this case. One can hear the joy in Hawkins’ playing on “Just Squeeze Me,” and the rollicking “Feedin’ The Bean.”

Wrapped Tight (Impulse):

During the first half of the 1960s, Coleman Hawkins gave listeners the impression that he would last forever. He was a living history of jazz who had been a major part of the scene for 45 years, not by merely recreating past glories but by eagerly collaborating with adventurous musicians from each era, Hawkins had even survived an avant-garde album with Sonny Rollins and Paul Bley; Rollins purposely tried to trip up his idol by playing free. He always looked ahead. When confronted by his earlier recordings with Fletcher Henderson and Mamie Smith, he insisted that the primitive saxophonist was not him but his father or his grandfather!

Wrapped Tight from Feb. and March 1965 was Coleman Hawkins’ last worthy recording. Performing with the Barry Harris Trio and sometimes trumpeters Bill Berry and Snooky Young and trombonist Urbie Green, Hawkins is warm yet explorative on the ballads and still hard-charging on the faster material.

Coleman Hawkins’ reinvention of the melody of “Out Of Nowhere” is particularly impressive, hinting at John Coltrane and the avant-garde while never revealing the fact that he had matured back in the 1920s.

Hawk Flies High
Orrin Keepnews (Producer)
Discusses the Session: March 1957

Coleman Hawkins

Classic Coleman Hawkins Sessions 1922-1947 (8 CDs)

(Set is out-of-print)