Coleman Hawkins - The Best of Coleman Hawkins - Prestige PRCD 5704

Before Coleman Hawkins, the saxophone was little more than a musical curiosity, a hybrid, a freak. At the dawn of the Roaring Twenties violin sections of posh hotel orchestras doubled on it, vaudevillians honked on it, college boys serenaded winsome coeds on it, but little real music was made on this crossbred horn - part brass, part reed - until Hawkins discovered and revealed its nuances and subtleties. All succeeding jazz tenor saxophonists must acknowledge Hawkins' impact on their instrument and their art.

When the recordings in this collection were made, Hawkins was in his mid-to-late fifties, a living jazz legend. But as a contemporary, alto saxophonist Johnny Hodges, remarked of his friend's playing during this period, "The older he gets the better he gets. If ever you think he's through you find he's gone right ahead again." A lifelong student of harmony, Hawkins was considered by his peers to be one of the most musically intelligent of all jazz players. (To colleagues and disciples he always was known as "Bean" - as in, "that cat really uses his bean" - not "Hawk.") A swing era pioneer, he consistently kept an ear open to the newest developments in the music. After all, during the 1940s Hawkins was the first established leader to employ such jazz upstarts as Thelonious Monk, Miles Davis, and Max Roach. In short, he had the heart and soul of a mainstream player and the mind of a modernist, a duality that is apparent throughout this survey of his finest recorded work from the late 1950s and early 1960s.

Hawkins' massive tone dominates I'm Beginning to See the Light, as he states the theme and delivers three improvised choruses with his usual authority. Solid supporting contributions are provided by trumpeter Joe Thomas (an unjustly overlooked Swing Era stalwart), pianist Tommy Flanagan (the favorite accompanist of so many instrumentalists and singers), and trombonist Vic Dickinson (who rocks in with a sly Ellingtonian quote). But there is no question who is the star of this show.

Hawkins had heard pianist Ray Bryant playing Greensleeves during a break in the recording session, learned the song on the spot, and decided to record it right away. He delivers a relatively straight, discreetly ornamented reading of the traditional English folk song, letting his full timbre and sumptuous vibrato tell the story. Next, he paints Buddy Johnson's blues-laced Since I Fell for You, one of those great jukebox hits from the 1950s, with broad stokes and barely a hint of sentimentality.

The master improvisor slips almost unnoticed into I'll Get By, alluding to, but never really stating, the familiar melody. Here we find another side of Hawkins, relaxed, at ease, and light on his feet, thanks, in no small part, to Osie Johnson's fleet brush work. He spins out phrase after phrase, chorus after chorus, a seemingly inexhaustible fountain of thematic ideas and variations.

Unlike most other top players of his generation, Hawkins was not known as a major blues improvisor. Perhaps the rather restrictive blues changes were not sufficient to stimulate his vast harmonic imagination. Nevertheless, on Soul Blues Hawkins draws upon the same emotional wellspring that gave his renowned ballad performances such weight and depth. Paring his style down to its essence, the intellectual Bean plays here from the heart - and soul.

I'll Never Be the Same is a relaxed, yet musically compelling, performance that also highlights Hawkins' gift as a jazz talent scout. Bassist Ron Carter, at twenty-four, would not join Miles Davis' celebrated quintet for another two years, and twenty-two-year-old drummer Andrew Cyrille would have a major impact on the jazz avant garde of the coming decade.

Hawkins' preferred rhythm section of the early 1960s - Tommy Flanagan, Major Holley, and Eddie Locke - accompanies him on a pair of unpretentious readings of hit tunes from two then-current Broadway shows, The Sweetest Sounds (from No Strings) and Make Someone Happy (from Do Re Mi). Hawkins envelops each melody with his rich sound and proceeds to make them his own. And what did the saxophonist think about Tommy Flanagan? Well, Locke recalled a night when Hawkins hosted four top pianists in his apartment. "Then Tommy came in and played," the drummer noted, "and after that nobody played anymore. Then Coleman said, 'You cats, you make all those runs and think you're so fast, but Tommy plays all those notes you leave out - the choice notes!'"

Another jukebox favorite, circa 1950s, I Want to Be Loved pairs Hawkins with pianist Red Garland, who displays the light touch and wide block chord voicings that Miles Davis so admired. It's a lovely showcase for two of jazz's most original and identifiable lyric stylists.

"Bean," Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis once told his idol in a typically caustic compliment, "you're the last of the great honkers." Jaws was a supremely confident tenor man, and he had to be if he was going to stand up and blow alongside the mighty Hawkins. On Duke Ellington's In a Mellow Tone Davis is up first - would you want to follow the master? - and acquits himself brilliantly, a Hawkins disciple, to be sure, but one who had forged his own, individual approach to the horn. Hawkins, never one to back down from a challenge, even a friendly one, steps up, swings, and connects like Ted Williams at Fenway Park. And when the two trade fours it truly is a joy, a celebration of mutual inspiration and mutual respect.

It seems that every Hawkins ballad recording is measured, inevitably and unfairly, against his immortal 1939 "Body and Soul." But he produced numerous wonderful displays of lyricism over the subsequent decades and each one should be enjoyed for its own merits, not in the reflection of a genuine, but long past, masterpiece. Smoke Gets in You Eyes, from 1962, reveals Hawkins at his most rhapsodic. He paraphrases and embellishes Jerome Kern's bittersweet melody, employing his sensuous subtone to great effect. Yet, he resists the urge, inherent in the Hammerstein-Harbach lyric, to turn maudlin or melodramatic. After some more "choice notes" from Flanagan, Hawkins returns to bring the performance, and this survey of a key period in his career, to a close with his singular blend of bravura and delicacy.

Hawkins may not have been, as singer Jon Hendricks once proclaimed in a charming hyperbole, "the man for whom Adolphe Sax invented the horn." But today, more than a century and a half after its creation in the workshop of that Dr. Frankenstein of instrument makers, the saxophone stands as the most popular of all wind instruments, and the one most associated with this music called jazz. The credit is due, in large part, to that saxophone trailblazer, master, and lifelong advocate, Coleman Hawkins.



Count Basie
Chairman of the Board

Jane Bunnett
Cuban Odyssey

Alf Clausen Jazz Orchestra
Swing Can Really Hang You Up the Most

Carl Fontana
The Fifties

Coleman Hawkins
The Best of Coleman Hawkins

Philly Joe Jones Dameronia
Look, Stop and Listen
Featuring Johnny Griffin

Wes Montgomery
Dangerous

Claudio Roditi
Free Wheelin': The Music of Lee Morgan

Horace Silver
Paris Blues

Gary Smulyan
High Noon: The Jazz Soul of Frankie Laine

Various Artists
The Prestige Legacy, Volume 1: The High Priests

Steve Weist
Out of the New

Complete CD Liner Notes Credits
ArtistCD TitleLabel
Eric AlexanderFull RangeCriss Cross Jazz
Helio AlvesPortrait In Black and WhiteReservoir Music
Anush ApoyanA Dedication to Horace SilverBlack & Blue
Robert Bachner & Helmar HillEin feiner ZugATS
Thomas Barber's Janus BlocSnow RoadD Clef
Carl Bartlett, Jr.Hopeful
Count BasieChairman of the BoardRoulette Jazz
Roni Ben-HurSignatureReservoir Music
Walter BlandingThe Olive TreeCriss Cross Jazz
Don BradenAfter DarkCriss Cross Jazz
Jane BunnettCuban OdysseyEMI Music Canada
Sharel CassityRelentlessJazz Legacy Productions
Al ClausenSwing Can Really Hang You Up the MostSunny NoDak
Steve DavisVibe Up!Criss Cross Jazz
Dena DeRoseIntroducing Dena DeRoseSharp Nine
Dena DeRoseUnitedHigh Note
Orrin EvansGrown Folk BiznessCriss Cross Jazz
John Fedchock New York Big BandNo NonsenseReservoir Music
John Fedchock New York Big BandUp & RunningReservoir Music
Carl FontanaThe FiftiesUptown
Sayuri GotoFlashbackFever Pitch
Sayuri GotoPrayerFever Pitch
Jimmy GreeneIntroducing Jimmy GreeneCriss Cross Jazz
Coleman HawkinsThe Best of Coleman Hawkins [Prestige Profiles: Coleman Hawkins]Prestige
David HazeltineA World for HerCriss Cross Jazz
Conrad HerwigHeart of DarknessCriss Cross Jazz
Jane JarvisSagmo's SongFaith
Jane Jarvis & Benny PowellTwo of a KindFaith
Ingrid JensenHere on EarthEnja
Philly Joe Jones DameroniaLook, Stop and Listen Featuring Johnny GriffinUptown
David KikoskiAlmost TwilightCriss Cross Jazz
Yuko KimoraA Beautiful Friendship
Yuko KimoraNexus
Yuko KimuraBridges
Ryan KisorThe DreamCriss Cross Jazz
Marilyn LernerBirds Are ReturningJazz Focus
Achilles LiarmakopolousTrombone Atrivedo Opening Day
Gene LudwigThe Groove ORGANizationBlues Leaf
Joe MagnarelliMr. MagsCriss Cross Jazz
Virgina MayhewNini GreenChiaroscuro
Virginia MayhewNo WallsFoxhaven
Virginia MayhewPhantomsRenma
Virginia MayhewSandan ShuffleRenma
Virginia MayhewA Simple Thank YouRenma
Virginia Mayhew Mary Lou Williams: The Next 100 YearsRenma
Adriana MikiSashimikiApria
Wes MontgomeryDangerousMilestone
Dave PanichiBlues for McCoySpirit Song
Roberta PiketSoloThirteenth Note
Roberta PiketOne for MarianThirteenth Note
Valery PonomarevBeyond the ObviousReservoir Music
Valery PonomarevThe MessengerReservoir Music
Valery PonomarevOur Father Who Art BlakeyZoho
Benny PowellCoast 2 CoastFaith
Benny PowellThe Gift of LoveFaith
Melvin RhyneKojoCriss Cross Jazz
Claudio RoditiDouble StandardsReservoir Music
Claudio RoditiFree Wheelin'Reservoir Music
Adonis RoseThe UnityCriss Cross Jazz
Jim RotundiReverenceCriss Cross Jazz
Harvie S & Sheryl BaileyPlucky StrumWhaling City Sound
Horace SilverParis BluesPablo
Gary SmulyanHigh Noon: The Jazz Soul of Frankie LaineReservoir Music
Doug TalleyNight and DaySerpentine
Uptown FiveUptown SwingHarlem
Various Artists: Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, Sonny Rollins & John ColtraneThe Prestige Legacy, Volume 1: The High PriestsPrestige
Ceder Walton, Ron Carter & Billy Higgins: Sweet Basil TrioSt. ThomasEvidence Music
Walt WeiskopfAnytownCriss Cross Jazz
Steve WeistOut of the NewArabesque
Deborah WeiszBreaking Up, Breaking OutVah Wa
Rich WilleyGone with the PiggiesConsolidated Artists Productions

This jazz site is part of