Jazz Stars: Coleman Hawkins

Today, on the birthday of Coleman Hawkins (21.11.1904-19.05.1969), American jazz musician, patriarch of jazz tenor saxophone, in the column "Jazz Stars" - a story about the leife of the musician and new selection of musical compositions that he performs.

The biographer of Hawkins Scott Deveau, pointed that Hawk made one of the most important revolutions in jazz: he shifted the focus of listeners' attention from the melody, from the product of performance, to the process of performance, making the process of playing, the course of improvisational development of the material the main event unfolding before the listener.

Hawkins was born in St. Joseph, Missouri. The boy was named Coleman in honor of his mother's maiden name Cordelia. His mother played the organ quite well, and when the boy was five years old, she started teaching him playing the piano. At seven, he started playing the cello. At nine he was given a tenor saxophone for his birthday, and he was fascinated by the instrument. In his senior year in high school in 1921, he played in the school orchestra, where he was the only black member.

Coleman was introduced to the then fashionable ragtime music through the first released records. His mother took him to the concerts of classical music. He attended music school and college, studying diligently not only performance but also theory, harmony and composition.

The first major concert of Coleman Hawkins was with Mamie Smith's Jazz Hounds orchestra in 1921, and he became a regular collaborator with them from April 1922, and toured until 1923. In 1924, he moved to New York, where he joined the best African-American orchestra of those years – the Fletcher Henderson big band. At the same point, the best jazz soloist of that era, trumpeter Louis Armstrong, joined the orchestra for about a year and a half. Influenced by Louis Armstrong phrasing and improvisational thinking, the young saxophonist Coleman Hawkins formed a truly jazz style of saxophone playing in the second half of the 1920s. The saxophonist remained in the orchestra of Fletcher Henderson until 1934 and during those ten years grew into the strongest tenor saxophonist of the time. In 1934 he went to Europe and performed there in various countries, mainly in England and France, for five years. In Europe he was for the most part a featured soloist, the main character of the evening, and played long, extended instrumental solos, usually with small accompaniment. This experience shaped entirely [1]new Hawkins - a thinker, an improviser, a star.

When Hawkins returned to New York City on 31 July 1939, the new "greatest saxophonist" - Lester Young of the Count Basie Orchestra -- was already there. It was a worthy opponent, also a strong improviser and an innovator of saxophone playing. As was the custom of the time, just a week after his return, Hawkins challenged Young to a "battle", an instrumental duel, to see who could outplay whom. The duel did not reveal a clear winner, but critics at “DownBeat” magazine claimed Hawkins won.

This period was summed up by the legendary recording of the standard "Body and Soul" by Hawkins on October 11, 1939. This recording heralded a new era in jazz improvisation, an era in which the improviser's primary material became not so much melody as harmony, chord relationships, and each of the sounds of a chord could become an essential part of a soloist's improvisation. Hawkins defiantly refused to state the theme, making only a hint of it in the first four bars, and immediately began to improvise. "Body and Soul” by Hawkins in the 1939th version is one of the first commercially successful jazz recordings to consist only of extended virtuosic improvisation by a single soloist. For the first time, the talent and importance of the virtuoso performer became more important than the material written by the composer.

In 1941, Hawkins played in Count Basie's band with Teddy Wilson and Roy Eldridge in the mid-1940s. Through his innovations, Hawkins, while still within the swing idiom, paved the way for improvisers of the next jazz generation and a new style, bebop. Moreover, in the mid-1940s he himself played extensively with young beboppers Thelonious Monk, Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie  and Max Roach. In 1948, Coleman Hawkins recorded "Picasso", one of the first pieces for saxophone without accompaniment.

In the 1950s and even 1960s, he played and recorded with tenor saxophonists of the next jazz generations, Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane, who revered him and acknowledged the enormous influence he had on them.

The record "The Genius Of Coleman Hawkins" (1957) was produced by Norman Graney. The record was originally intended as a club performance that could be listened to at home. All but one of the pieces were written at a medium to ballad tempo. Most were popular songs, masterfully sung by Hawkins' saxophone with its expressive logic and heartfelt subtones on "I Was Wondering at the Moon"; "Somebody Loves Me"; and the tender and full-hearted in the lower register "There's no you."

Hawkins performed at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1957, and recorded "Coleman Hawkins Encounters Ben Webster" with fellow tenor saxophonist Ben Webster.

In the 1960s, Coleman Hawkins began drinking heavily and his recordings declined. However, he did manage to record some notable albums with musicians such as Duke Ellington and other celebrities. His concert quartet in the 1960s consisted of the great pianist Tommy Flanagan, bassist Major Holley and drummer Eddie Locke.

Hawkins' last recording was made in 1967. The musician passed away on May 19, 1969, the cause being bronchial pneumonia. He is buried at Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx.


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