Hawk’s mother’s maiden name was Coleman, she played piano and organ in her local church and her son, who was born in 1904 in St. Joseph, Missouri, began piano lessons at five years old. Later he played the cello and later still he picked up a saxophone; by the age of twelve he was good enough to be offered a job playing with a local band.
His parents had the money to send him to boarding school and during holidays back home he continued playing with local bands. The eighteen-year-old Hawkins became one of Mamie Smith’s Original Jazz Hounds – billed as ‘The Saxophone Boy’. Hawk made his first recordings with Mamie in May 1922, but by early 1923 he had left the band to settle in New York.
In August 1923 he was working with Fletcher Henderson’s Orchestra, the start of a long running relationship with what was the premier Black orchestra of the day. The Henderson gig was not Hawkins only work. Among those he recorded with were Bessie Brown, the Chocolate Dandies along with Fats Waller and McKinney’s Cotton Pickers. He also gigged around New York City with a whole host of musicians, enabling him to live with his wife, a former dancer with Mamie Smith’s show, in one of the best houses in Harlem.
In September 1933 Coleman finally went into the studio with his own Orchestra for the very first time. The following year, somewhat unusually for an American musician at this time, his next recording date was to be in London in November. Henderson’s band had been due to tour in England, but it fell through, leading Hawkins to make contact with British bandleader Jack Hylton to arrange a visit for himself.
Billed as ‘King Coleman Hawkins, the European trip was supposed to be a short one, but Henderson kept extending his stay to play and record in Paris, Zurich and Amsterdam and to perform in Denmark and Belgium. In Paris he recorded with Stéphane Grappelli and Django Reinhardt before his last European appearances with Jack Hylton in London in May 1939. With war looming Hawk headed home and got an orchestra together to begin a residency at Kelly’s Stable, a New York Club. On 11th October 1939 he recorded the sublime, ‘Body and Soul’, which just about everyone at the time and since have agreed is perfection. It was one hell of a way to put every other aspiring tenor sax player on notice that he was back.
His big band played the Savoy Ballroom and the Apollo Theatre in Harlem, but it was not the way to present Hawkins or his music, as he had none of the showman qualities to pull off these kinds of gigs. By 1941 he was working with a small group and feeling much more comfortable playing in Chicago and the Midwest. In 1946 he appeared on the Jazz at the Philharmonic tour, the first of many that he undertake.
As the fifties came around, and approaching fifty, Hawk embraced the role as one of jazz’s elder statesmen. He was quick to tell people about Miles Davis before almost anyone was aware of him. He had worked with some of the rising stars, including Dizzy Gillespie and Max Roach where they played some of the earliest Bebop recordings.
Through his working with Norman Granz on the JATP shows, he was asked to record for Verve. The first session was actually the live show at The 1957 Newport Jazz Festival before the first studio session at Capitol’s studio in Hollywood in October backed by Oscar Peterson, Herb Ellis, Ray Brown and Alvin Stoller where they recorded tracks that became ‘The Genius of Coleman Hawkins’. Later that day they were joined by another tenor sax great and the result was ‘Coleman Hawkins Encounters Ben Webster’. Not a bad day at the office.
By the early Sixties Coleman’s style was not seen as hip by those that thought themselves tastemakers, but he still recorded some interesting albums, including, Duke Ellington Meets Coleman Hawkins. He still continued to perform, especially in New York City’s clubs and on tours.
Finally the life of a hard drinking jazzman begun to catch up with him and in 1967 he collapsed while on stage in Toronto. By December he was appearing one last time in Britain with his old friend Oscar Pettiford’s band at Ronnie Scott’s club. He played once more in Chicago in April 1969 but a month later he died.
“For the guitar, there is Segovia; for the cello, Casals; and for the tenor saxophone, there was Coleman Hawkins.” – The Hawk’s obituary
Words: Richard Havers
In contrast to Hawkins's sometimes sleepy studio albums from this era, his live performances were generally quite exciting. This set features the great tenor at two European concerts in 1960, performing three fairly heated numbers with a four-piece rhythm section, matching wits with trumpeter Roy Eldridge on "Crazy Rhythm" and leading two all-star jams with Eldridge, fellow tenor Don Byas and altoist Benny Carter. Some of the music is quite fiery, making this a recommended disc.
Words: Scott Yanow
This remastered two-fer combines tenor saxophonist Coleman Hawkins' 1963 releases Today and Now and Desafinado. Originally, these LPs were released separately on Impulse. Today is a straight-ahead date with pleasant renditions of the standards "Go Li'l Liza," "Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree," and "Put on Your Old Grey Bonnet." Desafinado is an attempt to match Brazilian rhythms with standards such as "I Remember You," "I'm Looking Over a Four Leaf Clover (Jazz Samba)," and the title track. Both sessions are enjoyable, relaxing, and breezy. While new liner notes are absent, Impulse had the good taste to restore the original packaging: front and back cover art and liner notes.
Words: Al Campbell
This set documents a historic occasion. Although Coleman Hawkins had been an admirer of Duke Ellington's music for at least 35 years at this point and Ellington had suggested they record together at least 20 years prior to their actual meeting in 1962, this was their first (and only) meeting on record. Although it would have been preferable to hear the great tenor performing with the full orchestra, his meeting with Ellington and an all-star group taken out of the big band does feature such greats as Ray Nance on cornet and violin, trombonist Lawrence Brown, altoist Johnny Hodges, and baritonist Harry Carney. High points include an exuberant "The Jeep Is Jumpin'," an interesting remake of "Mood Indigo," and a few new Ellington pieces. This delightful music is recommended in one form or another.
Words: Scott Yanow
Verve's Norman Granz took his microphones and equipment to the fourth annual Newport Jazz Festival in July of 1957 and recorded extensively there, catching several live sets by both established and up-and-coming jazz artists in wonderfully clear sonic fullness, including this Friday evening kickoff set in Freebody Park from an all-star band led by the legendary tenor saxman Coleman Hawkins and including Roy Eldridge on trumpet, Pete Brown on alto sax, Ray Bryant on piano, Al McKibbon on bass, and Jo Jones on drums. It's a joyous affair driven by Jones' propulsive drumming and a couple of well-placed ballads like "Day by Day" interspersed through the set before the whole band jumps in for a rousing finale on the old chestnut "Sweet Georgia Brown," which here sounds wonderfully fresh and agile. The performance was originally released by Verve on LP in 1958 and now, some 50 years later, on CD. The sound quality is remarkable, with studio-level clarity while still capturing the energy, intimacy, and vitality of a festive live gig, complete with introductions and announcements, all of which makes this a delightful snapshot of a veteran band of musicians who are doing what they do best.
Words: Steve Leggett
Genius may not be the right word, but "brilliance" certainly fits. At the age of 51 in 1957, Hawkins had already been on records for 35 years and had been one of the leading tenors for nearly that long. This date matches him with the Oscar Peterson Trio (plus drummer Alvin Stoller) for a fine run-through on standards. Hawk plays quite well, although the excitement level does not reach the heights of his sessions with trumpeter Roy Eldridge.
Words: Scott Yanow
Coleman Hawkins' 1957 session for Riverside, aside from an oral documentary record in a short-lived series, was his only recording for the label under his name. Yet producer Orrin Keepnews had the good sense to invite the legendary tenor saxophonist to pick his own musicians, and Hawkins surprised him by asking for young boppers J.J. Johnson and Idrees Sulieman in addition to the potent rhythm section of Hank Jones, Oscar Pettiford, Barry Galbraith, and Jo Jones. The two days of sessions produced a number of strong performances, with Hawkins still very much at the top of his game, while both Johnson and Sulieman catch fire as well. Even though most of the focus was on new material contributed by the participants, the musicians quickly adapted to the unfamiliar music, especially the leader's old-fashioned swinger "Sancticity" (which sounds like it could have been part of Count Basie's repertoire) and the pianist's tightly woven bop vehicle "Chant." Hawkins was one of the great ballad interpreters, and his majestic performance of the standard "Laura" is no exception. The 2008 reissue in the Keepnews Collection series uncovered no previously unissued material, though expanded liner notes by the producer and improved 24-bit remastering make this edition an improvement over earlier versions.
Words: Ken Dryden
Prestige Profiles, Vol. 4 contains recycled tracks taken from tenor saxophonist Coleman Hawkins' stint with Prestige Records in the late '50s and early '60s. This set, aimed at the casual listener, includes the Hawk's renditions of such standards as "Greensleeves," "I'll Get By (As Long as I Have You)," "I'll Never Be the Same," and "Sweetest Sounds." These later performances demonstrate that Coleman Hawkins retained the title as "the inventor of the tenor saxophone," an attribute he had held since the late '30s. As alto saxophonist Johnny Hodges was quoted as saying about Hawkins during this later period, "The older he gets, the better he gets." Not only does Prestige Profiles, Vol. 4 provide the novice with an excellent sampler at a mid-line price, but, for a limited time, the first ten volumes in this series include a free bonus compilation CD of Prestige artists.
Words: Al Campbell
Recorded in 1957 this session captures Coleman Hawkins and Ben Webster duelling on Tenor Saxophones. The standard is set on the opening track ' Blues for Yolande'. This is a steady driving blues. Hawkins takes the first solo and after two choruses lets rip on the 3rd chorus with as raucous a blues riff as you're ever likely to hear on a Tenor Saxophone. Whether 'Blues for Yolande' was the first recorded track I don't know, but it wouldn't surprise me if that was Coleman Hawkins putting down a marker. Of course later on Ben Webster gets a chance to shine with some of his brilliant breathy ballad playing. The rhythm section is Alvin Stoller on drums, Ray Brown on Bass, Herb Ellis on Guitar and Oscar Peterson on Piano. As the previous reviewer said these guys are as good as it gets. A marvellous album that grows on you with repeated listens.
Words: S J Buck
Hawkins's last strong recording finds the veteran, 43 years after his recording debut with Mamie Smith's Jazz Hounds, improvising creatively on a wide variety of material on this CD, ranging from "Intermezzo" and "Here's That Rainy Day" to "Red Roses for a Blue Lady" and "Indian Summer." Best is an adventurous version of "Out of Nowhere" that shows that the tenor-saxophonist was still coming up with new ideas in 1965.
Words: Scott Yanow
A very nice digital reissue of a very congenial and nicely played Coleman Hawkins Quartet release. Not always the most compelling title from the Hawkins catalog, the record at least has the virtue of both being listenable and worthy of somewhat deeper inspection.
Words: Steven McDonald