Personalities | Coleman Hawkins | Twenties | Jazz & Blues
(Tenor saxophone, 1904–69)
‘Hawk’ played with Mamie Smith’s Jazz Hounds in 1922 before joining Fletcher Henderson’s band in New York. Louis Armstrong’s presence in the band had a major effect on Hawkins’ playing; by marrying a swing feel to his heavy tone, informed by his advanced understanding of harmony and chords, Hawkins became a star soloist and the pre-eminent saxophonist of his time.
Returning to the US in 1939 following a sojourn in Europe (during which he worked with Django Reinhardt and Stéphane Grappelli), Hawkins recorded ‘Body And Soul’ – a masterpiece of melodic improvisation and one of the first pure jazz recordings to become a commercial hit. Hawkins was the first prominent swing-era artist to make the transition to bebop, playing with Thelonious Monk, Dizzy Gillespie and Don Byas. In 1948 Hawk made another milestone recording, ‘Picasso’, a stunning, unaccompanied solo. He recorded prolifically in the 1950s and 1960s with John Coltrane, Roy Eldridge, Duke Ellington, Max Roach, Sonny Rollins and Pee Wee Russell, among others.
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