Thursday, September 07, 2006


Coleman Hawkins, Chant.
Coleman Hawkins and Thelonious Monk, Ruby, My Dear.
Coleman Hawkins and Ben Webster, La Rosita.

Cannonball Adderley liked to tell of a young saxophonist who complained to him that Coleman Hawkins made him nervous. 'I told him Hawkins was supposed to make him nervous! Hawkins has been making other sax players nervous for forty years!'

Gary Giddins, Visions of Jazz.

Coleman Hawkins, the man who taught the tenor saxophone how to sing, played his first paid gig during World War I (and his last would be a few months before the first moon landing); he had, over the course of some 40 years, become a walking embodiment of jazz, never tiring, forever altering course. A series of great sessions Hawkins recorded during 1957 can give you a sense of the master's abilities.

"Chant" is the leadoff track of The Hawk Flies High, an LP he recorded for Riverside in March, in which Hawkins was able to choose his supporters--he wound up with a pretty fantastic lot, including trombonist J.J. Johnson, Idrees Sulieman (t), pianist Hank Jones, guitarist Barry Galbraith, Oscar Pettiford (b) and Jo Jones (d). For the solos, Hawkins clears the trail, leaving Sulieman, Johnson, Hank Jones and Pettiford to follow along, each in an exemplary way.

Three months later, Hawkins went into the studio with Thelonious Monk. Unlike some musicians of his generation, Hawkins enjoyed the beboppers, who in turn embraced Hawkins as a sort of grand master of modern jazz. This version of Monk's "Ruby, My Dear," recorded on June 26, also features Wilbur Ware on bass and Art Blakey on drums. Monk is content, for most of the piece, to simply provide accompaniment for Hawkins' beautiful playing (Monk's solo, a 16-bar dose of serenity, finally comes around four minutes into the recording). After one last glorious burst from Hawkins, he and Monk converse for a bit before calling it a night. On Monk's Music.

And the sublime "La Rosita" finds Hawk teamed with more of a contemporary, the tenor saxophonist Ben Webster, who had long emulated Hawkins' style. Hawkins states the melody in slow, luxurious phrases, over a sprightly, rim-rapping beat by Alvin Stoller, then Webster joins him for a stretch of what Giddins called "understated rapture." Webster lights out on the solo. ("La Rosita" was a resurrected oldie, first hailing from a 1923 Ernst Lubitsch film of the same name.) Recorded on October 16, with Oscar Peterson (p), Herb Ellis (g), Ray Brown (b). Find here.

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