Tag Archives: Coleman Hawkins

Sonny Meets Hawk!

A new post is overdue and this one, about an important inter-generational meeting between two of the greatest tenor saxophonists has been slow to materialise.

It was a remark made by Thelonious Monk that led me to seek out and listen to this recording. Whilst doing the the background reading to underpin my recent look at Monk’s Music, his comment delivered as an admonishment:- “You’re the great Coleman Hawkins, right? You’re the guy who invented the tenor saxophone, right?” caused me to reflect on how little I actually know about Hawkins, perhaps the first great exponent of the jazz solo on an instrument I used to play (very badly).

It is strange to learn that it took until Hawkins recorded a version of Body and Soul, almost as an end of session afterthought in 1939 for an improvisation on tenor saxophone to be heard widely. The version became a jukebox hit that retained its popularity into the 1950s and led to Hawkins becoming regarded as the musician who pioneered the tenor as an instrument that solos could be played on.

Sonny Rollins and Coleman Hawkins played together for the first time at the Newport Jazz Feztival in 1963 and it is not difficult to imagine that this session was first mooted at that stage. In any event, posterity was subsequently gifted with a meeting of the two in a studio to record their interpretations of a collection of jazz standards which offers the opportunity to compare the playing of these two giants.

I’m not sure how often Coleman Hawkins is listened to these days. Perhaps many current explorers make the mistake of assuming that he belonged to an earlier era and has nothing to contribute to their appreciation of modern jazz. Certainly, as we will see from this album, there is often an underpinning element of swing to his playing style an some may regard that as archaic. However, Rollins had a very clear view of Hawkins’ playing and he stated in the sleeve notes: ‘Hawkins is timeless and what he plays is beyond style and category. In fact it’s a shame that people tend to categorise music. A fine musician can play with anyone, just as a fine person can get along with anyone.’

Only mono recordings will do for some purists, but this session lends itself to stereo, with Rollins inhabiting the right hand speaker (stage left) and Hawkins helpfully playing from the left speaker. Without further ado let’s leap into the music.

Yesterday’s opens with a trill from Rollins before Hawkins takes up the tune from the left speaker. He plays his solo in the tenor’s lower register with a full luxuriant sound. Rollins then takes over and plays with more stuttering trills. Hawkins then follows up with his own solo with his own slower trills.

All the Things You Are swings along with reedy lower register playing from Hawkins and Rollins introducing some spicy discord in the early stages before sitting out. His own solo is more freely interpretive and considerably more harsh on the ear. Indeed, Ted Gioia writing in ‘The Jazz Standards- A Guide to the Repertoire.’ states that on this recording ‘Sonny Rollins delivers some of the most avant-garde playing of his career.’

On Summertime Sonny Rollins starts with an oblique bittersweet exploration of the theme with Hawkins providing a more lyrical statement, closer to the head tune. The superb Henry Grimes adds an enjoyable plucked bass solo.

On Just Friends Hawkins opens before Rollins comes in with a lengthy exploration ahead of a short solo from Bley and a further swinging statement from Hawkins.

Lover Man presents a beautiful and sensitive statement of the theme by Hawkins before the two horns trade ideas. As perhaps we might expect, Hawkins is the more conventionally crafted voice of the two with Rollins pushing the composition’s possibilities towards rather different territory. You can listen via YouTube by clicking on the following link:-

At McKie’s is reminiscent of Rollins’ St Thomas and offers him the opportunity to play a lively solo on this closing track.

Sonny Meets Hawk is a worthy purchase which repays repeated listening and it remains available on CD at moderate cost. Although from an earlier generation, Hawkins was revered by many of the great figures of modern jazz who followed on from him and it is a shame that he is not more widely heard and praised these days.

The band etc: Sonny Rollins (tenor saxophone); Coleman Hawkins (tenor saxophone); Paul Bley (piano); Bob Cranshaw (bass- tracks 1,2,&5); Henry Grimes (bass- tracks 3,4 &6); Roy McCurdy (drums). Produced: George Avakian. Recorded: RCA Victor Studio B, New York City. 15 & 18 July 1963. Cover Design: Unknown. Released: 1963. Original release: RCA Victor LPM or LSP- 2712.

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Out of This World: Kenny Burrell

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Every so often an unexpected gem is discovered.

This magnificent album arrived the other week as a makeweight purchase in with another LP which I tracked down on eBay. When I was looking for something to add to my purchase of Yusef Lateef’s Detroit Latitude 42 30 Longitude 83, I hit on this. Kenny Burrell’s credentials as a jazz guitarist are out there for all to see (nearly 100 albums to his name) and it is great that he is still with us. In all the time I used to play tenor sax (very badly), I had never listened to Coleman Hawkins, although I was aware of him as an early great. I had long wondered about his legendary sound. Shame on me! This LP would give me the opportunity to rectify that. If it was a good listen, that would be a bonus.

First released in 1962 on the Prestige Moodsville imprint, and originally entitled Bluesy Burrell, my copy was re-released in 1968 with the new title, Out of This World, and a fresh cover. This pairing of Kenny Burrell, 31 years old at the time and Coleman Hawkins then aged 58 brought together two extremely proficient musicians.

The band etc:- Kenny Burrell (guitar); Coleman Hawkins (tenor sax); Tommy Flanagan (piano); Major Holley (bass); Eddie Locke (drums); Ray Barretto (conga). Recorded 1962 by Rudy Van Gelder at Rudy Van Gelder Studio. Sleeve Notes (Re-release edition): Chris Albertson. Cover art: Irving Riggs. Cover Design: Don Schltten. Re-released as Prestige 7578.

The track that you need to hear lives at the end of Side 1. Without further ado- Montono Blues brought to you courtesy of grooveaddict on You Tube.

This would have been the opener on many a set. Here it just makes me go ‘Wow, wtf is this!’

What of the rest of the set? Tres Palabras (Three Words- guess which three, it isn’t too hard) is a Latin ballad played on acoustic guitar with plenty of evidence of Hawkins’s robust reedy sound and an elegant solo from Tommy Flanagan. Coleman Hawkins sits out the next two tracks. No More is a short solo guitar piece while Guilty is a much recorded American standard, a version of which by Al Bowlly is featured in Amelie– a great French film from 2001. Then its time for Montono Blues. Its got the feel of Green Onions several years before Green Onions was written. The bass player sings a dialogue with his bass and it sounds as though a bow is used. Coleman Hawkins plays low down and funky. It gets my hips swaying and my fingers clicking. I would love to see a good jazz dancer or two hoof it to this. A wonderful track.

Side Two’s I thought about you is essentially a duet between Hawkins and Burrell while Out of This World is a bit polite but showcases interplay between Kenny Burrell and the percussion. Finally, It’s Getting Dark gets us out of the bar and on route to the edgy night town jazz club of your imagination. Actually, I’ve never been to an edgy jazz club- I’m not sure if they exist in unsanitised form anymore (please advise us all if you can recommend one).

So there you have it. A makeweight purchase (once the initial US postage and the packaging has been paid for, an extra album in the parcel will only add its purchase price plus another couple of dollars to the postage) but I want to tell all my friends about it and encourage them to track it down and buy it.

My copy is vinyl, on the Prestige label, sounds wonderful, is near mint and cost me less than a fiver. The original Moodsville release (Bluesy Burrell) is likely to cost a fair bit more but has a superb abstract art cover that you can find on Google. I want to listen to more Coleman Hawkins- any recommendations? Don’t forget that you can sign up for email notifications of new posts on this site below.

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