HAWKINS, Coleman: Hawk In the 30s

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‘Hawk in the 30s’

In his promotion and elevation of the tenor saxophone to solo status, ‘Hawk’ is now regarded as a colossal pioneering force of modern jazz. The archetypal tenor ‘vocalist’ of jazz (his career coincides with the heyday of jazz as graphed on records) and the inspirer of Lester Young and Stan Getz, not to mention more recent exponents, his powerful, confident and innovative style was probably the greatest single influence in the emergence of the sax as a serious jazz instrument.

‘Hawk’ was born Coleman Randolph Hawkins in St. Joseph, Missouri, on 21st November, 1904, the only son of William and Cordelia Coleman Hawkins. Encouraged by his mother, an amateur church organist, he played classical piano at five and ’cello at seven before being presented with his first sax at nine. Educated locally and in Kansas, Missouri, he improvised initially in school bands on jazz he had heard on recordings (his single greatest formative influence was the smooth, melodic playing of Louis Armstrong) and at sixteen, still a student of harmony and composition at the all-black Washburn College, Topeka, gained his first professional experience in and around Kansas City. In 1921, while playing professionally in a theatre orchestra in Twelfth Street, he was invited by the visiting Mamie Smith to tour with her Jazz Hounds. In March 1922 they appeared at the Garden of Joy in New York and shortly afterwards Hawk made his first recordings as a sideman with the band (acoustics for the OKeh label), by which time he had switched permanently from C-melody sax to tenor. At this period he also played in backing groups with Ma Rainey and Bessie Smith, prior to joining Fletcher Henderson, in 1923.

At first based at the Club Alabam on New York’s West 44th Street, by 1924 Henderson was soon fronting prestigious society dance outfits resident (mainly) at plush establishments like the Roseland Ballroom and the Savoy. The mascot of a chic clientele, he specialised in New Orleans hot dance improvisations à la Louis Armstrong, a style to whose influence Hawk was highly susceptible, especially after Louis himself joined the band’s ranks in 1924. Remaining with Henderson until early 1934, Hawk soon had star status conferred on him and steadily raised his chosen instrument (previously regarded merely as a novelty for background effects) into a virtuoso vehicle. With the Henderson band the embellished improvisations of "Coleman Hawkins — the world’s greatest tenor saxophonist" were displayed to great acclaim both live and in the fruit of circa 90 recording sessions, mainly for Columbia, from which come two late examples : Noble Sissle’s Yeah Man! and Queer Notions, an interesting Hawkinsian exploration of the ‘whole-tone scale’.

In March 1933, with trumpeter Henry ‘Red’ Allen (1908-1967) as co-director and other sidemen from the Henderson outfit, Hawk formed an eight-piece from which evolved his first band (Tracks 3 & 4). By 1934 the effects of the Depression added to a growing consciousness of the increasing popularity of jazz on a global scale prompted Hawk to quit Henderson for a solo career in Europe, where an initial tour soon turned into a sojourn which lasted until 1939. His first planned tour, of Great Britain, had fallen through, but under the auspices of impresario-bandleader Jack Hylton (1892-1965) Hawk arrived in England on 30th March, 1934, and toured with the bands of Jack and Mrs. Jack Hylton (aka Ennis Parkes). He recorded with Jack Hylton and also with pianist Stanley Black (Track 11) and with a trio comprising Black, guitarist Albert Harris and string-bassist Tiny Winters (Track 10).

Thereafter, despite being excluded from a Hylton tour of Germany by the Nazis’ new racial policy, Hawk stayed in Europe, appearing and recording, during 1935, with Theo Masman’s Dutch Ramblers ensemble at The Hague (Tracks 12 & 13), in Paris (with Michel Warlop’s outfit, featuring André Ekyan and Reinhardt and Grappelli) and (again with The Ramblers) at the Casino Hamdorff in Laren (Tracks 14 & 15). During 1936, he also appeared variously with, among others, Jean Omer’s Orchestra and The Berries (in Switzerland), Freddy Johnson (in Holland) and Jack Hylton and Benny Carter (in London). In April 1937, in Paris, in a group dubbed ‘C.H. & His All-Star Jam Band’ (personnel including Carter, Grappelli, Reinhardt and drummer Tommy Benford) he cut four now-legendary sides which illustrate the lyricism and rhythmic pulse of his playing at that time (Tracks 16 -17).

In March 1939 Hawk returned to London for the start of a final tour sponsored by Selmer instrument manufacturers. In a break from touring in May he recorded two sides with the Hylton orchestra (Tracks 19 & 20) and continued to tour Britain until July 1939. With war fast approaching he was influenced by an offer from the William Morris Agency to return to New York. Arriving back in his old alma mater on 1st August, he first fronted his own nine-piece band at Kelly’s stables on West 51st Street and, from November, his first big-band, based at the Arcadia Ballroom.

Peter Dempsey, 2002

The Naxos Historical labels aim to make available the greatest recordings of the history of recorded music, in the best and truest sound that contemporary technology can provide. To achieve this aim, Naxos has engaged a number of respected restorers who have the dedication, skill and experience to produce restorations that have set new standards in the field of historical recordings.

David Lennick

As a producer of CD reissues, David Lennick’s work in this field grew directly from his own needs as a broadcaster specializing in vintage material and the need to make it listenable while being transmitted through equalizers, compressors and the inherent limitations of A.M. radio. Equally at home in classical, pop, jazz and nostalgia, Lennick describes himself as exercising as much control as possible on the final product, in conjunction with CEDAR noise reduction applied by Graham Newton in Toronto. As both broadcaster and re-issue producer, he relies on his own extensive collection as well as those made available to him by private collectors, the University of Toronto, Syracuse University and others.
Disc: 1
Darktown Strutter's Ball
1 Yeah Man!
2 Queer Notions
3 The Day You Came Along
4 Heartbreak Blues (A Blues Rhapsody)
5 Hocus Pocus
6 Phantom Fantasie
7 Tidal Wave
8 I Ain't Got Nobody
9 It Sends Me
10 Lady Be Good
11 Lullaby
12 After You've Gone
13 I Wish I Were Twins
14 Meditation
15 Netcha's Dream
16 Honeysuckle Rose
17 Crazy Rhythm
18 Star Dust
19 My Melancholy Baby
20 Darktown Strutter's Ball
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