About this Recording
8.120744 - HAWKINS, Coleman: Bean At The Met (1943-1945)

‘Bean At The Met’ Original Recordings 1943-1945

Coleman Hawkins was the first important tenorsaxophonist in jazz history. One of the more remarkable aspects to his career, in addition to the fact that he completely paved his own way without any predecessors to learn from, is that he was always a modern soloist, whether it was 1924 or 1964. Famous for his knowledge of chords and harmonies, Hawkins could be a bit old-fashioned rhythmically but his choice of notes was always advanced.

Born 21 November 1904 in St. Joseph, Missouri, Hawkins had piano lessons when he was five, switched to cello two years later and at nine started playing tenor-sax. At the time the horn had no real history or legacy, being used primarily in vaudeville as a novelty instrument. Hawkins developed his own huge sound and harmonically rich improvisations. He was a professional by 1917 when he was twelve and worked in a Kansas City theatre pit band in 1921 where he was discovered by the pioneering blues singer Mamie Smith. Hawkins played with Smith’s Jazz Hounds (with whom he made his recording debut) for two years. In 1923 he went out on his own, freelancing in New York and making his first recordings with Fletcher Henderson.

In January 1924, Hawkins officially joined the Fletcher Henderson Orchestra, being one of the star soloists for the next ten years. While Hawkins was always technically skilled, he often utilised slap tonguing, staccato runs and other dated effects in his solos. That all changed when Louis Armstrong joined the band later in the year. Due to the inspiration of Armstrong, Hawkins learned how to use space, switched to legato phrasing and became a jazz giant. His 1925 improvisation on “Stampede” is considered the first major tenor-sax solo on record.

By 1934, Hawkins was frustrated with Henderson’s lack of business sense and the fact that the band’s success had stalled. He moved to Europe for five years, playing all over the continent and being recognised as an artist. Hawkins returned to the U.S. shortly before World War II started and, although challenged for supremacy by the softer-toned tenor Lester Young, his recording of “Body And Soul” showed that Hawkins was still a major force.

After leading a short-lived big band in 1940, Hawkins became a fixture on 52nd Street where he led combos. The 1943-45 period covered in this collection is particularly intriguing for Hawkins is heard with a wide variety of stylists. Although thought of as a major swing player, Hawkins encouraged the younger generation of beboppers and often used them on his recordings. His harmonic knowledge made it possible for him to fit right in no matter how modern the music.

This collection begins with two numbers from late in 1943 when Hawkins was 39. Stumpy is an original based on the chords of “Whispering” (which a year later would be the basis for Dizzy Gillespie’s “Groovin’ High”). Pianist Ellis Larkins and trumpeter Bill Coleman have solos before Hawkins enters, sounding quite exuberant and completely in control. An uptempo boogie-blues, Hawkins’ Barrelhouse, has fine swing playing from bassist Oscar Pettiford, drummer Cozy Cole, Larkins, guitarist Al Casey, clarinettist Andy Fitzgerald, Coleman and finally Hawkins who riffs away passionately throughout the dixielandish ensembles.

Moving into 1944, Hawkins is teamed with the great swing trumpeter Roy Eldridge, a fiery and competitive improviser who always pushed Hawk to play at his most heated. Co-starring on ’S Wonderful, I’m In The Mood For Love and an original riff piece (Bean At The Met) that is based on “How High The Moon” is the definitive swing pianist Teddy Wilson, whose impeccable taste keeps the exciting music grounded. Wilson is also an important part of the accompaniment behind Hawkins on his medium-tempo ballad feature Imagination. Listen to how the tenor digs into each chord, coming up with fresh ideas.

In February 1944 Coleman Hawkins led what is considered to be the first two bebop recording dates. Hawkins played as he always did but the modern backup group, which included 26-year old Dizzy Gillespie and drummer Max Roach, was pushing the music far beyond swing. Reportedly Charlie Parker was also supposed to be on this session but he failed to show up. Hawkins digs into Gillespie’s Woody’n You and Budd Johnson’s Bu-De-Daht with ease while Dizzy takes brief futuristic solos. Hawkins is showcased throughout Yesterdays, a standard whose sophisticated chord changes also appealed to Art Tatum. Disorder At The Border is one of the tenor’s catchier originals and the blues inspires Gillespie to create his most heated solo of these sessions, showing that he was ready in 1944 to lead the mainstream of jazz to bebop. Feeling Zero has an unusual melody and chord structure, worthy of one of Duke Ellington’s 1930s mood pieces. Hawkins as usual has no difficulty ripping through the chords.

The next four selections feature Hawkins back with a swing quintet. A jubilant version of Beyond The Blue Horizon, a lightly swinging Under A Blanket Of Blue and an unlikely In A Shanty In Old Shanty Town (best-known previously as a pop song) not only have featured choruses by Wilson and trumpeter Buck Clayton (who was formerly with the Count Basie Orchestra) but spots for the humming and bowed bass of the witty Slam Stewart. A similar date from the following day has Charlie Shavers in Clayton’s place, stealing solo honours with an explosive chorus on his blues El Salon De Gutbucket. Even sixty years later, the music’s joy, sincerity and passion are timeless.

In late-1944 Coleman Hawkins put together a modern quintet that teamed his tenor with the boppish trumpeter Howard McGhee (the missing link between Roy Eldridge and the up-andcoming Fats Navarro), pianist Sir Charles Thompson, bassist Eddie Robinson and the underrated drummer Denzil Best. The group helped introduce bebop to the West Coast and (with Oscar Pettiford on bass) appeared in the film The Crimson Canary, playing one number.

The Coleman Hawkins Quintet performs five originals, all of which have concise solos from the leader, McGhee and Thompson. Keep in mind that these boppish performances predate the first joint recordings of Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie and would have made a bigger impact had they been released by a larger label than the tiny Asch company. Sportsman’s Hop is partly based on “Lullaby In Rhythm” while Ladies Lullaby is a well-disguised “Diga Diga Do,” a song played by Duke Ellington in the late 1920s. Both tunes are full of boppish ideas both in the ensembles and the solos. McGhee’s haunting Ready For Love is a highlight and a song well worth reviving. Night Ramble is based on a favourite Hawkins phrase as is Bean Stalking. The latter piece has a McGhee solo that is clearly inspired by Gillespie.

It is difficult to believe, while hearing such numbers as Woody’n You and Ladies’ Lullaby, that the tenor-saxophonist had been a member of Mamie Smith’s Jazz Hounds in 1921. But it is equally difficult to believe that Hawkins would in future years hold his own with the likes of Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane and Thelonious Monk (whom he had hired as his pianist for a few months in 1944).

But Coleman Hawkins was in his own category and his career would remain on a remarkably high level until the mid-1960s, always eternally modern.

– Scott Yanow, author of 8 jazz books including Jazz On Film, Swing, Bebop, Trumpet Kings and Jazz On Record 1917-76

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