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Jeff Krow
Audiophile Audition, October 2009

The opportunity to see the “Father” of the tenor sax, Coleman Hawkins (1904-1969), on video is a rare one. During Hawkins’ prime—in the 30s to 50s—there is very little video archived of viewable quality, so it is a special treat to have 140 minutes of the master playing at the end of his career. Hawkins had begun to deteriorate rapidly at the end of his career beginning in 1967, when he largely stopped eating and began to drink even more heavily. He was a wisp of his formerly robust stature in 1969 when he passed away. The jazz world had changed, as free jazz had begun to creep onto the jazz scene, and although Hawkins had survived and even mastered the bop idiom of the late 40s and early 50s, he had a hard time accepting some of the directions that jazz was heading. The difference in his appearance, even just between 1962 and 1964, is apparent on this Jazz Icons DVD. Though still vibrant in 1964, Hawkins had already begun to lose weight and within three years his demise began.

The difference in video and audio quality between the 1962 Belgium concert and the 1964 BBC Wembley Hall show is also quite distinguishable. (In spite of considerable video restoration work having being done on the ’62 video…Ed.) The June 4, 1962 concert in Brussels was recorded at the Adolphe Sax Festival de Belgique. Adolphe Sax is credited with inventing the saxophone and it was fitting that the Festival honored Hawkins as its guest star, since Coleman is credited with helping make the saxophone a premier solo instrument in jazz.

Hawkins’ band played only one original, Disorder at the Border, at the Brussels show. The balance was standards—Autumn Leaves, Lover Come Back to Me, Moonlight in Vermont, All the Things You Are, and Ow. Of these, only Dizzy Gillespie’s Ow was a somewhat contemporary composition. Unlike the 1964 BBC concert, Hawkins alone was the sole attraction, with his backing band not well known. Arvanitas, the French pianist, twenty seven years younger than Bean (Hawkins’ nickname given to him as a pseudonym for “egghead” due to his mastery of music theory), was a modernist as a pianist—certainly compared to “Sir” Charles Thompson, the pianist from two years later. Arvanitas keeps things interesting as an accompanist for Hawkins, as does drummer Kansas Fields (who had played with Gillespie). Fields has several distinctive bop drum solos and at times seems to resent his being reeled in by Hawkins. Fields shows himself to be a master snare drum player and really shines on Disorder at the Border, just after Coleman has blown nineteen hot choruses building in intensity. The Brussels concert is a mix of ballads—Autumn Leaves and Moonlight in Vermont—with burners like Lover Come Back to Me and Ow. The video quality of the ’62 concert is only passable with the audio a bit better.

However, the 1964 Wembley BBC concert (like the Art Farmer Jazz Icons DVD) is a different matter. The video approaches the Farmer concert in quality—the lighting on the Farmer is more conducive to enjoyment—and the mono audio is quite decent. The ’64 BBC performance is much more a sharing of talents than the Brussels show was. Along with a reprise of Disorder at the Border, the all-star band has two ballad medley features—Lover Man/Stella by Starlight/Girl from Ipanema (an odd choice); and September Song/What’s New / Willow Weep for Me— for which a particular soloist is featured as the primary musician. “Sweets” Edison shows his mastery on trumpet blues on Willow Weep for Me, and “Sir” Charles Thompson displays his elegant swing on Stella by Starlight. Coleman, of course, owns Lover Man and September Song as his ballad mastery is only approached on numbers like these by someone like Ben Webster.

Hawkins and Edison share honors on Edison’s Centerpiece. The Wembley performance ends on a high note with Caravan, where “Papa” Jo Jones, the great Basie drummer has a five-minute solo where he shows his understated yet complete mastery of the drum kit. Jones was a perfect fit for the Basie band, and he shows his esteemed band mates here that he can whip Caravan to new heights.

Coleman Hawkins’s daughter, Colette, wrote the foreword for the included 24-page booklet and jazz historian Scott Deveaux covers the life of Hawkins in a concise yet comprehensive style. There is no question that the Coleman Hawkins Jazz Icons DVD belongs in the collection of any jazz collector whose interest goes back to one of the founding fathers of jazz tenor saxophone, Coleman Hawkins.

Tad Hendrickson
Spinner, October 2009


O’DAY, Anita: Live in ’63 and ’70 (NTSC) 2.119015

HERMAN, Woody: Live in ’64 (NTSC) 2.119016

BLAKEY, Art: Live in ’65 (NTSC) 2.119017

SMITH, Jimmy: Live in ’69 (NTSC) 2.119018

FARMER, Art: Live in ’64 (NTSC) 2.119019

HAWKINS, Coleman: Live in ’62 and ’64 (NTSC) 2.119020

GARNER, Erroll: Live in ’63 and ’64 (NTSC) 2.119021

The Jazz Icons method, which is done by the Reelin’ in the Years Productions team and released by Naxos, is to dig through the vaults of universities and television stations looking for gold. Often this happens in Europe, where then (like now) people have deep respect to the musicians and seem to make a bigger deal out of these guys. Because the gigs were good and the tours tight, there are some impressive lineups on these discs, some of which feature performances that haven’t been seen since original broadcast or have never been aired.

The latest is the fourth series (each comes in a box that contains eight or nine discs, depending on the series), which features seven artists performing in Europe between 1962 and 1970 and one disc of extras. These are multicamera, studio-quality shoots, and the sound is pretty exceptional…Highlights include a smoking 1965 set in Paris by the underdocumented Art Blakey and the New Jazzmen with trumpeter Freddie Hubbard at the height of his dazzling technical powers. Also on board were bassist Reggie Workman, pianist Jackie Byard (this classic Mingus sideman is the sort of a strange choice for the emphatically straight-ahead Blakey) and lesser-known saxophonist Nathan Davis, who eventually went into teaching. The band comes out of the gate at a full sprint for a stunning version of Hubbard’s ‘The Hub’ and slows down very little from there.

The Jimmy Smith trio recording from Paris in 1969 [2.119018] portrays the organist as his usual tenacious self. Here he mows through a version of the ‘The Sermon’ that is more streamlined than the classic studio version but nonetheless sublime. One gets the sense that it was just another night for this regular working band (Eddie McFadden on guitar and Charlie Crosby on drums), but that in itself is cool because they certainly had it going on.

No doubt that Errol Garner fans will be thrilled to see and hear him run through many of his classics in two sets (on one DVD) from Belgium in 1963 and Sweden in 1964 [2.119021], although it’s kind of weird that the cameramen were a little too in love with watching Errol’s fingers dance across the keys without much acknowledgment for his regular bassist Eddie Calhoun and drummer Kelly Martin. Fans of Woody Herman will get a jolt of big-band electricity that Herman’s hard-working herd always delivered [2.119016]. You can also see that Anita O’Day [2.119015] runs her band like a drill sergeant and dressed onstage in 1970 like ‘The Partridge Family’-era Shirley Jones (love that ruffled shirt!). The series is rounded out with a set by Art Farmer’s quartet, which had Jim Hall on guitar [2.119019], and two sets (again on one DVD) from Coleman Hawkins [2.119020].

If there is one area where there seems to be growth area of hard product music sales (as opposed to digital downloads), it is DVDs. I’m no expert on the technical demands of video versus audio downloads, but I do know that one way current-day artists are adding value to their new CDs is to add an additional DVD component to the package, either a live show or videos or whatever else. So it seems that the folks Reelin’ in the Years/Naxos are both in step and on to something with this impressive series of DVDs.

They do it right by providing authoritative notes to complement the videos. They also sell them separately, which is nice for those who can’t afford the cost of the boxed set…More than anything, these are old home movies of when jazz giants still roamed the Earth in great numbers. While the fourth one doesn’t have the iconic heft of the first two (which have Monk, Ella, Satchmo, Diz, Chet, Duke, Trane, Mingus and others [See JAZZ ICONS SERIES 1 BOX SET (NTSC) DVWW-JIBOX, JAZZ ICONS SERIES 2 BOX SET (NTSC) 2.108001 & JAZZ ICONS SERIES 3 BOX SET (NTSC) 2.108002], as the producers dig deeper they’ll hopefully find stuff that is a little less obvious or not so obviously bebop. Maybe even pair these with obvious holes—Miles Davis, Billie Holiday and Charlie Parker have yet to make an appearance in the series. I don’t doubt there’s plenty more where these came from and I am waiting.

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