A Hawk In Swingtime



A Hawk In Swingtime
"I think he was the most interesting jazz musician I\'ve ever seen in my life. He just looked so authoritative . . . I said, \'Well, that\'s what I want to do when I grow up.\'"(DeVeaux, 35) Cannonball Adderley said these words when he first saw Coleman Hawkins with the Fletcher Henderson band at the City Auditorium in Tampa, Florida. Just as Hawkins influenced one of the greatest alto players in history, he has influenced many people to become phenomenal saxophone players. Lester Young and Sonny Rollins both give tribute to Coleman Hawkins as being the "\'proliferator\' of the tenor saxophone as a jazz instrument."(Kernfeld, 506) Being a big Coltrane fan, I was drawn to Hawkins because of the aforementioned fact. I\'m always interested in learning about where my favorite artists\' roots lie.
Hawkins, unfortunately, is labeled as a swing musician though; and while he did begin his career during the swing era playing with such greats as Louie Armstrong, Fletcher Henderson, Wilbur Sweatman, and Ginger Jones, he continued his career later in life with players like Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, and Milt Jackson some of the best bop and modern jazz artists known to date.(Kernfeld, 505) This paper is devoted to the portrayal of Coleman Hawkins, his life, his playing through the swing era, and the art he helped create known as jazz.
Coleman Hawkins, also affectionately known as "Bean" and/or "Hawk", was born November 21st, 1904 in St. Joseph, Missouri. The nick-name "Bean" came about due to his knowledge of music. Budd Johnson explained: We called him Bean . . . because he was so intelligent about music and the way he could play and the way he could think and the way his chord progressions run. We\'d call him Bean, instead of \'Egghead,\' you know.(DeVeaux,65)
He began music at the age of five, having been taught piano by his mother a school teacher and church organist. By about seven, he had moved on to cello, but was already asking his parents for a tenor saxophone, which he received on his ninth birthday. By the time he was twelve he was being paid to perform at school dances. He then went to high school in Chicago for, at most, one year before dropping out to attend Washburn College in Topeka, Kansas. He studied for two years at Washburn at which time he learned about harmonies and composition; which would prove to be of utmost importance to him and his career in later life.
At seventeen, Hawk got his first regular gig in the spring of 1921 playing in the orchestra for the 12th Street Theater in Kansas City. That very summer, Mamie Smith and the Jazz Hounds performed at the theater where Hawkins was working. After hearing Bean play, Mamie Smith offered him a job touring with her group. By March of 1922, the Jazz Hounds, now with Hawkins, were playing in New York at the Garden of Joy. Shortly afterwards, he appeared on his first recording with the group. Hawkins and the Jazz Hounds toured across the country reaching out to California, playing in the musical revue, Struttin\' Along. The Jazz Hounds\' act was a mix of vaudeville and blues, as were most primarily African-American groups in the twenties.(Sadie, 322) Hawkins role was a cross of the two styles in which he would slap-tongue his saxophone while lying on his back with his feet in the air.(DeVeaux, 48)
After the show returned to New York, Hawkins left the group to become a free-lance musician. He continued to be a regular on the jazz circuit, playing the opening of the club Connie\'s Inn with Wilbur Sweatman in June. The gig with Sweatman paid off for Hawkins, for when Fletcher Henderson heard them play, he hired Bean to record with him the following August. Hawkins also played with such notables as pianist Ginger Jones, trumpeter Charlie Gaines, and with Henderson under violinist Ralph "Shrimp" Jones. Henderson\'s patronage turned out to be beneficial for Hawkins and it gave Hawkins the bulk of his early swing exposure. When Henderson created a band to play at the Club Alabama in January of 1924, Hawkins was the natural choice for a lead tenor.
Hawkins continued to