Coleman Hawkins


Coleman Randolph Hawkins (November 21, 1904 – May 19, 1969), nicknamed "Hawk" and sometimes "Bean", was an American jazz tenor saxophonist. One of the first prominent jazz musicians on his instrument, as Joachim E. Berendt explained: "there were some tenor players before him, but the instrument was not an acknowledged jazz horn". While Hawkins is strongly associated with the swing music and big band era, he had a role in the development of bebop in the 1940s.

Fellow saxophonist Lester Young, known as "Pres", commented in a 1959 interview with The Jazz Review: "As far as I'm concerned, I think Coleman Hawkins was the President first, right? As far as myself, I think I'm the second one." Miles Davis once said: "When I heard Hawk, I learned to play ballads."

Early life

Hawkins was born in Saint Joseph, Missouri, in 1904. Although some sources say 1901, there is no evidence to prove an earlier date; instead, there is record of Hawkins's parents' first child, a girl, being born in 1901 and dying at the age of two, possibly the basis for the mistaken belief. He was named Coleman after his mother Cordelia's maiden name.

He attended high school in Chicago, then in Topeka, Kansas at Topeka High School. He later stated that he studied harmony and composition for two years at Washburn College in Topeka while still attending high school. In his youth he played piano and cello, and started playing saxophone at the age of nine; by the age of fourteen he was playing around eastern Kansas.

Later life and career


Hawkins's first major gig was with Mamie Smith's Jazz Hounds in 1921, and he was with the band full-time from April 1922 to 1923, when he settled in New York City. In the Jazz Hounds, he coincided with Garvin Bushell, Everett Robbins, Bubber Miley and Herb Flemming, among others. Hawkins joined Fletcher Henderson's Orchestra, where he remained until 1934, sometimes doubling on clarinet and bass saxophone. Hawkins's playing changed significantly during Louis Armstrong's tenure with the Henderson Orchestra (1924–25). In the late 1920s, Hawkins also participated in some of the earliest interracial recording sessions with the Mound City Blue Blowers. During his time with Henderson he became a star soloist with increasing prominence on records. While with the band, he and Henry "Red" Allen recorded a series of small group sides for ARC (on their Perfect, Melotone, Romeo, and Oriole labels). Hawkins also recorded a number of solo recordings with either piano or a pick-up band of Henderson's musicians in 1933–34, just prior to his period in Europe. He was also featured on a Benny Goodman session on February 2, 1934 for Columbia, which also featured Mildred Bailey as guest vocalist.

In late 1934, Hawkins accepted an invitation to play with Jack Hylton's orchestra in London, and toured Europe as a soloist until 1939, performing and recording with Django Reinhardt and Benny Carter in Paris in 1937. Following his return to the United States, on October 11, 1939, he recorded a two-chorus performance of the pop standard "Body and Soul", which he had been performing at Bert Kelly's New York venue, Kelly's Stables. In a landmark recording of the swing era, captured as an afterthought at the session, Hawkins ignores almost all of the melody, with only the first four bars stated in a recognizable fashion. In its exploration of harmonic structure it is considered by many to be the next evolutionary step in jazz recording after Louis Armstrong's "West End Blues" in 1928.

Hawkins' time touring Europe between 1934 and 1939 allowed many other tenor saxophonists to establish themselves back in the U.S., including Lester Young, Ben Webster, and Chu Berry.

The 1940s and 1950s

After an unsuccessful attempt to establish a big band, he led a combo at Kelly's Stables on Manhattan's 52nd Street with Thelonious Monk, Oscar Pettiford, Miles Davis, and Max Roach as sidemen. Hawkins always had a keen ear for new talent and styles, and he was the leader on what is generally considered to have been the first ever bebop recording session in 1944 with Dizzy Gillespie, Pettiford and Roach. Later he toured with Howard McGhee and recorded with J. J. Johnson and Fats Navarro. He also toured with Jazz at the Philharmonic.

After 1948 Hawkins divided his time between New York and Europe, making numerous freelance recordings. In 1948 Hawkins recorded "Picasso", an early piece for unaccompanied saxophone.

In the 1950s, Hawkins performed with more traditional musicians such as Red Allen and Roy Eldridge, with whom he appeared at the 1957 Newport Jazz Festival and recorded Coleman Hawkins Encounters Ben Webster with fellow tenor saxophonist Ben Webster along with Oscar Peterson (piano), Herb Ellis (guitar), Ray Brown (bass), and Alvin Stoller (drums).

Hawkins directly influenced many bebop performers, and later in his career, recorded or performed with such adventurous musicians as Sonny Rollins, who considered him as his main influence, and John Coltrane. He appears on the Thelonious Monk with John Coltrane(Jazzland/Riverside) record.


In 1960 Hawkins recorded on Roach's We Insist! suite. In the 1960s, he appeared regularly at the Village Vanguard in Manhattan. Meanwhile, Hawkins had begun to drink heavily and his recording output began to wane. However, he did record for the Impulse! label for a time, a period which includes the album Duke Ellington Meets Coleman Hawkins. His last recording was in 1967.

Hawkins died of liver disease on May 19, 1969, at Wickersham Hospital, in Manhattan. He was survived by his widow, Dolores, and by three children: a son, Rene, and two daughters, Colette and Mrs. Melvin Wright. Hawkins is interred in the Yew Plot at the Woodlawn Cemetery in The Bronx, New York City.

The Song of the Hawk, a 1990 biography written by British jazz historian John Chilton, chronicles Hawkins's career.


As leader/co-leader

  • Body and Soul (1939–1956, RCA, 1996)
  • Disorder at the Border (Spotlite, 1952 [1973])
  • The Hawk Talks (Decca, 1952-53 [1955])
  • The Hawk Returns (Savoy, 1954)
  • Timeless Jazz (Jazztones, 1954) also released as Jazz Tones (Xanadu, 1954 [1984])
  • Accent on Tenor Sax (Urania, 1955)
  • The Hawk in Hi Fi (RCA Victor, 1956) with Billy Byers and his orchestra
  • The Hawk in Paris (Vik, 1956) with Manny Albam and his orchestra
  • The Gilded Hawk (Capitol, 1956-57) with Glen Osser and his orchestra
  • The Hawk Flies High (Riverside, 1957)
  • The Coleman Hawkins, Roy Eldridge, Pete Brown, Jo Jones All Stars at Newport (Verve, 1957)
  • Coleman Hawkins Encounters Ben Webster (Verve, 1957) with Ben Webster
  • The Genius of Coleman Hawkins (Verve, 1957)
  • Coleman Hawkins and Confrères (Verve, 1958) with the Oscar Peterson Trio, Roy Eldridge and Ben Webster
  • The High and Mighty Hawk (Felsted, 1958)
  • The Saxophone Section (World Wide, 1958)
  • Bean Bags (Atlantic, 1958) with Milt Jackson
  • Soul (Prestige, 1958)
  • Hawk Eyes (Prestige, 1959)
  • Coleman Hawkins with the Red Garland Trio (Moodsville, 1959) – with Red Garland
  • Coleman Hawkins All Stars (Swingsville, 1960) – with Joe Thomas and Vic Dickenson
  • At Ease with Coleman Hawkins (Moodsville, 1960)
  • Coleman Hawkins and His Orchestra (Crown, 1960)
  • The Hawk Swings (Crown, 1960)
  • Night Hawk (Swingsville, 1960) – with Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis
  • The Hawk Relaxes (Moodsville, 1961)
  • Duke Ellington Meets Coleman Hawkins (Impulse!, 1962) – with Duke Ellington
  • Good Old Broadway (Moodsville 1962)
  • The Jazz Version of No Strings (Moodsville, 1962)
  • Hawkins! Eldridge! Hodges! Alive! At the Village Gate! (Verve, 1962) with Johnny Hodges and Roy Eldridge
  • Hawkins! Alive! At the Village Gate (Verve, 1962)
  • Coleman Hawkins Plays Make Someone Happy from Do Re Mi (Moodsville, 1962)
  • Today and Now (Impulse!, 1962)
  • Desafinado (Impulse!, 1962)
  • Back in Bean's Bag (Columbia, 1963) – with Clark Terry
  • Sonny Meets Hawk! (RCA Victor, 1963) – with Sonny Rollins
  • Wrapped Tight (Impulse!, 1965)
  • The Hawk & the Hunter (Mira, 1965)
  • The Greatest Jazz Concert in the World (Pablo, 1967)
  • Sirius (Pablo, 1975 - recorded December 20, 1966 in New York)
  • The Best of Coleman Hawkins (Original Jazz Classics, a 2004 compilation of 1958-1962 recordings)

As sideman

With Kenny Burrell

  • Bluesy Burrell (Moodsville, 1962)

With Benny Carter

  • Further Definitions (Impulse!, 1961)

With Buck Clayton

  • Jumpin' at the Woodside (Columbia, 1955)
  • All the Cats Join In (Columbia 1956)

With Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis

  • Very Saxy (Prestige, 1959)

With Dizzy Gillespie

  • The Complete RCA Victor Recordings (Bluebird, 1937–1949 [1995])

With Tiny Grimes

  • Blues Groove (Prestige, 1958)

With Lambert, Hendricks & Bavan

  • At Newport '63 (RCA Victor, 1963)

With Abbey Lincoln

  • Straight Ahead (Candid, 1961)

With Shelly Manne

  • 2-3-4 (Impulse!, 1962)

With Thelonious Monk

  • Monk's Music (1957)
  • Thelonious Monk with John Coltrane (Riverside, 1957)

With Bob Prince

  • Saxes Inc. (1959)

With Max Roach

  • We Insist! (Candid, 1960)

With Pee Wee Russell

  • Jazz Reunion (Candid, 1961)

With Ben Webster

  • Ben Webster and Associates (Verve, 1959)

With Randy Weston

  • Live at the Five Spot (United Artists, 1959)

With Joe Williams

  • At Newport '63 (RCA Victor, 1963)


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