Coleman Hawkins Day

November 21, 1904 – May 19, 1969

A tribute to the first great tenor-saxophonist

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Tenor-saxophonist Coleman Hawkins was born on November 21, 1904 in Saint Joseph, Missouri.

Hawkins at first played piano and cello, switching to the tenor-sax when he was nine and working professionally five years later.

The earliest significant tenor-saxophonist (Isham Jones was one of the very few who preceded him), Hawkins developed his own large sound and harmonically adventurous style over time, playing and recording with Mamie Smith’s Jazz Hounds during 1921-23 and then becoming a major part of the Fletcher Henderson Orchestra during 1923-34.

He was inspired by the swinging of Louis Armstrong to modernize his style after 1924, recording the first important tenor-sax solo the following year on “Stampede.”

Always a modern player, Hawkins influenced nearly all other tenor-saxophonists to come up until Lester Young introduced a very different style in the mid-1930s.

A star soloist with Henderson and on a variety of combo dates, some as a leader, Hawkins left Henderson in 1934 to spend five years playing and living in Europe.

Upon his return, he hit unexpected pay dirt with his 1939 recording of “Body And Soul,” led a short-lived big band, and was a fixture on 52nd Street with his combos.

Coleman Hawkins had no difficulty adjusting to bebop and his bands and recording groups included such top young players as Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk, Howard McGhee, Miles Davis, Fats Navarro, J.J. Johnson and Max Roach.

While his big sound and rhythmic style was considered a bit out of vogue by the early 1950s, he continued working and was rediscovered in 1957, even recording with John Coltrane (on a Monk session) and Eric Dolphy (for a Max Roach/Abbey Lincoln record).

Coleman Hawkins stayed at his playing prime until late 1965 when his health began to seriously decline, ending a remarkable 40 year period as “The First President of the Tenor Sax.”

Hawkins is featured in the early 1960s playing “The South Of France Blues.”


Coleman Hawkins, tenor sax
Georges Arvanitas, piano
Mickey Baker, guitar
Jimmy Woode, bass
Kansas Fields, drums

-Scott Yanow


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