Coleman Hawkins (1904-1969)
(2008 INDUCTEE) COLEMAN HAWKINS TRANSFORMED THE TENOR SAXOPHONE FROM A NOVELTY INSTRUMENT INTO A CORNERSTONE OF JAZZ. HE RECORDED WITH FLETCHER HENDERSON’S ORCHESTRA FOR GENNETT IN 1926.
PAUL AND PAT LINGLE, COMMUNITY STEWARDS AND FRIENDS OF STARR-GENNETT.
Coleman Hawkins was born in Saint Joseph, Missouri. His father was an electrical worker and his mother, a school teacher. She was also an organist and made sure her son acquired her skills in music. As a result, Coleman was already playing the piano, cello, and tenor saxophone in grade school. Coleman mastered his instruments quickly and was playing professionally by the age of twelve. No wonder he would become one of the most memorable figures in jazz. Known as “Hawk” or “Bean,” he continued playing music through high school in Chicago. The Chicago scene exposed him to the New Orleans jazz sound. After staying in Chicago for a while, he finished high school and attended college in Topeka. Soon after, Mamie Smith asked him to become part of her band. This moved him to New York City, which would always remain a special place for him. Coleman played with Mamie Smith’s Jazz Hounds for about two years. He then joined Fletcher Henderson’s Orchestra for ten years. Besides tenor sax, he played clarinet and bass saxophone. His time with Henderson exposed him to yet another great, Louis Armstrong. Hawkins was with the Henderson orchestra when it recorded two songs at Gennett’s Manhattan studio in March of 1926. The first, “Honey Bunch,” featured Fletcher on the piano and Coleman on sax in an arrangement by altoist Don Redman. The second number was “When Spring Comes Peeping Through.” In 1934, Hawkins decided to try his own hand in Europe because of a failed attempt by the Fletcher Henderson Orchestra to make it there. He joined Jack Hylton’s group based in London. He also toured as a solo artist. While overseas, he played with legends such as Benny Carter and Django Reinhardt in Paris. In the early 1940’s, be-bop was just coming onto the scene. Hawkins evolved as the music did and began his transition from hot jazz. During this time he helped further the careers of several future greats, among them Thelonious Monk, Dizzie Gillespie, Max Roach, and Miles Davis. Although his career faded in the 1950’s and 60’s, he continued to perform in the U.S. and abroad. He appeared with Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane, and recorded with Duke Ellington. He gave his last concert in 1969.
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