Top 50 JAzz Blog

Thursday, February 23, 2012

"Coleman Hawkins: Sonic Gravitas and Bop" by Steve Provizer

A nice comment on my last post cited Coleman Hawkins as prime example of a musician who throughout his life sought new musical input. But, unlike the dramatic musical changes made by Coltrane, Byrd and Miles, Hawkins' playing changed less than the musical context did. He challenged himself by putting himself in situations more "modern" than the one in which he first reached musical maturity, but what he played changed only subtly.

And, while Miles, Trane and Byrd drastically changed their sound, either through mutes, electronics or overblowing, the particular quality of Hawkins' sound-its weight, timbre and vibratto-continued to project classic swing-era Hawkins, making it that much harder for us to hear the way he assimilated new influences into his playing. Our ears are so much drawn to that sound. The effect Hawkins' tone had of drawing the listener into the past became more and more pronounced as Lester Young's lighter tone began to dominate, then Rollins' and Coltrane's-closer to Hawkins, but with much less vibratto.

We'll listen to a few representative Hawkins recordings and try to gain some insight into how the process unfolded.

As a basis for comparison, we won't start with the earliest stuff from the 1920's, but from this recording, made in Paris in 1935, which shows us the basic, mature Hawkins. He's still a few years away from his 1939 Body and Soul triumph, which I won't post here, as it's so well known, but which you can easily find.

The next track is from the famous 1944 session where Hawkins invited Monk to make his first recordings. Hawkins sounds almost the same as he had through the 30's, but occasionally drops a "bomb" at the end of a chorus that might have been taken right from a Dizzy Gillespie solo. Monk was already completely Monk-like.

In 1947, Hawkins surrounded himself almost completely with boppers; in this case: Chuck Wayne, JJ, Max, Hank and Fats. To my ears, even though the context has changed dramatically, apart from an occasional harmonic extension, there's little change in his approach. As noted before, the continuity of his sound carries so much weight that it actually makes it more difficult to hear any musical adjustments he is making.

This next track is from a very interesting session called Jazz Reunion, recorded in 1961( with some of Pee Wee Russell's most psychedelic playing). While Hawkins' sound is unchanged (with perhaps more than the average "gruffness"), you can hear some fairly dramatic shifts in his approach. It's much more scalar, even modal-influenced, with much less arpeggiation. In this recording, the changes have become dramatic enough that we are really able to hear them without being drawn back into the Hawkins of Body and Soul.

His last recordings were done in 1966, the year of this live recording. Maybe it's just my need to somehow close the circle, but in this recording, it sounds to me like two worlds have merged: the world of Coleman Hawkins' sound and the world of Bop. His sound is a bit lighter here, which, although probably somewhat health-related, may be a part of it, but it feels to me like the end of a long gestation period. Hawkins had immersed himself in a new vocabulary when it was being created, but for several decades, he didn't really want to haphazardly shoot off his chops, at it were. Finally, after he had truly assimilated the language, he pounced.

Of course, this analysis comes from one person's ears. I'm interested to hear how other ears have it.


dlwilson26 said...

I could follow the progression that you were making concerning Hawkins's sound. You selected the right set of records to make your argument too. Thanks for passing on the slap tongue solos from the 20s. You know what they say about his "Body and Soul" solo? You can never can hear it too much! But you made your point without it overwhelming the listener. Good for you. Just as a counterweight, I'd suggest listening to Lester Young's version of "Body and Soul" with Nat Cole on piano. Each stands on its own, but listening to the the contrast back-to-back is also a treat.

The 1947 record was a new one for me. Interesting that Budd Johnson plays alto. To me he is a kindred spirit to Hawkins. He too surrounded himself by modern players and was always innovating. I bet he was the arranger on that date.

You made your point with the last recording. The original sound is still recognizable, but Hawkins is definitely going out as a thoroughly modern player.

David Wilson

Steve Provizer said...

David-Thanks for the positive comment. It's good to hear that you could follow the logic. Yes, Lester's version is a great contrast-although he does sneak in a quote or two from Hawkin's famous version.