“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) 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 truthful portrayal of Coleman Hawkins, his life, his playing, 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 already 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 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. Although his contributions are hardly notable throughout most of the album, he did get a reasonable solo with the tune, I’m Gonna’ Get You. Hawkins and the Jazz Hounds toured across the country reaching out to...