Coleman Hawkins

Coleman Randolph Hawkins (November 21, 1904 – May 19, 1969), nicknamed "Hawk" and sometimes "Bean", was an American jazz tenor saxophonist.[1] 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".[2] Hawkins biographer John Chilton described the prevalent styles of tenor saxophone solos prior to Hawkins as "mooing" and "rubbery belches."[3] Hawkins cited as influences Happy Caldwell, Stump Evans, and Prince Robinson, although he was the first to tailor his method of improvisation to the saxophone rather than imitate the techniques of the clarinet. Hawkins' virtuosic, arpeggiated approach to improvisation, with his characteristic rich, emotional, and vibrato-laden tonal style, was the main influence on a generation of tenor players that included Chu Berry, Charlie Barnet, Tex Beneke, Ben Webster, Vido Musso, Herschel Evans, Buddy Tate, and Don Byas, and through them the later tenormen, Arnett Cobb, Illinois Jacquet, Flip Phillips, Ike Quebec, Al Sears,[4] Paul Gonsalves, and Lucky Thompson.[5] While Hawkins became known with swing music during the big band era, he had a role in the development of bebop in the 1940s.[1]

Coleman Hawkins
Coleman Hawkins, c. 1945
Coleman Hawkins, c. 1945
Background information
Birth nameColeman Randolph Hawkins
Also known as"Bean", "Hawk"
Born(1904-11-21)November 21, 1904
Saint Joseph, Missouri, United States
DiedMay 19, 1969(1969-05-19) (aged 64)
New York City, United States
GenresJazz, Swing music, bebop
InstrumentsTenor saxophone, bass saxophone, clarinet
Years active1921–1969[1]
Associated actsBen Webster, Max Roach

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."[2] Miles Davis once said: "When I heard Hawk, I learned to play ballads."[2]

Early lifeEdit

Hawkins was born in Saint Joseph, Missouri, in 1904. He was named Coleman after his mother Cordelia's maiden name. There is record of Hawkins' parents' first child, a girl, being born in 1901 and dying at the age of two.[3] 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 careerEdit


Coleman Hawkins playing in 1935

Hawkins's first significant 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.[6] 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 participated in some of the earliest integrated 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.[7] During Hawkins' time touring Europe between 1934 and 1939, attention in the U.S. shifted to other tenor saxophonists, including Lester Young, Ben Webster, and Chu Berry.[8] Following his return to the United States, he quickly re-established himself as one of the leading figures on the instrument by adding innovations to his earlier style. On October 11, 1939, he recorded a two-chorus performance of the 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. Hawkins' departure from the melodic themes of the tune, use of upper chord intervals, and implied passing chords in that recording have been described as "one of the early tremors of bebop."[9]

The 1940s and 1950sEdit

Coleman Hawkins, c. September 1946

After a brief period in 1940 leading a big band, Hawkins led small groups at Kelly's Stables on Manhattan's 52nd Street. During 1944, He recorded in small and large groups for the Keynote, Savoy, and Apollo labels.[10][11][12] 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 on February 16, 1944 including Dizzy Gillespie, Don Byas, Clyde Hart, Oscar Pettiford, and Max Roach.[13][14][15] On October 19, 1944, he led another bebop recording session with Thelonious Monk on piano, Edward Robinson on bass, and Denzil Best on drums.[16] In 1945, he recorded extensively with small groups with Best and either Robinson or Pettiford on bass, Sir Charles Thompson on piano, Allan Reuss on guitar, Howard McGhee on trumpet, and Vic Dickenson on trombone, in sessions reflecting a highly individual style with an indifference toward the categories of "modern" and "traditional" jazz. That general period saw him recording with such diverse stylists as Sid Catlett, Tyree Glenn, Hilton Jefferson (a Fletcher Henderson colleague), Hank Jones, Billy Taylor, J. J. Johnson and Fats Navarro. He also toured with Jazz at the Philharmonic (JATP). In 1948, Hawkins recorded "Picasso", an early piece for unaccompanied saxophone. Hawkins divided his time between New York and Europe, making numerous freelance recordings.

In the 1950s, Hawkins performed with 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, Herb Ellis, Ray Brown, and Alvin Stoller. His 1957 album The Hawk Flies High, with Idrees Sulieman, J. J. Johnson, Hank Jones, Barry Galbraith, Oscar Pettiford, and Jo Jones shows his interest in modern jazz styles during a period better known for his playing with more traditional musicians.

Hawkins' interest in more modern styles manifested in a reunion with Monk, with whom he had remained close even though they hadn't played together for over a decade. Monk led a June 1957 session featuring Hawkins and John Coltrane that would yield the classic Monk's Music album issued later that summer.[17] Outtakes from this session would comprise half the tracks on Thelonious Monk with John Coltrane, released on the Jazzland Records subsidiary of Riverside Records in 1961.


In the 1960s, Hawkins appeared regularly at the Village Vanguard in Manhattan. In 1960, he participated in the recording of Max Roach's We Insist! suite, part of the political and social linkages developing between jazz and the civil rights movement. At the behest of Impulse Records producer Bob Thiele, Hawkins availed himself of a long-desired opportunity to record with Duke Ellington for the 1962 album Duke Ellington Meets Coleman Hawkins alongside Ellington band members Johnny Hodges, Lawrence Brown, Ray Nance, and Harry Carney as well as the Duke. Sessions for Impulse with his performing quartet yielded Today and Now, also in 1962 and judged one of his better latter-day efforts by The Penguin Guide to Jazz Recordings.[18] Hawkins recorded in 1963 alongside Sonny Rollins for their collaborative album Sonny Meets Hawk!, for RCA Victor.

It was shortly after this busy period that Hawkins fell into the grip of depression and heavy drinking and his recording output began to wane. 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 Mimi.[19] Hawkins is interred in the Yew Plot at the Woodlawn Cemetery in The Bronx, New York City.[1]

The Song of the Hawk, a 1990 biography written by British jazz historian John Chilton, chronicles Hawkins's career. On June 25, 2019, The New York Times Magazine listed Coleman Hawkins among hundreds of artists whose material was reportedly destroyed in the 2008 Universal fire.[20]


The grave of Coleman Hawkins

As leader/co-leaderEdit

As sidemanEdit

With Kenny Burrell

With Benny Carter

With Buck Clayton

With Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis

With Dizzy Gillespie

With Tiny Grimes

With Fletcher Henderson

With Lambert, Hendricks & Bavan

With Abbey Lincoln

With Shelly Manne

With Thelonious Monk

With Bob Prince

  • Saxes Inc. (1959)

With Django Reinhardt

  • And His American Friends (various labels, ca. 1935–1937)
  • Django Reinhardt Collection (Fabulous, 1935-1946 [2014])

With Max Roach

With Rex Stewart and Cootie Williams

With Ben Webster

With Randy Weston

With Joe Williams


  1. ^ a b c d Yanow, Scott "Coleman Hawkins: Artist Biography". AllMusic. Retrieved December 27, 2013.
  2. ^ a b c Berendt, Joachim E (1976). The Jazz Book. Universal Edition.
  3. ^ a b Chilton, John (1993). The Song of the Hawk: The Life and Recordings of Coleman Hawkins. The University of Michigan Press. p. 2. ISBN 0-472-10212-5.
  4. ^ Porter, Lewis (2002). Kernfeld, Barry (ed.). The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz. 3 (2 ed.). New York: Grove's Dictionaries. pp. 507–514. ISBN 1-56159-284-6.
  5. ^ Ratliff, Ben (March 1, 2019). "Lucky Thompson, Jazz Saxophonist, Is Dead at 81". The New York Times. Retrieved January 16, 2012.
  6. ^ Gibbs, Craig Martin (2012) Black Recording Artists, 1877-1926: An Annotated Discography. McFarland, pp. 111-2. At Google Books. Retrieved May 15, 2013.
  7. ^ Lyttelton, Humphrey (1998). The Best of Jazz. Robson Books. pp. 256–287. ISBN 1-86105-187-5.
  8. ^ Chilton, John (1990). The Song of the Hawk:The Life and Recordings of Coleman Hawkins. University of Michigan: The University of Michigan Press.
  9. ^ Tom Moon (March 6, 2000). "'Body And Soul'". Retrieved July 26, 2016.
  10. ^ "Mercury Records Discography: 1941-1944". Retrieved March 4, 2019.
  11. ^ "Savoy Records Discography: 1931-1944". Retrieved March 4, 2019.
  12. ^ "Apollo 78 RPM - Label Discography". Retrieved March 4, 2019.
  13. ^ Togashi, Nobuaki; Matsubayashi, Kohji; Hatta, Masayuki. "Max Roach Discography". Retrieved July 1, 2009.
  14. ^ Brown, Don. "What Are Considered the First Bebop Recordings? – Jazz Bulletin Board". All About Jazz. Archived from the original on July 7, 2011. Retrieved July 1, 2009.
  15. ^ Four of the six tracks from the recording sessions of February 16 and 22, 1944 in New York were originally released by Apollo Records as singles and on the album Coleman Hawkins and His All Stars (LAP 101), later reissued by Delmark on Rainbow Mist (cf., and now to find on various compilations.
  16. ^ "Thelonious Monk Discography".
  17. ^ Kelley, Robin D.G. Thelonious Monk The Life and Times of an American Original. New York: Free Press, 2009, pps. 222-223.
  18. ^ Cook, Richard, and Morton, Brian. The Penguin Guide to Jazz Recordings, Ninth Edition. London: Penguin Books, 2008, p. 670.
  19. ^ "Coleman Hawkins, Tenor Saxophonist, Is Dead". Retrieved March 11, 2019.
  20. ^ Rosen, Jody (June 25, 2019). "Here Are Hundreds More Artists Whose Tapes Were Destroyed in the UMG Fire". The New York Times. Retrieved June 28, 2019.

External linksEdit