Coleman Hawkins is without doubt the man who, as annotator Loren Schoenberg writes, “single-handedly created the idiom for the tenor saxophone in jazz.” Following the musical trail of exactly how he progressed has not been an easy task. The path meanders through not just Hawkins’ work in the Fletcher Henderson orchestra and sessions recorded under his own name, starting in 1933, but includes plenty of sideman work, and all on a bewildering array of record labels. It would have taken dedicated and diligent collecting to chart the greatness of Hawkins and the development of his style. But with the combination of corporate media consolidation and the dedicated efforts of Mosaic Records producer Scott Wenzel, it’s at last possible to assess the great saxophonist at home on this 8 CD limited edition (5,000 copies) boxed set.
The producer’s criterion was simple: “all sessions led by Hawkins in addition to sessions where as a sideman for other bands he solos for more than 16 bars.” That led to a total of 190 sides that detail Hawkins’ recorded efforts starting with a 1922 session with Mamie Smith’s Jazz Hounds. A quarter-century later, the music has undergone countless changes, and with a gap from 1934-39 when Hawkins was working in Europe, the set ends with a 1947 Victor date by a Hawkins octet that included trumpeter Fats Navarro, trombonist J.J. Johnson and drummer Max Roach. For his research, Wenzel could draw on music recorded for labels now controlled by Sony Music (Banner, Bluebird, Brunswick, Cameo, Clarion, Columbia, Conqueror, Domino, Harmony, Lincoln, Melotone, OKeh, Oriole, Perfect, Romeo, Signature, Velvet Tone, Victor, Vocalion and “X”) as well as sessions originally on Baronet, Ca-Song, Continental, Manor, and Regis that are now in the public domain. The results are over 9½ hours by music by Hawkins as leader and as sideman with Henderson and acts like the Dixie Stompers, McKinney’s Cotton Pickers, the Chocolate Dandies, Lionel Hampton, Benny Carter, and more. Among the many treats you’re in for are the August 1933 Fletcher Henderson date that included Yeah Man, King Porter Stomp, and Queer Notions, a gorgeous It’s The Talk of the Town from a month later, the celebrated Body and Soul waxed in October 1939 after Hawkins returned from Europe, the solo saxophone of Hawk’s Variations from 1945, and so many more. One historically important session worthy of note is the complete Metronome All Star Band date of December 1946, with Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, and June Christy. This is the first time that the breakdowns have been issued, and Mosaic has wisely decided to keep it intact instead of relegating alternate takes to the end of the disc, which is the practice on the rest of the set. Considering the vast array of sources utilized to compile this set (a list is included in the booklet), sound quality is exceptionally fine. It’s an unprecedented and unbeatable collection. But that’s only one part of the good news.
Your guide through jazz history and the nuances of Hawkins’ developing style is the inimitable Loren Schoenberg. Artistic Director of the National Jazz Museum, a saxophone player in his own right, and a Grammy winner for his writing, Schonberg is a wonderful guide to this music. His chatty conversational style makes it feel like he’s sitting in an easy chair right next to you. He talks a bit about each and every song, pointing out details in the music that you might otherwise miss. He also tosses in unexpected insights, like quoting modern trumpeter Don Ellis on the virtues of Henry “Red” Allen, or noting a shift in microphone placement that affects the sound. Mosaic has set his long essay in their usual Lp sized booklet with plenty of rare photos and a complete discography.
In other words, you have a bounty of fabulous music by one of the greatest of all jazzmen along with plenty of his illustrious contemporaries, and an unmatched guide to the music, the history, and the personalities you’re about to encounter. Now, if you’ve got Disc One ready, just press play and begin. (Mosaic Records are available by mail-order at 425 Fairfield Ave., Suite 421, Stamford, CT 06902; or at www.mosaicrecords.com.)
Mosaic MD8-251; Disc 1 (66:26): (Session A) December 20, 1922 (Mamie Smith & Her Jazz Hounds) - (P) December 2, 1930 (Fletcher Henderson and His Orchestra). Disc 2 (66:40): (Q) December 4, 1930 (Chocolate Dandies) - (X) October 15, 1931 (Fletcher Henderson and His Orchestra). Disc 3 (65:59): (Y) October 16, 1931 (Fletcher Henderson and His Orchestra) - (EE) August 13, 1933 (Fletcher Henderson and His Orchestra). Disc 4 (70:38): (FF) September 22, 1933 (Fletcher Henderson and His Orchestra) - (JJ) February 2, 1934 (Benny Goodman and His Orchestra). Disc 5 (78:02): (KK) March 6, 1934 (Fletcher Henderson and His Orchestra) - (PP) January 3, 1940 (Coleman Hawkins’ All Star Octet). Disc 6 (78:18): (QQ) January 30, 1940 (Benny Carter and His Orchestra) - (UU) December 8, 1943 (Coleman Hawkins and His Orchestra). Disc 7 (72:59): (VV) December 18, 1943- (Coleman Hawkins and His Orchestra or Swing Four) - (BBB) January 1945 (Coleman Hawkins). Disc 8 (78:14): (CCC) February 27, 1946 (Coleman Hawkins’ 52nd Street All Stars)- (HHH) December 11, 1947 December 11, 1957 (Coleman Hawkins and His Orchestra).
Previously unissued takes: (FF): Fletcher Henderson and His Orchestra, September 22, 1933: It’s the Talk of the Town; (II) Allen-Hawkins and Their Orchestra, November 9, 1933: You’re Gonna Lose Your Gal/ My Galveston Gal; (KK) Fletcher Henderson, March 6, 1934: Tidal Wave; (LL) Coleman Hawkins, March 8, 1934: It Sends Me/ On the Sunny Side of the Street; (NN) Hawkins and His Orchestra, October 11, 1939: She’s Funny That Way; (RR) Hawkins and His Orchestra, August 9, 1940: Rocky Comfort; (VV) Hawkins and His Orchestra, December 18, 1943: Lover Come Back To Me/ Indiana; (XX) Hawkins and His All-Stars, July 27, 1944: Shivers; (EEE) Metronome All-Stars, December 1, 1946: Sweet Lorraine (5 takes)/ Nat Meets June (3 takes).