Although Adolphe Sax actually invented the saxophone, in the jazz world the title "Father of the Tenor Saxophone" became justly associated with Coleman Hawkins (1904 - 1969), not only an inventive jazz giant but also the founder of a whole dynasty of saxophone players. Before Hawkins, the saxophone (itself "born" in 1846) was mainly a favorite in marching bands and something of a novelty instrument in circus acts and vaudeville shows. Indeed, at age 16, Coleman started out with such a vaudeville group, Mamie Smith and her Jazz Hounds.
Coleman Randolph Hawkins (November 21, 1904 – May 19, 1969), nicknamed Hawk and sometimes "Bean", was an American jazz tenor saxophonist. 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". While Hawkins is strongly associated with the swing music and big band era, he had a role in the development of bebop in the 1940s.
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." Miles Davis once said: "When I heard Hawk, I learned to play ballads."
As a child he was a gifted musician. In 1922, Mamie Smith spotted him in Jesse Stone and his Blues Serenaders in Kansas City theatre and hired him away to play with her Jazz Hounds. Hawkins stayed with Smith until 1923, and appeared on some of her records. After leaving The Jazz Hounds, he played with Wilbur Sweatman and then made his first recordings with Fletcher Henderson. He joined Henderson's Orchestra in 1924 and stayed with him for the next ten years. In addition to his work with Henderson, he recorded with McKinney's Cotton Pickers, and with Red McKenzie's Mound City Blue Blowers in 1929. When he left Henderson in 1934 he moved to Europe, and stayed there until 1939 playing first with Jack Hylton's Orchestra in England and then traveling and recording throughout the continent.