The American jazz musician Coleman Hawkins (1904-1969) transformed the tenor saxophone from a comic novelty into jazz's glamour instrument. He was one of the music's all-time preeminent instrumental voices.
Even at 16 he garnered admiration for his ability to sight read and impressive musicianship. He started with the C-melody sax, which he soon traded for the more robust tenor, while also doubling on clarinet, baritone and even bass saxophone. Much more important was his 1923 engagement with the then famous Fletcher Henderson Band, of which also Louis Armstrong became a member (there is little doubt that Hawkins became influenced by his playing style). Here his talent ripened and ultimately grew too big for the somewhat stagnating opportunities the band offered him.
In 1933, Hawkins left Henderson to sail to England where he had a stint with the celebrated Jack Hylton Orchestra. For five years he toured the continent and more or less settled in Holland. Everywhere he played he was met with great enthusiasm, but for himself this was foremost a period of consolidation and further ripening. In 1939, he returned to the US and in that same year made an everlasting impression with his tender masterpiece "Body and Soul." "The Hawk" was fully back on the scene and maintained his grip until shortly before his untimely death in 1969.
After an unsuccessful attempt to establish a big band, he led a combo at Kelly's Stables on Manhattan's 52nd Street with Thelonious Monk, Oscar Pettiford, Miles Davis, and Max Roach as sidemen. 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 in 1944 with Dizzy Gillespie and Roach. Later he toured with Howard McGhee and recorded with J. J. Johnson and Fats Navarro. He also toured with Jazz at the Philharmonic.
After 1948 Hawkins divided his time between New York and Europe, making numerous freelance recordings. In 1948 Hawkins recorded "Picasso", an early piece for unaccompanied saxophone.
Hawkins directly influenced many bebop performers, and later in his career, recorded or performed with such adventurous musicians as Sonny Rollins, who considered him as his main influence, and John Coltrane. He appears on the Thelonious Monk with John Coltrane (Jazzland/Riverside) record. In 1960 he recorded on Roach's We Insist! suite.
Coleman Hawkins playing "La Rosita" (Coleman Hawkins&Ben Wester)