Missouri-born Coleman Hawkins (1904) joined the tour of Mamie Smith in 1921 and
landed in New York the following year, where he joined Fletcher Henderson's
orchestra. There he coined the
jazz language of the tenor saxophone with solos such as the one in
The Stampede (may 1926).
He was instrumental in changing the way jazz soloists improvised:
he improvised (or, better, invented) using the notes of chords in the song, instead of paraphrasing/ embellishing the melody (like everyone else had done).
He improvised on the chord structure of a tune rather than on its melody.
Somehow the tenor saxophone, that had not been a favorite instrument of jazz
soloists, lent itself to this Copernican revolution.
His own complex composition Queer Notions (august 1933) predated bebop.
After a stay of five years in Europe, Hawkins returned to New York and
had a major hit on his own with an
atmospheric, and almost lethargic, version of Johnny Green's ballad
Body And Soul (october 1939), that literally redefined the genre.
Other classy interpretations followed:
Benny Carter's When The Lights Are Low (september 1939), a collaboration with vibraphonist Lionel Hampton featuring a reed section of giants (Hawkins, Benny Carter, Chu Berry, Ben Webster) plus Charlie Christian and Dizzy Gillespie;
George Gershwin's The Man I Love (december 1943) and Cliff Burwell's Sweet Lorraine (december 1943), both in a quartet with pianist Eddie Heywood, a quartet with bassist Oscar Pettiford and drummer Shelly Manne;
Harry Warren's I Only Have Eyes for You (january 1944) and Jimmy McHugh's I'm in the Mood for Love (january 1944), both in a quintet with pianist Teddy Wilson and trumpeter Roy Eldridge.
He transitioned into bebop when he hired Thelonious Monk for his quartet (1944)
and recorded Rainbow Mist (may 1944) with trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie and Max Roach on drums
(Gillspie's Woody'n You and Salt Peanuts,
and a lyirical interpretation of Jerome Kern's Yesterdays).
His Hawk's Variations (january 1945) and Picasso (1946) were the first major recordings of solo-saxophone pieces.
His main legacy was in the ballad form.
His "erotic" vibrato-rich style danced around the melody in order to build tension, and then danced out of it so as to release the tension in a languid swoon.
He died in 1969.
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