Coleman Hawkins

His Greatest Hits

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For anyone who is counting, this was the 17th volume in the vinyl reissue of the original RCA Black and White series of vintage jazz recordings, and would make a good choice if a listener was looking for one album to summarize this era in the career of Coleman Hawkins. Counting to 17 should be easy but not a thing is simple about this great tenor saxophonist's discography, particularly all the things that happened to his studio recordings from the '30s and '40s, during which time it seemed like he made history every time he glanced at a microphone. The producers of this collection were a bit more fussy than the latter bit of hyperbole, picking through this massive recorded output to find 14 of what they find to be "masterpieces," starting off of course with the famous "Body and Soul," often credited as perhaps the first tenor saxophone solo ever recorded and, in the ears of some cynics, the last one that was necessary. Obviously someone with such an opinion would hardly be shopping for Coleman Hawkins records. This is the Hawkins (or "Bean") of short, eloquent statements, sometimes within the concept of a pop vocal such as Thelma Carpenter attempting to clone Billie Holiday. Other groupings include an orchestra and an Esquire magazine all-star band that also includes killer trumpeter Buck Clayton, the lovely Teddy Wilson on piano, tasty drummer Shadow Wilson, and Duke Ellington buddy Harry Carney on baritone sax. The later tracks hint at the modernistic Bean that would come in the '50s, and pair him up with an interesting combination of modernistic players, some aggressive such as trumpeter Fats Navarro and more relaxed swing personalities such as saxophonist Budd Johnson. Most of the tunes are standards, but there are a few of Bean's little riffy originals.

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