Coleman Hawkins

1953-1954

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Following someone's career session by session reveals the best and the very worst in performance, repertoire, production, and general working conditions. The segment of Coleman Hawkins' time line beginning with the material he waxed for Al Benson's Parrot record label in Chicago during August of 1953 and ending halfway through his superb Jazztone All Stars date on November 8, 1954, is a case in point. At the end of the summer of 1953, Hawkins was working a steady gig at Chicago's Toast of the Town club. Accepting Benson's invitation to make records, Hawkins waded through a dozen titles, four of which would be released as 78 and/or 45-rpm singles, with "I'll Follow My Secret Heart" mistakenly entitled "I'll Follow My Sacred Heart." The remaining eight tracks from this date were eventually bought up by Savoy and issued on LP. Coleman Hawkins was a brilliant improviser, an archetype, and a gentleman. Surrounded by modestly able, well-intentioned players, he swung dutifully through this session, sounding as strong and sure as ever in less than optimum circumstances. Les Strand's boppish organ noodling casts a peculiar pallor over the proceedings, soon to be exacerbated by a weird vocal choir and an unidentified pianist who attempts to coax music out of a preposterous upright piano that sounds as though it had been dragged out of a broom closet at the last minute. The general effect might be compared with the kind of a malaise that could be brought on by cheap rye whiskey cut with lukewarm tap water. Following on the heels of this mess, the six tracks that close this portion of the Classics Coleman Hawkins chronology have the texture and flavor of gourmet cuisine and rare port wine. Flanked by trumpeter Emmett Berry and trombonist Eddie Bert and backed by Billy Taylor, Milt Hinton, and Jo Jones, Hawkins was able to relax and blow some honest jazz with his dignity intact. These recordings -- expanded to durations in excess of five and six minutes on the new LP format -- are especially valuable for the presence of Emmett Berry, a warm and gifted balladeer, as he demonstrates beautifully during nearly seven minutes devoted to "Out of Nowhere."

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