Coleman Hawkins

Bean & Little Jazz

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Two different ensembles in which trumpeter Roy Eldridge and tenor saxophonist Coleman Hawkins join forces are presented on this 1994 collection, in both cases playing exemplary modern jazz . The pair loved working together and represent one of the best combinations of star soloists from this genre ever executed. All references between the last word in the previous sentence and the slang expression "killing" (for playing really well) are intended. The Jazz Hour imprint's program starts off on-stage at the 1959 Newport Jazz Festival with some truly epic improvisation in terms of both length and inspiration achieved. The first three tracks go on collectively for well over a half-an-hour -- a stark contradiction of Charles Mingus' Grammy award winning liner notes in which he claims the elder generation of jazz players would never play long solos. Hawkins simply had no elders in terms of jazz tenor saxophone soloists, yet he spends an amount of time equivalent to three Top 40 hits on his "Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho" solo, all the while making it seem like what he is doing is spreading apple butter on freshly baked bread.

Even the warm, inviting opening of this gig involves multi-chorus statements, the combo members individually entering the scene as if popular characters in a radio comedy. Typically for a Bean & Little Jazz project, the band is superb. Pianist Ray Bryant and his brother, bassist Tommy Bryant are on hand, meaning this particular group passes the acid test for a bluegrass "brother band," (i.e. the good kind). Eldridge might as well be playing bluegrass, as quickly as he sets interpretive matter regarding chords and scales in motion. The Bryant brothers have meanwhile set aside the apple butter in favor of big portions of barbecue sauce and they don't care if it gets on the front of their shirts. Drummer Oliver Jackson fills out the group, although from previous imagery it may seem like the other way around. This event took place not that long before Jackson played on some of Yusef Lateef's earliest experiments with ethnic music and modern jazz. Hawkins himself was keeping pace with musical developments, his relationship with Eldridge itself taken as a sign that the saxophonist could still run with a younger crowd. As for the trumpeter, he was more than ready, considering his early years had been spent in carnivals, blowing copies of Hawkins' popular solos into the ears of gawkers on their way to the freak and girlie shows.

Rhythm section players involved with these hornmen overlapped, interesting stylistic contrasts resulting along the way, maybe even more interesting than the carnival. The second group on this set is blessed with Jo Jones on the drum chair. Jones had backed Eldridge and Hawkins at a Newport Jazz Festival edition two years previously; at that point the drummer was also performing with the Count Basie big band. Factor in superb bebop and ballad pianist Tommy Flanagan and bassist Ahmed Abdul-Malik for a quintet that toured in the early '60s under the auspices of the American State Department. Whether "Bean and Boys" were part of a cold war propaganda campaign is hardly the type of issue addressed when this group sets out on its "Rifftide." Flanagan and Malik, with whom Hawkins also played in combination with pianist Thelonious Monk, divide up rhythm section duties the way families at holidays wish a roast could be carved. These tracks are much more compact servings than the Newport material. Still Hawkins lingers, spending about 20 seconds more than the norm exposing his most famous solo of all, "Body and Soul."

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