Coleman Hawkins

Hollywood Sessions: The Entire Story of a Group

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Operating out of Barcelona, Spain, the vastly under-appreciated Ocium record label specializes in reissuing great jazz from the 1940s and '50s. The Entire Story of a Group assembles everything recorded for the Asch and Capitol labels by Coleman Hawkins and a small ensemble in Los Angeles and Hollywood during the first three months of 1945. This body of work perfectly embodies the phrase "swing-to-bop", for during this period Hawkins aligned himself with young innovators like bassist Oscar Pettiford (nicely featured on "Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams"), percussionist Denzil Best, pianist Sir Charles Thompson and trumpeter Howard McGhee, who followed in the footsteps of Roy Eldridge and whose position in the evolution of jazz trumpet slightly precedes Kenny Dorham and Fats Navarro. Trombonist Vic Dickenson may be heard on "Hollywood Stampede" and "I'm Through with Love." Throughout his career Hawkins, who began making records in the early '20s, was adamantly opposed to stylistic backsliding. Returning to New York in July 1939 after spending five years gigging with Europe's greatest improvising musicians, he expressed surprise and impatient dismay at how little the music seemed to have evolved during his absence. Here he seems delighted to be working with creative musicians who were pursuing an artistic line of inquiry that meshed perfectly with his own personal development over the previous 15 years. These recordings document a musical tradition that was in transition from what the public called swing to what the critics called bop. There are several Hawkins originals, mostly based on pre-existing chord sequences ("Bean Stalking," "Night Ramble," "Rifftide," "Stuffy" and "Hollywood Stampede"); a couple of bracing romps attributed to Sir Charles, an attractive opus by McGhee titled "Ready for Love" and a number of richly rewarding ballads. If harmonically advanced ideas and accelerated tempos made early bop exciting and challenging to the ears, the art of ballad interpretation underwent transformations that resulted in small masterpieces that still come across as profoundly poetic and peculiarly personal. This compilation closes with "Hawk's Variations," an extended, unaccompanied saxophone improvisation that prefigures "Picasso," his famous solo outing recorded for Norman Granz in 1948.

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