Believe it or not, there was a time when the saxophone wasn't regarded as one of jazz's more important wind instruments. That was back in the 1910s and early '20s; in those days, saxophonists generally took a back seat to trumpeters, trombonists, and clarinetists in Dixieland bands. But Coleman Hawkins, God bless him, changed that in a major way. By the end of the '20s, the seminal tenor man had made the saxophone incredibly popular in the jazz world -- and from then on, the sax was regarded as an important, indispensable part of jazz. Hawkins' importance cannot be overstated, which is why he receives so much attention on The Legendary Tenor Saxophonists: 1922-1940. Jazz critic Scott Yanow, who assembled this classic jazz/swing compilation for Allegro's Jazz Legends series, opens the disc with a 1922 recording that boasts Hawkins' first recorded solo -- Mamie Smith's "I'm Gonna Get You" -- and he closes with the Chocolate Dandies' 1940 performance of "I Can't Believe That You're in Love With Me," which also features Hawkins. Focusing on 18 years of jazz history, Yanow illustrates the rise of the tenor as a jazz instrument and shows how amazingly influential Hawk was during that pre-bebop era. This CD isn't strictly a Hawkins collection; however, he is present on six of the 21 tracks and his influence can be heard throughout the disc. All of the tenor men Yanow spotlights -- including Ben Webster, Chu Berry, Charlie Barnet, Budd Johnson, Bud Freeman, Herschel Evans, and Buddy Tate -- were influenced by Hawk's innovations. The more subtle and relaxed Lester Young (who is heard on three selections) was also influenced by Hawkins, although it is important to stress that the Prez proved to be an equally influential and distinctive innovator in his own right. Anyone who is seriously interested in the rise of the tenor sax in jazz is advised to acquire this excellent compilation.
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AllMusic Review by Alex Henderson