[from a Brick’s Picks in the LA Weekly, c 2009]

We dig saxophone. Sometimes more than anything. Saxophones are sooo jazz. Almost iconic of the whole music. Trumpets were once, a long time ago, and clarinets had their sweet little run too. But Coleman Hawkins, big solid hard blowing Hawk, he put the sax up there in a spot no one has really been able to bounce it from for any serious stretch of time. Lester Young came in right after that, so spooky and perfect and lackadaisically gorgeous…if Coleman Hawkins put that boot down solid then Prez just kinda slid in like a man in his socks on a smoothly waxed floor. Then Bird just turned everything inside out with his bebop thing, stepping here and there and everywhere at once almost. You try to follow those footsteps. Just listen to a solo and try to follow it. Try. Was that work or what? Your eyes crossed, huh? And then Trane? Oh man. You put Trane’s thing on top of Bird’s thing on top of Hawk’s things and all around Prez’s thing I mean, man… got harmonics gone nuts, fingers going crazy, you got all that forced air rushing through that crazy saxophone (and it is crazy…look at one close up) and notes and chords flying free from that bell, making crazy patterns, and if you could see them, if the notes were different colors, they’d be filling rooms, filling whole night clubs, all squiggly flatted fifths and minor sevenths and whole bars of chords piling up everywhere. Piling up like fluff or soap bubbles, wonderful notes everywhere, just pouring out of a saxophone like some kind of crazy fountain. Think of that next time you’re sitting there in some jazz joint, the sax man blowing his ass off. Imagine all those notes. Not even the piano emits as many notes (and those would be neatly stacked or maybe scattered across the floor like shards of a glass enclosure.) Nope, it’s the sax that makes the most sound in jazz. There’s just more jazz to be heard coming out of it. Music theory this ain’t. It’s just that we dig the sax.

Coleman Hawkins and Charlie Parker

Coleman Hawkins blowing, Bird listening.

Suggested for me by Google

The 5 Star Jazz Band with Elvis impersonator Ben Johnson will be playing Coleman Hawkins Park in St. Joseph, Missouri this July 31. Coleman Hawkins, who I confess to idolizing somewhat, was born in St. Joseph a very long time ago. Someday I will visit the town just to go the park. But not this year. However, if you are in St Joseph this July 31, please let me know if the Elvis impersonator is actually performing with the jazz band, as the announcement on the Google News page was unclear.

Incidentally, this was the one of the four news items Google nicely suggested for me. Hillary Clinton discussing terrorism, Ann Coulter disparaging Jews, ISIS destroying Libya and an Elvis impersonator in Coleman Hawkins Park.

This didn’t happen before the internet.


But this happened before the internet–Coleman Hawkins with Sonny Rollins. Paul Bley on piano too.


Coleman Hawkins playing “Picasso”.

Coleman Hawkins–“Picasso”

One of my favorite jazz pieces, it seems forgotten today. Not sure why. He recorded it in 1948, well before people really thought of doing anything like this. It’s an art piece, really, and within twenty years there’d be hundreds of solo tenor sax recordings. But in 1948 this was about it. I suppose with the bebop explosion going on something as spooky and contemplative as this would be passed over. It’s not as exciting as “KoKo”, certainly, or “Salt Peanuts”. But it’s deep, and it’s beautiful, and it’ll hang with you for quite a while. Those were jukebox nights then, and for a nickel you could sit at the bar and smoke and drink and listen to the notes of an unseen saxophonist. It ends with the melody hanging in the air, unresolved, just like this.


Coleman Hawkins