is a colossus of the jazz world: he is the first
recognised master of the saxophone. In his early years
his playing was very similar to others, using the slap-tongue technque
- which creates a disjointed style of playing - much in vogue in the
early-1920s; but this he discarded to produce a legato swing style,
which was much more dependent on smoothly articulated melody and his
big vibrato sound. In the late 1920s he developed also subtler harmonies
and a much greater rhythmic flexibility, learning from the likes of
Art Tatum and Louis
Armstrong. In this sense he was able
to stamp his authority not only on his instrument by creating a saxophone
tradition, but also on the formation of a generic jazz style,
absorbing ideas drawn from other spheres of the jazz world. This mature
style begins to emerge in the late-1920s, and by the 1930s is all
in place. Throughout his career Hawkins should seemingly have been
eclipsed by new movements and younger players; but he always held
his own, assimilating new ideas and techniques.
Hawkins is born in Missouri. At the age of five he learns the piano
and 'cello; at the age of nine he picks up the saxophone; by his
early teen years he is playing in Kansas and Chicago and has developed
great skills in general musicianship.
Hawkins travels to London to work with Jack Hylton. He lives and
works in Switzerland, Denmark & Paris, where he records with
Reinhardt and Grappelli. He is feted wherever he goes.
Hawkins returns to New York and almost immediately records his classic
rendition of Body & Soul, with its concise two-chorus
improvisation, now considered one of the most famous of jazz recordings.
This record sells well and reasserts his authority on the American
jazz scene. Briefly he forms a big band, although he is no great
leader of men, and takes up residency at Roseland Ballroom. In 1940
he records Picasso, a self-penned piece for solo saxophone.
Hawkins first tours with the Jazz at the Philharmonic.
Hawkins maintains his star status in the jazz firmament, adapting
to its changes, but fails to connect with the free
jazz forms of the 1960s, and is happier playing with friends
like Roy Eldridge.
Hawkins plays in a theatre orchestra in Kansas
City. In 199-23 he tours with Mamie Smith's Jazz Hounds.
He joins the Fletcher Henderson
orchestra. He becomes one of the band's stars, more so when Armstrong
leaves the band in 1925. He stays with Henderson for over 10 years,
but as work slows in the recession and the band's originality declines,
Hawkins decides to leave.
He plays and records with various small groups, settling in the
main in Chicago. In 1943 his sextet includes Thelonious
Monk, considered by this stage already as a jazz recluse, and
embraces the new sounds of the young modernists and supports many
of its rising stars, including Fats Navarro,
Max Roach and Oscar
In February Hawkins leads a group including Dizzy
Gillespie and Max Roach and makes
what is considered the first bebop recording.
His diet is alcohol dependent, his health declines, and Hawkins
dies in 1969.