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Forgotten Series: Coleman Hawkins

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Just popped in Coleman Hawkins' smoker Rainbow Mist (Delmark), from 1944 — a brilliant record borne out of boredom. Hawkins, the tenor saxman, had already made his splash with the song "Body and Soul," back in 1939.

When he returned from living in Europe for five years, he took a chance on updating his by-then decrepit standard — stirring in some talented unknowns that had yet to reach a mainstream audience.

Hawkins caught a young trumpet player named John Birks Gillespie at the Onyx Club and, by all accounts, liked what he heard. Dizzy, of course, would call that group the first bona fide bop configuration.coleman_hawkins

Coleman knew a few of the particulars: Co-leader was bassist Oscar Pettiford, who'd played on Hawkins' "The Man I Love." He was also a fan of the tenormen in Dizzy's group, Budd Johnson and Don Byas.

Not hard to see what was brewing here. Hawk was out to top himself — so he called in some young lions, even letting a kid named Max Roach sit in on drums.

This new take on "Body and Soul" was notable then for two reasons. It was the debut session for Apollo Records, a label that started at the Rainbow Music Shop near the Apollo Theater in Harlem. More importantly, some call this the original bop recording. ("Rainbow Mist" includes the first recorded version of the bop standard "Salt Peanuts," for instance.)

As you might imagine, "Rainbow Mist" (named for that Harlem record store) is big. Five saxes and three trumpets is how big.

"Woody 'n You" is a fierce example of early Gillespie. For one moment, it is ALL Dizzy and Hawk — Gillespie with the counter melody and Coleman skidding over the top.

The unstated thing here is the brilliance of this date's rhythm section. Pettiford and Roach are utterly in command of this sound of jazz to come.

Later dates are included in this sterling and remastered reissue, from Chicago's Delmark Records. These feature a separate band — spotlighted by legendary tenor player Ben Webster; this proves to be an interesting study.

Hawkins must have been watching Webster closely in the days leading up to this session. His solos alternately mimic and complement Webster throughout. Charlie Shavers — who, along with Gillespie, was a member of Frank Fairfax's large band in the 1930s — takes the turn most associated with Dizzy on "Salt Peanuts."

That dude just blows a HOLE in the second half of the album. A must-have for jazz fans.

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