Ever since the beginnings of Bebop Jazz, when the tenor saxophone is mentioned people associate it with specific people and a very particular style of Jazz. It doesn't seem to matter the years prior to the Bebop scene were filled with people playing the instrument in a variety of ways, and the post Bebop scene has seen many a player do things other than wild improvisations and interpretations of standards to the point they are unrecognizable.
Those people who want to look like they know something about Jazz can always find something to say about a tenor saxophone player as long as he was one of Charlie Parker or John Coltrane. What's even more aggravating is to hear these same self-styled aficionados of Jazz dismiss some of the greatest players of the twentieth century as trite, or sentimental.
I'm sure they would be very scathing of the work presented on the beautifully re-mastered Coleman Hawkings CD At Ease With Coleman Hawkins released by Moodsville records. This is saxophone playing at its most seductive, no hysterical ripping at the edges of the fabric of the universe, but a relaxing bath in the warm comfort of a life at ease on the planet earth.
"It's funny about having a big tone… a lot of times I can play the exact same thing as someone else, but they swear it's different, but it's only because my tone is bigger" is how Coleman described what separated his sound from other players in a 1956 article in Down Beat magazine. Of course he also went on to say he always wanted to be louder than everybody else as well which might make his sound that much richer.
Big doesn't mean loud on these recordings, no matter what Coleman may have said about his playing. To my ear it sounds fuller, like all the notes have been carefully crafted so when they leave the bell of the instrument they are like fat soap bubbles that sparkle in the sun. I can almost imagine having to go around the studio after these recordings to sweep up the notes that sank onto the floor and didn't dissipate because they were so full of sound and feeling.
Whatever it is he does it's the perfect sound and feel for the music on this disc. From the George and Ira Gershwin tune "For You, For Me, For Everyone" which leads off the disc with its almost lazy feel and typical "Big" Hawkins sound to the 1901 Ethelbert Nevin song "Mighty Like A Rose" where he forgoes a solo and concentrates on the needs of the song instead. While he proves he's no slouch with solos on songs such as "While We're Young" he shows a sensitivity to his material others might lack by knowing when not to solo and let a piece speak for itself.
Somehow or other with the advent of the modern era in Jazz music the misunderstanding was generated that Jazz could only be either incomprehensible to all but a few, or sentimental pabulum played with no passion or zeal. That there could be a middle ground where the music was every bit as good, and every bit as passionate as that being generated by those on the experimental outside edges seems to have been forgotten. I dare anyone to sit and listen to At Ease With Coleman Hawkins and dismiss it as lightweight or forgettable music.
The wonderful thing about this series of releases, formally from the Prestige label, is the fact the man who recorded them originally back in 1960, Rudy Van Gelder, is now the person who has been given access to the master tapes to re do them for this disc and others. The series is easy to identify as it is called Rudy Van Gelder Remasters, so it shouldn't be too hard to pick out which discs are part of that reissue package.
At Ease With Coleman Hawkins is a gem of a disc full of beautiful lush sounds and luxurious tones. The band is tight as tight and offers superb support to all of Mr. Hawkins' efforts and highlights just how good supposed mainstream Jazz can be. Don't let the snobbery of those who think they know more because they once heard a John Coltrane album turn you off from this music. It's the real thing, and Hawkins knows how to play it.
If the rest of the Van Gelder remasters are of equal quality to this disc, there is a raft of great music awaiting our ears.