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Coleman Hawkins: On Broadway

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Here’s the Grand Master in six 1962 sessions that provided material for more than three LPs. He is not perhaps in peak form, because of restrictive production requirements, but he is still a figure of immense authority. The Prestige set is excellent value in terms of time and taste. Made for the company’s subsidiary label, Moodsville, the mood required was apparently quiet, decorous and melodious, or what today might be called “smooth.” A well-worded statement by annotator Nat Hentoff about “Love Life” is relevant to most of the performances: “It is a disarmingly gentle tune, and Hawkins’ opening outlining of the melody is a model example of how close a superior jazzman can stay to the melody and yet fully personalize it.” How many “superior” jazzmen who can play melody with comparably benign good humor, elegance and wit do we have left today? Of course, Hawkins forgets the rules now and then in rhapsodic bursts of jazz exuberance, just to let you know that he and his big tone are only temporarily under wraps, as in the exciting version of “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly?” and the climactic last chorus of “Loads of Love.” The good rhythm section of Tommy Flanagan, Major Holley and Eddie Locke seems, to me, to be more assured in what was the second LP of Broadway’s music. The selections, incidentally, are mostly good songs seldom played by jazz musicians.

The Impulse disc is sub-titled “Plays Bossa Nova and Jazz Samba,” and that’s what Hawkins does, with two guitars and extra percussion added. Stan Getz was already enjoying much success with similar music, a fact that probably suggested this enterprise to Bob Thiele. To my mind, the Getz style and sound were better suited to the supple Brazilian idioms, but Hawkins applies his to them in a thoroughly professional and pleasing manner. Rhythms seem never to have presented problems he couldn’t overcome.