Tuesday 8 April 2008

Joe Boyd & Coleman Hawkins

I recently read Joe Boyd's autobiographical 'White Bicycles- Making Music in the 1960s' (Serpents Tail). Boyd's best known for his involvement with Nick Drake, the folk-rock scene and for founding Hannibal Records, but he has some interesting and amusing things to say about the sixties jazz world. I thoroughly recommend it.

As ayoung man he worked for George Wein at the Newport Jazz Festival- his anecdote about Wein's encounter with Elvin Jones is worth the price of the book alone- & later in London arranged recording sessions for Chris McGregor, Dudu Pukwana and the other exiles from South Africa. But it's his involvement with Coleman Hawkins that sparked most memories for me.

Part of his work for Wein was acting as tour manager for among others the Coleman Hawkins Quintet, with Harry Edison, Sir Charles Thompson, Jimmy Woode & Jo Jones. Boyd has some great stories which I won't repeat because I want you to buy the book, but he doesn't mention that during the tour the band recorded 2 BBC Jazz 625 programmes in London. (The tour only gets a passing mention in John Chilton's Hawkins biography.)

In 1964 I used to buy the Melody Maker on the way to school; it was still just about worth the cover price to a jazz-lover. One day I read a short piece announcing that the BBC recording would be taking place the next day at Wembley Town Hall. We arrived ticketless after hitch-hiking from Reading but there was no trouble getting in- the hall was only half full.

Hawkins played magisterially that night; I learned from Boyd that his cognac consumption was already impressive, but he had yet to slide into his terminal decline. And I was really taken with Jo Jones' feature on Caravan- his sticks moved with such grace & his smile was so wide.

The programmes recorded that night were for a while available on VHS; I'd love a DVD copy if only to find out if the music was as good as I remember it. There's not even any of it on Youtube. As a reminder of how well the old man could play in the final years of his career I looked out some albums from that decade.

In 1960 Hawkins recorded a session for the Crown label with a boppish band: Thad Jones, Eddie Costa, George Duvivier, Osie Johnson. As Scott Yanow mentions in his AllMusic review, the themes- all credited to Hawkins on my lps, though Yanow suspects Jones & Costa may have written most- have familiar-sounding changes but resist attribution (aside from 'Shadows,' which resembles 'Under a Blanket of Blue', which Hawkins had played on a Keynote session in 1947 with Buck Clayton & Teddy Wilson, and recorded again in 1961 on The Hawk Relaxes.) Yanow describes the session as 'slightly short of essential' but it's been a favourite of mine since I bought the 2 lps on Eros (yes, another cheap label) in the '60s- one called 'Coleman Hawkins & His Orchestra', the other 'The Hawk Swings'- the two have recently been reissued on one cd as 'Moodsville' by the Barcelona-based Fresh Sound label.

Though his music was as harmonically complex as any bopper's, rhythmically Hawkins belonged to an earlier era; it's the power & urgency of his playing that makes him sound entirely at home in this context (as he did on his session with Monk & Coltrane, and the duet album with Rollins.) The whole band plays well; Thad Jones warm-toned and mercurial, Costa especially pleasing when he rumbles around in the lower register- his promising career was cut short by a car accident 2 years later. I especially like the long 'Stalking', where Costa's spare comping (on vibes and piano) helps to highlight the warm rock-solid walking bass of Duvivier and the relaxed swing of Johnson. But above all it's the gruff tone and authority of the tenor that impresses throughout.