Coleman Hawkins: Hawk's Variation Parts 1 & 2


Hawk's Variation Parts 1 & 2


Coleman Hawkins (tenor sax)


Coleman Hawkins 1945 (Classics 926)

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Coleman Hawkins (tenor sax).

Recorded: NYC, date still subject to debate


Rating: 93/100 (learn more)

On an undetermined date sometime between June 1946 and January 1947, Coleman Hawkins recorded one of the most daring and innovative performances of his career: an unaccompanied tenor solo track titled "Picasso" , named after producer Norman Granz's favorite painter. "Picasso" is considered to be the first recorded unaccompanied performance by a jazz saxophonist, laying the groundwork for future solo efforts by Sonny Rollins, Lee Konitz, Anthony Braxton, Steve Lacy and others. "Picasso" was the result of intense preparation by Hawkins and he is reputed to have spent roughly eight hours in the studio working out his ideas, first at the piano and then on his horn.

Hawkins was said to have been nurturing the idea of a solo piece long before "Picasso" was recorded, and "Hawk's Variation" is the little-known precursor of "Picasso." The original record of "Hawk's Variation" was recorded for the Selmer company as a promotional demo of their newest line of saxophones, most likely the Super Balanced Action series given the time frame.

Part 1 alternates between a medium swing feel and some quasi-rubato passages, and is built largely of sequential figures based on more or less standard harmonic practices of the period. The fascinating part of "Hawk's Variation" is part 2. It consists of a full chorus improvisation on the chord changes of Thelonious Monk's "'Round Midnight" with no thematic statement. Hawkins was an early champion of Monk's and employed him as his pianist on some record dates in 1944. However, the most pervasive influence on Hawkins' work here is Art Tatum. Tatum was the primary inspiration for Hawkins' vertical approach to chords and his use of substitute harmonies. Hawkins plumbs the depths of the song's harmonies to the nth degree while creating lyrical melodic lines and swinging in his inimitable way.

Reviewer: Kenny Berger


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