Friday, September 01, 2017

Listening to Prestige 268: Tiny Grimes-Coleman Hawkins

Somebody asked me recently how the tenor saxophone had come to be such a prominent instrument in jazz, and I answered in two words: Coleman Hawkins. Yes, the tenor sax is soulful and expressive, and yes, it has the flexibility and tonality to express the subtlety of bebop and the immediacy of rhythm and blues. But nobody was sitting around saying "We need to develop two new styles of music, one with subtlety and the other with immediacy. Is there an instrument that can do this? Hey--what about the tenor saxophone?"

No, nothing like that. The tenor saxophone was not taken seriously as an instrument. It was largely used to make the sorts of funny sounds that would later become associated with the Spike Jones Orchestra. Until Coleman Hawkins.

And time did not pass the Hawk by. He brought the saxophone into jazz in the 1920s, made his enduring recording of "Body and Soul" in the late 1930s, and joined Dizzy Gillespie for what is widely considered to be the first bebop recording, in 1944.

During the 1950s, Hawkins played and recorded widely, and with a wide variety of bandmates, from trad cats like Henry "Red" Allen to modernists like John Coltrane, and he had no trouble fitting in with any of them, because any student of jazz knew enough to fit in with him.

Here, he is teamed up with Tiny Grimes, who was another musician with an eclectic track record, He
had played with Art Tatum and with Charlie Parker, and had led a successful rhythm and blues group featuring, at various times, sax man Red Prysock and vocalist Screamin' Jay Hawkins. He also played an eclectic instrument: the tenor. or four string, guitar.

Here, joined by flutist Musa Kaleem, they're playing the blues, and with all the incredible, innovative things that jazz musicians have done, and continue to due, there's a special place in heaven reserved for a bunch of great musicians getting together to play the blues. Theologian Karl Barth, whose heart was in the right place but his cultural frame of reference somewhat limited, once said that when the angels play for God, they play Bach, but when they play for each other, they play Mozart, and sometimes God listens in. Well, I suspect that on Saturday night, God goes down to a heavenly juke joint and listens to the blues. And since Eternity has no time markers, God would have had to invent a Saturday night in heaven, which He certainly would have done once he heard the blues.

Musa Kaleem didn't record much, but he played a lot, often on the road, notably with Fletcher Henderson's band, then with Ellington, Basie, the Savoy Sultans and others. Maybe that had to do with wanderlust as well as musical opportunity, because after moving to New York in the late 1940s and starting to become well known on the scene, he spent most of the 1950s at sea--depending on which source you choose, either as a seaman or a cruise ship musician.

Earl Womack has two recording credits that I've found, this one and another in 1978, so either it's two different guys (Womack is a surprisingly ubiquitous name in the music world) or he had a solid career in music. Teagle Fleming, Jr., knew how to play the blues, and shortly after this session, he joined Ray Charles and played on several of his recordings. He also makes a cameo appearance in a novel called The Jitterbug Man by Billy Georgette.

And we know that Ray Bryant can play the blues.

The album was released on Prestige ("Tiny Bean" omitted) as Blues Groove by Tiny Grimes and Coleman Hawkins, and later on a Prestige re-release and on subsidiary Swingville  as Blues Groove by Coleman Hawkins. "Blues Wail" was a two-sided 45.

Order Listening to Prestige Vol 2

Listening to Prestige Vol. 2, 1954-1956 is here! You can order your signed copy or copies through the link above.

Tad Richards will strike a nerve with all of us who were privileged to have lived thru the beginnings of bebop, and with those who have since fallen under the spell of this American phenomenon…a one-of-a-kind reference book, that will surely take its place in the history of this music.

                                                                                                                                                --Dave Grusin
An important reference book of all the Prestige recordings during the time period. Furthermore, Each song chosen is a brilliant representation of the artist which leaves The listener free to explore further. The stories behind the making of each track are incredibly informative and give a glimpse deeper into the artists at work.
                                                                                                                --Murali Coryell

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