Fellow artists pay tribute to tenor saxophone pioneer at centennial bash
Thursday, September 30, 2004
BY ZAN STEWART
NEW YORK -- With tenor saxophone-toting headliners Jimmy Heath, Frank Wess, David "Fathead" Newman, David Sanchez and James Carter all playing with considerable elan, the Coleman Hawkins Centennial Celebration -- which opened a six-night stint at the Blue Note on Tuesday -- was a good party indeed.
The honoree (1904-1969), jazz' first major tenor saxophonist and famed for his timeless 1939 version of "Body and Soul," no doubt would have been pleased.
Each of the tenormen offered some aspect of Hawkins' art.
Heath, a veteran bopper, reflected the great man's interest in bop, which followed the swing era Hawkins grew up in. Wess at times played phrases that had Hawkins' melodic verve and rhythmic heft, though he also at times recalled that other primal jazz tenorman, Lester Young. The modern-minded Sanchez exemplified Hawkins' forward-looking approach, his openness to "all kinds of music." Carter often emulated Hawk's grainy, deep sound, and Newman brought to light the lyricism with which the honoree could work.
They were rounded out by powerhouse Princeton-based trumpeter Terrell Stafford, who at points sounded like two of Hawk's favorite trumpeters -- Dizzy Gillespie and Roy Eldridge -- and a crack rhythm team of pianist Eric Reed, Teaneck bassist Ray Drummond and drummer Carl Allen.
The affair resembled a Jazz at the Philharmonic-style all-star jam session, where many artists are spotlighted, often in varying contexts. As such, it was a solid reminder of the potency of such affairs, where spirits often run high, where anything can happen, where listeners not that deeply involved in the music can be exposed to its riches in a jubilant circumstance.
For openers, powerhouse Stafford and the rhythm team sans saxes played a juicy interpretation of a Hawkins theme built on the changes of "Tea for Two." Then Heath and Newman investigated "All the Things You Are," with the easy flow of the latter's logical phrases bringing a smile to Heath's countenance. (Throughout the set, the participants regularly beamed at what their colleagues were playing.) Heath's deep bebop groove was more complex. Drummond soloed with telling, horn-like fluency, rousing the audience.
Sanchez, Heath and Stafford next took on Dizzy's "Woody'n' You," recorded on a Feb. 16, 1944, Hawkins date that is considered the first bebop recording. Both Sanchez and pianist Reed had moments marked by fleet lines that sometimes seemed like run-on sentences, and those that were more measured, and had more impact. Sanchez then scored with an exquisitely sweet noted look at Antonio Carlos Jobim's little known, compelling ballad, "Eu Sei Que Vou Te Amor."
Carter and Wess addressed Hawkins' riff-like theme, "Stuffy." Wess' engaging swing feel and swing-to-bop vocabulary was a high point. Carter offered grabbing, driving stuff, though it was offset by sky-high squeals and simplistic, R&B-like lines. He was likewise mixed on "Body and Soul," where Newman's way of playing one lovely phrase, then another, was a showstopper.
The saxophonists gathered on stage together for but a single number, a rambunctious version of Hawkins' "Disorder at the Border," driven by Allen thumping back-beat. Here, Stafford starred with a gritty, Eldridge-like gleam to his sound.
The Celebration continues through Sunday. Tonight, it's Wess, Heath, and the others. Friday through Sunday, hear tenor saxophonists Joe Lovano, Lew Tabackin, Dewey Redman and Eric Alexander, guitarist Peter Bernstein and Reed, Drummond and Allen.