A.B. SPELLMAN, National Endowment for the Arts: The unmistakable and immensely influential sound of Coleman Hawkins. Murray Horwitz, why are we inviting Coleman Hawkins to our NPR Basic Library party?
MURRAY HORWITZ, American Film Institute: 'Cause if we didn't invite him, he'd crash it! Coleman Hawkins is one of the sine qua non's of American music. He virtually invented the tenor saxophone — that's the cliche about him, but it's very true. If you hear people playing tenor saxophone before Coleman Hawkins, you hear a kind of almost comic buh-boh-buh-boh clownish sort of sound. And after Hawkins it becomes a very fluid, lyrical, expressive instrument as we just heard.
Along with Louis Armstrong and Bix Beiderbecke and a few others, Coleman Hawkins was another inventor, he was the inventor of the jazz ballad. He showed people how to play a love song in jazz. And he never stopped showing them throughout his career. Listen to this...
SPELLMAN: Murray, I assume this recording has "Body and Soul" since that is the signature work of Coleman Hawkins.
HORWITZ: It does indeed. I mean, it could hardly call itself a Coleman Hawkins retrospective if it didn't have "Body and Soul." On October 11, 1939, just as World War II had begun, Hawkins went into the studio and recorded four numbers with a nine-piece band.
And A.B., it's valuable to hear all of them on these CDs. It makes "Body and Soul," which was the fourth tune, even more remarkable, because you hear these "jump" tunes, these swing tunes, three of them in a row, with blaring horns. Almost as an afterthought, Coleman Hawkins added "Body and Soul" in this sort of off-the-cuff performance, that became, quite simply, one of the monuments of American music.
You know, A.B., there is some stuff missing from this collection. Coleman Hawkins was the first big jazz star to embrace bebop, but those early recordings aren't here. And none of his collaborations with the great trumpeter Roy Eldridge in the 1950s. But there are plenty of other great players: Fats Navarro, Charlie Shavers, Hank Jones, Buddy Rich. And above all, you can't believe that one guy is playing all this music. With Fletcher Henderson in the 1920s and Sonny Rollins in the 1960s.
SPELLMAN: That's music for your Basic Jazz Record Library. We're recommending the two-CD set called Coleman Hawkins: A Retrospective, 1929-1963. For NPR Jazz, I'm A.B. Spellman.
MURRAY HORWITZ: And I'm Murray Horwitz.