Holiday Gift Guide 2012
Jazz geniuses boxed in
Taking stock of Mingus, Hawkins and more
Published: November 21, 2012
The collection captures the band at New York's Town Hall on the eve of a major European tour and then six days later in Copenhagen with largely the same set list and even more gusto. (Notably, Town Hall's 11 minutes of "Fables of Faubus" gives way to a half-hour exploration of its multiple possibilities in Copenhagen.)
Back in the United States that September, Mingus has a new horn section for the Monterey Jazz Festival: young bop firebrands out of Detroit on trumpet (Lonnie Hillyer) and alto (Charles McPherson), plus a band veteran returning on tenor (John Handy). They absolutely kill in an Ellington medley that concludes with an ecstatic "Take the A Train." There's also an augmented version of that band with additional horns at Monterey. And a year later, Sept. 18, 1965, Mingus is at Monterey again with an augmented version of his working band and a batch of particularly adventurous compositions in an unfortunately truncated performance.
The second Monterey set (some of it issued in this collection for the first time) is actually the last music recorded here, preceding Mingus roughest years (depicted in Sue Mingus' Tonight at Noon and elsewhere). But the last selections featured in the Mosaic set come from four months earlier. It's a far more pleasing conclusion with a Hillyer-McPherson horn section in a feisty Minneapolis date.
Clearly, the attention given the avant-garde was getting under Mingus' skin and here's his answer: going out Mingus-style. He takes the mic to put down an unnamed avant-gardist for not knowing Charlie Parker, then he shows how far the band can go out with a potpourri of Bird faves and themes. To mention one more Minneapolis highlight: a "Cocktails for Two" that's almost slapstick, like nothing else in the Mingus oeuvre. But we know this comic was hurting inside.
Like Mosaic's Mingus box, the label's eight-CD Classic Coleman Hawkins Sessions 1922-1947 boasts a 10-by-10-inch box and booklet, and there's first-class material in the latter, both in essay form and detailed track-by-track annotations. Mostly culled from the era of 78 rpm releases, this set documents one of the most important of all jazz men — the virtual inventor of the tenor sax as an expressive instrument in jazz (and by extension R&B and rock), an influence on instrumentalists throughout jazz, and the creator of, arguably, the single best known solo in all of jazz that wasn't recorded by Louis Armstrong or rendered in vocalese, 1939's "Body and Soul."
Through 190 selections — so maybe you need to be an obsessive for this one — scholar-musician Loren Schoenberg tracks Hawkins' development as a bandmember and later as an off-and-on leader. Of course, jazz itself was progressing through these years, so this is also a recounting of jazz's history across three key decades with tubas giving way to the smoother flow of string basses, banjos for electric guitar, etc. Swing was being invented (boogie too), then bop. Schoenberg ably captures a time when committing a solo to disc was freighted with significance as much as a batter stepping to the plate. And few at-bats were as highly anticipated as slugger Hawkins. Here are samples of Schoenberg's color commentary on Hawkins:
• Dec. 20, 1922: "Sticking close to the theme, he makes good use of the prevailing slap-tongue effects in vogue at the time, and plays with a bravado impressive for an 18-year-old novice."
• Sept. 8, 1924: "There's one magical moment in the third and fourth measure of the last eight bars, where he ritards the beat and we hear the makings of the Hawk's genius."
• Oct. 24, 1927: "Hawkins manhandles his saxophone and gets an effect that may have brought a smile to Albert Ayler's face."
• Nov. 7, 1929: "... a Hawkins solo that must have made saxophonists' heads spin with its unstoppable forward motion, opening finger twists and sheer confidence. This is nothing less than the reinvention of the instrument. ..."
• Nov. 14, 1929: "Here for the first time, we have, albeit in embryonic form, the sophisticated Hawkins ballad style that set the pattern for untold millions of sax soli to come."
• Aug. 18, 1933: "Hawkins shoots off dozens of ideas in spots, many stated in blocky quarter-tone triplets."
Unfortunately, there's a 1934-1939 gap when Hawkins moves to Europe, but the selections and the story pick up with Hawk back in the States playing with a couple of his tenor acolytes (Chu Berry and Ben Webster) in Lionel Hampton's band. Then, on Disc 5, comes the epochal "Body and Soul" session, for which Schoenberg has been preparing us all along, although he constantly cautions against letting it overshadow Hawkins brilliance elsewhere and yet to come. Some of the latter is documented in the next discs here, replete with various aggregations of "all stars," which Hawkins surely was and remains.
Unlike the other boxes here discussed, there's no particular arc or story or coherence from Sarah Vaughan's The Complete Columbia Collection. It's just four almost random selections from one of the greatest vocalists of any genre, the most operatic of jazz singers. After Hours with Sarah Vaughan and Sarah Vaughan in Hi Fi capture Vaughan in her mid-20s in 1950 and 1951, her connections to Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald clear. Hi Fi is the far jazzier of the two, with Miles Davis on trumpet.
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