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Lew Tabackin presents “The Swinging Sounds of Coleman Hawkins” at Flushing Town Hall

Lew Tabackin
Steven Sussman
Lew Tabackin

On Friday, October 14, Lew Tabackin will perform a tribute to tenor saxophone great Coleman Hawkins at Flushing Town Hall. He’ll be joined by Jeb Patton (piano), Jason Tiemann (drums) and Mark Lewandowski (bass).

Coleman Hawkins, also known by his nickname “Bean,” is largely responsible for the tenor saxophone becoming an instrument for solos or expression within the jazz idiom. Starting out in the big bands of the ‘20s and ‘30s, Coleman became a bridge between the old world of swing and the new world of bebop through his collaborations with Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk and Max Roach. His take on “Body and Soul” in which he never fully played the melody but rather soloed on the changes became an iconic tune that influenced generations of saxophonists. He died of complications from alchoholism in 1969. He was only 64 years old at the time of his death.

Body And Soul by Coleman Hawkins

Tabackin was born and raised in the ‘40s and ‘50s Philadelphia, where he regularly saw sax greats like John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, Benny Golson, Jimmy Heath and Al Cohn. All of these saxophonists influenced a young Tabackin, who was relatively unaware of Hawkins’ music, even though he had influenced all of Tabackin’s heroes. “As a young player, I was trying to find a path to my own sound and expression,” Tabackin told WBGO. “I had an opportunity to listen to recordings of several of the tenor giants, like Lester Young, Ben Webster and Don Byas. When I got to Hawkins it was too difficult, because the sound, time, feel and harmony were not easy for me to relate to as a novice player, who at that time could do a little early Coltrane.”

It was in listening to his hero Sonny Rollins, who counted Hawkins as his single greatest influence, (and in his own maturation) that Tabackin came to grips with the gifts of the legendary saxophonist. “I guess I was growing up or maybe it was my experience listening to my hero Sonny Rollins that opened my ears [to Hawkins],” Tabackin explained. “I realized that Hawk was the root of all that came after and the depth of his playing entered my being. His sound, special nuance and deep improvisational concept are unmatched. Hawkins’ harmonic sophistication allowed him to embrace and encourage the young bebop lions, like Monk, Dizzy and Max. He was arguably an important force behind the bebop movement. He recorded and employed several young players, especially Monk, for which he was put down for by many of his fans. His free unaccompanied solos in away paved the way for the free jazz movement. His structure is unmatched.”

Coleman Hawkins (left) and Sonny Rollins.
Courtesy of the artist
Coleman Hawkins (left) and Sonny Rollins.

Tabackin said that Hawkins still looms as an important voice even as he continues to hone his own personal sound. “When I think my sound is not cool, I can listen to some of his stuff with strings to set me on the path,” he said. “It only takes a few minutes for it to sink in.”

During the performance at Flushing Town Hall, Tabackin is hoping to create a bit of the spirit of Hawkins, by doing some of the tunes he was associated with, as well as by emulating his depth of sound. “I will do my best to allow his magnificent spirit to reveal itself,” Tabackin said. He said that the group will be joined during the second half by a surprise guest (“an important trumpet player”) to capture a bit of Hawkins’ association with Roy Eldridge and then Dizzy Gillespie. Learn more about the performance here.

For over 27 years, Lee Mergner served as an editor and publisher of JazzTimes until his resignation in January 2018. Thereafter, Mergner continued to regularly contribute features, profiles and interviews to the publication as a contributing editor for the next 4+ years. JazzTimes, which has won numerous ASCAP-Deems Taylor awards for music journalism, was founded in 1970 and was described by the All Music Guide, as “arguably the finest jazz magazine in the world.”