JAZZ: Gary Giddins, W.W. Norton & Company
"Giddins on jazz"


Coleman Hawkins is described as a standard model for other soloists while Lester Young appears as the alternative. Would you elaborate on their stylistic differences?

I was glad you mentioned Hawkins. Can I tell another story first?

There is a broadcast that exists. It's in our filmography of jazz films, which are worth your time to find. It's called After Hours. It was filmed in the late '50s or early '60s as a pilot for a television show - it was never broadcast. It only exists on DVD. And the reason it was never broadcast becomes evident immediately - whoever wrote it was a, "moron" is too kind. It's just pseudo-hip and it's really stupid and it's done like, "Hey man, here we are at the jazz club, you know, after hours. . . . [Giddins using exaggerated voice.]" You know it really makes you want to cringe.

And you know the old story about producers always having their girlfriends who are singers and pushing them on the band. One of the most famous of jazz jokes is you know, Miles Davis goes to heaven and Charlie Parker's waiting for him and says, "It's so cool up here, it's so great man, and Beethoven sits in on piano and Duke Ellington is here and you know I was just talking to Arnold Schoenberg. I mean, everybody is here man, it is so cool. The food is great, the drink is great." Miles is like, "Wow, this is terrific." Bird says, "There's just one problem." "What's that?" "God's got this girlfriend." So on this After Hours, the girlfriend comes up and she's gorgeous. And she's so bad, you feel sorry for her. She can't sing a lick but gets to sing on and on.

Now in the band are Coleman Hawkins and Roy Eldridge. They have lived through this crap all their lives. It's now coming toward the, it's in the last ten minutes of the show. And Hawkins and Roy are this tight. They are among the best friends; they've been in many recordings together. They've been in the same bands together. They're two of the great figures in the history of jazz. Hawkins starts to play this solo and clearly it was rehearsed. And after Hawkins plays a chorus, 32 bars, it's Roy's turn and Roy is like - the chorus is coming to an end and he starts to put the trumpet to his lips. Forget it. Hawkins just barrels into the next chorus so Roy looks at the producer and he's like laughing, it's ok with him. Hawkins is killing it.

So now, after the second chorus he figures - he goes in for a third. At this point, Roy like just cracks up. It's, this . . . [mumbled]. This is the kind of thing that happens at jam sessions; and then after Hawkins plays, Roy plays beautifully too. But you have just heard one of the great jazz figures, Coleman Hawkins, playing despite or in spite of all the jive that they have just sat through for 20 minutes and it is one of the great tenor saxophone solos - doesn't exist on records, only exists in that moment. If it hadn't been filmed, it wouldn't exist at all.