Photo of Coleman Hawkins

Coleman Hawkins

Sometimes Boston had it good as a jazz town. Take March 1944, for instance, when the king of the tenor saxophonists, Coleman Hawkins, brought his new, forward-looking, sextet to the Savoy Cafe for three weeks. Hawk was leading a special band, playing at a crucial time.

It wasn’t the first time that Coleman Hawkins fired up Boston’s jazzers, and not even the first time during the war years. Down Beat noted in August 1943 that Hawkins, “with one of the best combos to ever hit town,” broke the box-office record at the Tic Toc. Hawk shared the front line then with alto man Lem Davis, whom DB called “outstanding.”

New developments in jazz always fascinated Coleman Hawkins. Unlike many of his swing-based peers, he heard what was going on at Minton’s, and he understood it. He assembled a new band in early 1944 which included three of those adventurous young musicians from Minton’s: pianist Thelonious Monk, trumpeter Benny Harris, and drummer Denzil Best. This trio also handled the arranging duties. Eddie “Bass” Robinson filled that role. Finally, there was one more hire, another saxophonist, none other than Don Byas.

Byas was an established star, even a rival to Hawkins himself. Byas spent time with Don Redman and Andy Kirk, and took Lester Young’s place in the Basie band. Like Hawkins, he understood what Monk and Harris were doing with harmony, and like Hawkins, he gravitated to it. The tenor sound on the bandstand must have been enormous.

The group traveled to Toronto and Boston in early 1944. Bass Robinson stayed in New York and Selwyn Warner replaced him, but otherwise the group was intact. And only audiences in Toronto and Boston heard this band, because Byas went on his own soon after it returned to New York. By the time the group made it to the studio in October 1944, Harris was gone as well. The quartet that remained, however, cut the four sides that marked Monk’s recording debut.

Here are two of those sides, and even though they mainly showcase Hawkins, both feature a Monk solo. First is “On the Bean,” followed by “Flyin’ Hawk.”