Posted by Jay Livingston
There was no special Google Doodle, but today is Coleman Hawkins’s birthday. He would have been ninety-nine. His 1939 recording of “Body and Soul” is one of the most famous solos in jazz. Maybe the most famous. The recording is all the more interesting in that it’s all solo (i.e., improvisation). Nowhere in it does Hawkins play the Johnny Green melody.
I heard Hawkins once, a few years before his death, when I was an undergraduate. A senior, Charlie Giuliani, the campus’s main source of marijuana (still something of a novelty then) had gotten some Student Association funds and made the arrangements – Hawkins and a local rhythm section. The venue was nothing elegant – an open area in the student center. No chairs, we sat on the floor.
Charlie let me hang out in the “green room,” an adjoining classroom-sized room, before the concert, where Hawk took several pulls from the flask he kept in his suit pocket. In the break between sets he pretty much drained it. I was young and naive; I’d never seen anyone drink like that as a matter of course.
The next day, when Charlie asked me what I thought, I mentioned that Hawk seemed to drink a lot.
“If you had to play “Body and Soul” every night of your life for thirty years, you’d drink too,” said Charlie.