Coleman Hawkins in The Hague

Nov 22, 2017

This rare footage of Coleman Hawkins playing "I Wish I Were Twins" was discovered by Harry Oakley and posted on YouTube four years ago. I've just come upon it for the first time, five pages deep into a Google search. I'm sure you'll agree that in the annals of jazz, as well as the archive of Hawk's filmed performances, it should pop up at the slightest mention of his name.  

Hawkins referred to the feature in correspondence dated February 8, 1935. His letter appears in Song of the Hawk, The Life and Recordings of Coleman Hawkins, John Chilton's comprehensive biography of the tenor saxophone patriarch. It begins, "I've just completed a short film at the Carlton for the Dutch film company Polygoon. I was only accompanied by a piano (the pianist was the Dutch musician Leo de la Fuente). Had to speak a few words..." Polygoon distributed music features that were interspersed with newsreels in Dutch movie theaters.

November 21st was Hawk's 113th birthday anniversary. His early renown was established through his decade-long tenure with Fletcher Henderson's Orchestra, 1923-'34. During the European sojourn he undertook between 1934-'39, he appeared mostly as a featured soloist in orchestras led by Jack Hylton in London, Michel Warlop in Paris, and with The Ramblers in Holland. But on March 8, 1934, just before he sailed for England, Hawk recorded a duo session with Buck Washington, the pianist of Buck & Bubbles fame who also played on Bessie Smith's final recordings in 1933.  

Shortly after his arrival in London, Hawk recorded a small combo date with the English-born composer and pianist Stanley Black that included a classic take on "Honeysuckle Rose," and this duo performance of "Lost in a Fog."

Leo de la Fuente, who was Jewish, was a bandleader credited with popularizing hot dance music in Holland. He recorded piano rolls in the '20s, and four sides for Decca in London in the '30s, but with the German occupation of the Netherlands in 1940, he was sent to the Nazi concentration camp at Auschwitz where he died in 1944. Fuente plays the first of two renditions of Harry Warren's song "Shanghai Lil" heard in this YouTube file. 

I'm posting this on Hoagy Carmichael's 118th birthday anniversary, so I'll conclude with two performances of "Stardust" that Hawk recorded while he was on the Continent. The first is from March 2, 1935, when he made a session with Michel Warlop's Orchestra in Paris. "Stardust" was the last of the four titles they completed, and it's played by a quintet from the band with Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli on piano. I agree with Django's biographer Michael Dregni who describes the tone of this masterpiece as "world weary." Note that images of Django dominate this YouTube file. I dare say it's a gypsy jazz world today, and though it pains me to acknowledge it, Django's global renown probably outstrips Hawk's. But it was a different story when the tenor hero came to Paris and "eclipsed," as Dregni puts it, "the auras of the city's own stars." For his part, Hawk didn't single out either player in a note he wrote following the 1935 session, but said, "The musicians I used were the best to be found in Paris." 

Finally, here's Hawk back in Holland two years later with the American expatriate Freddy Johnson. Their take on "Stardust" displays a liveliness more in keeping with the tone and tempo that Hoagy envisioned for his song and that Louis Armstrong employed in his two classic recordings of the tune in 1931.