On today’s post, I discuss one of my all-time favorite greats in the jazz world and make meaningful connections from his work to what we do as digital marketers and SEO professionals.
Who was Coleman Hawkins (also nicknamed Bean and Hawk) and why was he such a versatile musician? In this post, I dive into the musician’s career and the key takeaways from what made him stand out above the rest.
Coleman Hawkins: An Innovator Through and Through with Passion Like a Spark Plug
Coleman Hawkins was born in 1904 in St. Joseph, Missouri and was always interested in music. He initially learned to play piano from the age of 5, but when he turned 9, his parents bought him a saxophone. This would change Coleman’s life forever. From there, he became obsessed with becoming a saxophone playing master.
His hours of practice would pay off when he turned 12 and was able to start playing with some bands at the time. Discrimination and racism towards African Americans was rampant during this time, but that didn’t stop Hawkins from reaching great heights even early on in his career. When he arrived in Kansas City, that’s when his career really turned around and he began a decades long path of innovation in the world of jazz.
In the 1920s, Hawkins found steady work with Fletcher Henderson’s band. Fletcher Henderson was another great jazz leader and he would soak in the knowledge he gained from that time like a sponge! It was astounding how quickly he was able to adapt to the bandleader’s arrangements and play them with gusto and style. Hawkins was already making a huge name for himself, and the progress would not stop there either!
He even got to play with Louis Armstrong for a while and then moved to New York City to further improve his approach to playing music. All these efforts would pay off and result in the signature style he became famous for, as embodied in the famous recording “Body and Soul.” Have a listen:
Reaching His Very Potential By the 1940s
At this point, Hawkins had reached the very height of what he could do artistically as a jazz musician. What else could he possibly do to keep his playing fresh and interesting?
Here comes bebop to shake the entire jazz world up!
What’s Bebop and How Did It Change Jazz Forever?
Back then, the predominant form of jazz was with big bands that played crazy fast, upbeat, melodic Swing music. You had Black bandleaders like Bennie Moten lead the charge on assembling a powerhouse of giants that would innovate and develop the language of Swing. Count Basie and many others got their start with this band. In Count Basie’s band, more giants like Lester Young would have a chance to develop their signature playing styles and also become influential in their own right.
At the same time, there were also bandleaders like Duke Ellington experimenting with more luscious arrangements. Thanks to arrangers like Billy Strayhorn and Juan Tizol, you had a timeless, evergreen approach to jazz and swing that would continue to resonate with audiences decades after the recordings were made.
Early Racial Integrations Within Big Bands and Small Groups
And you had White bandleaders like Benny Goodman, Gene Krupa, and Artie Shaw breaking new ground in bringing jazz to a wider audience, and integrating their bands by allowing Black players in too. You had Billie Holiday and Roy Eldridge to name a few do incredible work. It was an exciting time and you could see many hints of progress in racial relations that would influence the events of the 1950s and 1960s with the rise of the Civil Rights movement.
This was all in good, but you had a subset of musicians who were growing unsatisfied with the direction jazz was going in at the time. They felt like it was becoming too commercialized and there was a lot more room for artistic growth. Jazz was super popular as dance music, but these musicians thought it could be even more.
Here comes musicians such as Dizzy Gillespie, Kenny Clarke, Max Roach, and Thelonious Monk, all very different players but had a common goal. These musicians would play together at Minton’s Playhouse in New York City and they were all inspired by the great Charlie Christian, who sadly didn’t get to reach his full potential but left an impact regardless with his recording of Swing to Bop which you can listen to here:
Getting Inspired and Keeping Up with the Times
Hawkins knew that jazz was heading in a different direction than previously. He had already made a name for himself before, so he did the most logical thing in this situation:
Coleman embraced the changes and rolled with them. He was hanging out with some of these younger musicians and playing with them on recording sessions, making a lot of great magic happen. It was a synergy between the old and new resulting in recordings as unique and refreshing as this one:
Instead of staying stagnant, Hawkins learned as much as he could from even the younger players and taught them something in return. His intuition would prove to be correct as the Swing Era came to an end and smaller combos were easier to manage. A few big bands stood around but even they had already modernized their sound like in the case of Woody Herman’s Second Herd, thanks to the arrangements of Neal Hefti and others.
Continuing to Play Music Well into the 1950s and 1960s
It felt like things were uncertain and with all the new sounds coming left and right and Charlie Parker making his mark on the famous Savoy & Dial sessions with young protégé Miles Davis, it was clear this was going to be the new direction of jazz for years to come.
Thankfully Hawkins continued to play through the 1950s and 1960s, recording heavily for Verve and being a fixture at the Jazz at Philharmonic sessions, led by Norman Granz.
While some didn’t think Hawkins was relevant at the time, younger players like Sonny Rollins took great inspiration from him and continued his legacy even during the rise of hard bop and modal jazz.
Unfortunately, Hawkins didn’t have the happiest ending. He stopped recording altogether and turned to alcoholism to cope. Only a few years later in 1969, Hawkins passed away. But he’s still a great example of resilience and willingness to adapt, all key qualities digital marketers need to succeed!
1. Like Coleman Hawkins, you can stay up to date on the latest trends in digital marketing and spot potential opportunities to update your approaches but stay true to where you started.
2. Don’t be afraid to experiment with new ideas even if you find them to be strange at first.
3. Experiment, experiment, and experiment.
4. Keep learning and growing throughout your digital marketing career as Coleman Hawkins kept learning throughout his time as a tenor saxophonist.
5. Don’t give up on reaching the top! It took Hawkins years of practice to get to where he wanted to be, and even when he did, he continued to work hard to stay there.
I hope this post inspires many digital marketers to take greater calculated risks and make new discoveries and apply them to their work! Be like Coleman Hawkins and play until the cows come home!