I'm off to Boston on business today. While I'm gone, take a look at this clip of Coleman Hawkins ("Hawk") and Charlie Parker ("Bird").
This is perhaps one of the greatest YouTube jazz clips ever posted—for several important reasons. First, there isn't much film in existence of Bird playing. Maybe three different clips—total. Second, this clip is the only one that showcases the rivalry that existed between these two jazz giants.
By the time this clip was filmed in October 1950, Hawk and Bird were established legends. Hawk was a superstar, proving himself over and over again in groups and bands as an electrifying tenor saxophonist with an endless stream of ideas. The only other players in his league were Chu Berry, Lester Young and Ben Webster.
Bird was the modernist, the pioneer who by 1950 was already known as an extraordinary composer and soloist. He also was the initiator and developer of bebop. He had no peers.
As you'll see in this clip, Hawk's solo is rich, sandy and bluesy while Bird's also is bluesy but much more crisp and assertive.
But I warn you, you'll have to watch this clip about six times to fully appreciate what's going on. Hawk is so intimidated that he won't even look at Bird, and Bird looks throws Hawk a sideways glance that seems to say, "Go ahead, old man, play your dusty blues. Then I'll really show you what's going down."
At one point, Bird rolls his eyes off camera, as though he's saying, "Dig Hawk's ancient riffs." As Hawk winds down, Bird jumps in at the tail end, cutting into Hawk's solo by two notes. Bird then fires off a sharp blues that's truly amazing. Hawk seems truly stunned by Bird's technique, and at one point even looks sheepishly into the camera for a split second. You may have to watch the clip a couple of times to catch this.
When all is said and done, though, Hawk's solo is so soulful that even Bird has to pay attention and nod in appreciation. Bird's cocky side is something to see. This clip gives you a rare glimpse at two men who dominated their jazz styles at a time when one style was coming into vogue and the other was becoming passe.
By the way, that's Hank Jones on piano, with Buddy Rich (drums) and Ray Brown (bass) off camera.
If you watch this a half dozen times, and listen to it carefully, you will see and hear the very difference between two great styles of jazz—swing (Hawk) and bebop (Bird)—at a moment in time that one was overthrowing the other. And these guys were the straws that stirred the drinks.
Wax tracks: I'm leaving you with two must-have CDs. The first is a collection featuring Lennie Tristano and Bird playing together (The Complete Recordings of Charlie Parker and Lennie Tristano). Lennie may have been a modal geek, but man could he bop, and Bird loved him.
One of my favorite Coleman Hawkins albums isn't from his swing period, although I love those dearly. It's Desafinado, which came out in September 1962— six months before Stan Getz's seminal Getz/Gilberto LP.
If you go to iTunes, download the entire Desafinado CD. You won't be disappointed. As you'll hear, Hawk got the whole samba thing way before everyone else.