Coleman Hawkins: The Hawk Relaxes.


コールマン・ホーキンス: ザー・ホーク・リラクシズ

February 28, 1961: Moodsville MV 15/Prestige PR 1710


I’ll Never Be The Same (6:08)
When Day Is Done (4:26)
Under A Blanket of Blue (4:35)
More Than You Know (4:09)
Moonglow (5:38)
Just A Gigolo (5:04)
Speak Low (6:39)

Coleman Hawkins: tenor saxophone
Kenny Burrell: guitar
Ronnell Bright: piano
Ron Carter: bass
Andrew Cyrille: drums

One of the most profound things about jazz music for those who love it deeply is how it speaks so accurately of/to emotion, that one’s favorite jazz recordings seem to be telling our own stories, often out of time and place. Singer Johnny Hartmann’s rendition of the jazz ballad Lush Life, for example, has told the story of so many heartbreaks, all who have become enamored with it seem to have lived the same life. As well, John Coltrane’s probing, plaintive composition Transition (off the album of the same name) too seems to be commentary on reality and doubt; the very sound of existential uncertainty, music that Jean-Paul Sartre himself might have written if he played the tenor saxophone. Indeed, after nearly 14 thoroughly incendiary minutes of improvisation Coltrane’s return to the main theme feels like glorious illumination wrestled from the jaws of nothingness.

It is this quality of presence that we find in great jazz works, even as times change, which makes the album The Hawk Relaxes by legendary tenor saxophonist Coleman Hawkins unsurprising as a work of great jazz, yet remarkable considering its circumstances. A much lesser known work in the Hawkins catalogue, this rarely discussed LP (a long time favorite of mine) is an uncommon treasure.

What makes it so is how Hawkins rests in two very different worlds at this time (1961). On one hand he is the foundation on which all great harmonically oriented saxophonists stand, especially after his landmark 1939 recording of Body And Soul, while consistently hiring younger players who would go on to become the major players of the following generation, including the bassist and drummer on this LP. And while Hawkins inhabited these two worlds in the 60s, jazz around him was being radically altered by the music of Ornette Coleman: The Hawk Relaxes resting between Coleman’s landmark avant-garde recordings The Shape of Jazz To Come (1959), and the ecstatically dissonant Free Jazz (Sept. 1961).

And though it was not Hawkins intention to do anything other than record yet more music that reflected his interests and style, The Hawk Relaxes stands the test of time as a superlative example of lush jazz balladry at a time when frenetic new sounds of freedom and experimentation were figuratively exploding out of every jazz conduit. Completely capable of joining in and expertly playing the “new thing” Hawkins continued to do what he liked, what he was inimitably good at: creating moods of great vitality and in this case, romantic power.

For example, Hawkins’ ebullient yet velvety tenor moves like a fogbank into More Than You Know after a beautiful introduction by guitarist Burrell, a ballad made bittersweet by Hawkins arcing ornamentation around the main theme. The more breathy, restrained mood of Hawkins on I’ll Never Be The Same is replaced in his solo with the classic ‘up and down’ harmonic arppegiations that made him famous. But this ability to transport his listeners is also due to the fact that Hawkins had exquisite taste in hiring supporting musicians who were up to the task. Ronnell Bright’s glittering intro to Just A Gigolo is the definitive example of the kind of sedate, beatific piano work that makes one almost inevitably dream of lonely rainy nights and fleeting kisses long since past. Bassist Ron Carter, a supreme master who has gone on to perform on over 2000 recordings (!!), including several dozen considered jazz classics, is also in top form, laying down a soft foundation of rich, restrained tones over which Bright and Hawkins work their magic.

The Hawk Relaxes is a great jazz album, and for all ages and times, and feels like a luscious tonic for the disquieted soul.


8 thoughts on “Coleman Hawkins: The Hawk Relaxes.

  1. absolutely hit the nail on the noggin with your explanation of Coltrane’s ‘Transition’. an astonishing piece that really belts out existential doubt. his wife Alice wrote some astounding music. Saatchadananda (i may have that wrong) is one of the finest albums i’ve ever heard. i’ll have to listen to this album as i have missed Hawkins just out of not getting round to him.

    1. I am glad you have heard Transition. Herbie Hancock did a version of it a few years ago with Michael Brecker on tenor. Absolutely fantastic, though I prefer the original. Whenever I play a “regular” jazz quartet gig, Transition and Blues Minor are always on the bill.

      A small sliver of my doctoral dissertation discussed Alice’s work and how I think it is borderline criminal she was not appreciated. Her work on Universal Consciousness is as powerful, if not MORE so, as John’s on his album “A Love Supreme” which is absolute blasphemy to the jazz diehards who blindly and ignorantly worship John without question. In fact, I think First Meditations (For Quartet) is more “spiritual” than A Love Supreme, as it is from the recording session which followed immediately after A Love Supreme, and I would argue the conclusion/perfection of what began on/with A Love Supreme. But as First Meditations is freer and more “avant-garde” than A Love Supreme, the average fan usually can’t relate to it as well, thus it is “not as good”, or “weird” or else they believe without question in the “cult” of A Love Supreme.

      (My review of Alice’s “Universal Consciousness” on this blog).

      1. yes, Alice seems underappreciated but her compositions are very unique & complex. he use of the Indian drone makes my skin flutter. a very intelligent musician. i only discovered her music 6 months ago & just listen to it tirelessly these days. Youtube is great for finding stuff like that.

      2. There are some REALLY deep treasures in jazz. And it is a cultural crime to let such things be eradicated from public consciousness. So I try to do my part by turning people onto her and Ornette and Shozo Shimamoto and so on.

  2. My wife’s father played saxophone back in the day, and was a fan of Coleman Hawkins. I love his music. Here’s a little cento from those song tiles:

    Just a Gigolo

    Speak low
    under a blanket

    of blue
    when day is done.

    than you know,
    I’ll never

    be the same:


    1. Nice!! The Hawk Relaxes is a killer 37 minutes of music, though I was never a Hawkins fan, being a proud worshipper of Lester Young and his ensuing “school” of lyrical players. Stan Getz once said,”if you don;t play like Lester Young, you’re wrong!” Even John Coltrane said in a Swedish radio interview, “we’d all play like Stan Getz if we could!” as Stan Getz took Young’s style and expanded upon it!

      But it is undeniable that even if you are out of Lester’s line, one must bow deeply with great respect to Coleman Hawkins… NONE of us saxophonists would be here without him!

      1. I think it is essential listening for everyone, and to many might be 37 of the best consecutive minutes of music they will hear in their lifetime: an old master, sticking to his guns, blowing sugary, fine vintage air into the soul of early 60s jazz. “I’ll Never Be The Same” alone is worth the price of ten albums, let alone one! And let us not forget the practical value of a Hawkins ballad… a lot of children owe their existence to a couple of glasses of port and The Hawk Relaxes playing on their parent’s stereo stereo…

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