The Troy Street Observer

March 1944: With the Hawk at the Savoy Cafe

Photo of Coleman Hawkins
Coleman Hawkins

Sometimes, as a jazz town, Boston had it good. Such was the case in March 1944, when the king of the tenor saxophonists, Coleman Hawkins, brought his new, forward-looking, sextet to the Savoy Cafe for three weeks. This was a special band, playing at a crucial time.

Coleman Hawkins was always fascinated by new developments in jazz, and unlike many of his swing-based peers, he heard what was going on at Minton’s, and he understood it. He assembled a new band in early 1944, and he hired three of those adventurous young musicians from Minton’s: pianist Thelonius Monk, trumpeter Benny Harris, and drummer Denzil Best. This trio also handled the arranging duties. Eddie “Bass” Robinson was the bassist. And there was one more hire, another saxophonist, none other than Don Byas.

Byas was an established star, even a rival to Hawkins himself. Byas spent time with Don Redman and Andy Kirk, and took Lester Young’s place in the Basie band. Like Hawkins, he understood what Monk and Harris were doing with harmony, and like Hawkins, he gravitated to it. The tenor sound on the bandstand must have been enormous.

Bass Robinson stayed in New York and Selwyn Warner traveled to Toronto and Boston, but otherwise the group was intact. And only audiences in Toronto and Boston heard this band, because Byas went on his own soon after it returned to New York. By the time the group made it to the studio in October 1944, Harris was gone as well. The quartet that remained, however, cut the four sides that marked Monk’s recording debut.

Here are two of those sides, and even though they mainly showcase Hawkins, both feature a Monk solo. First is “On the Bean,” followed by “Flyin’ Hawk.”

 

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