Phil Schaap Jazz

Coleman Hawkins and His All Star Jam Band—April 28, 1937

Jazz records have been made since February 26, 1917. For the first twenty years, there were no Jazz labels, one found Jazz music on commercially released discs (78RPM standard grove, almost all 10" in diameter, with three minutes of music on each side, almost always two songs) produced by companies whose catalogs included other music styles. Many of these first Jazz records sold very well. During the Swing Era (1935 - 1950), when Jazz’s popularity reached its crest, two Frenchmen – Charles Delaunay and Hugues Panassié – launched the first ALL Jazz label, Swing Records. They began with a Coleman Hawkins led session on April 28, 1937 in Paris. Rarely, have producers brought so much insight with their plans and achieved so much. 1. At the time, they knew that that Jazz was completely dominated by Big Bands. For both budgetary reasons and their aesthetic preference, they would not record a Big Band in Swing Records’ debut. 2. Delaunay and Panassié, however, wished to acknowledge Big Bands and spotlight their unique addition to the sounds of music: the saxophone, saxophone sections, and four part harmony in sax sections. 3. One primary among American Jazz expatriates living in pre-World war II Europe was The King, Benny Carter. Charles Delaunay and Hugues Panassié understood that Carter was both a pioneer and genius in writing for Big Bands, and that his innovation within Big Band music was sax section writing – The King’s breakthrough approach remains the model even after 85 years. 4. For Swing Records’ maiden voyage, the fledgling owners and relatively inexperienced producers brilliantly came up with a truncation of the Big Band that, nevertheless, provided a cross section from such ensembles – zeroing in on the Big Bands contribution to orchestral music, the saxophone section. 5. Charles Delaunay and Hugues Panassié hired The King, Benny Carter, to be the Musical Director of Swing Records’ 4/28/1937 opening gun. The King was commissioned and paid to write four arrangements for a four piece saxophone section for a band with no other horns. Benny was to play lead alto sax in that section. 6. As great as Benny Carter was, Charles and Hugues correctly perceived that Coleman Hawkins was the most important American Jazz expatriate living in 1937 Europe. They hired Hawkins to come to Paris on 4/28/1937 to record as the leader and to play tenor saxophone in the Carter led section. 7. The group was to be an octet, besides the four saxes, there would be a rhythm section. It would be the norm in those pre-BeBop times, four pieces: piano, bass, guitar, and drums, which enhanced the swing in a teeter-totter, seesaw way rather than the power of the “in the pocket” three piece, no guitar, rhythm section endemic since the end of the Swing Era. 8. The next concern for the producers was a need to prove that the American music, Jazz, had more than just fans in Europe, that non-USA born musicians could also play it. Delaunay and Panassié filled out the saxophone section with the two leading non-American, indeed French, reed players in France: André Ekyan, who would play “3rd alto”, the other alto saxophonist; and Alix Combelle, the other tenor saxophonist, playing the four part in the stack. In the rhythm section, Eugène d’Hellemmes was hired on bass, and the great violinist, Stéphane Grappelli, was employed on piano, an instrument he played professionally. Though Grappelli had some Italian heritage, these two were also French. 9. The coup de gras to this pivotal, arguably first major step, as Delaunay and Panassié created an {near} equal beachhead for Jazz as a performing art for non-Americans, was the use of Django Reinhardt. The guitarist, a genius, was as swinging and inventive a Jazz musician as any American and would be on equal footing with Benny Carter and leader Coleman Hawkins. 10. Django would solo, too – as would Combelle and Ekyan; and, of course, The King and the Hawk. Here, too, in emphasizing their preference for improvised solos, Charles Delaunay and Hugues Panassié displayed another reason to their deemphasis of Big Bands. 11. The producers made one concession to their theme that Jazz was now (as of 1937), or to be, universal. The rhythm section was anchored by another American Jazz expatriate, Tommy Benford, who had recorded with Jelly Roll Morton. Foreign producers of Jazz records in faraway lands would continue to use United States drummers on their sessions, to help ensure that the music would swing. Think: Kenny Clarke, Alvin Queen, and Ed Thigpen. All four recordings done that day in April 1937 – “Honeysuckle Rose”, “Crazy Rhythm”, “Out of Nowhere”, and “Sweet Georgia Brown” – are all time Jazz classics. The demonstration of the sax section’s prominence, the level of musicianship, the “A list” quality of the improvisations of the primary soloists, the business breakthrough of a Jazz record company, the tremendous step forward for Jazz as an international art form, the all encompassing historical significance, and the swing. Each recording is different, though they can be thought of in pairs. The first two are the realization of Charles Delaunay’s and Hugues Panassié’s perception that Jazz, with its use of the saxophone section, had provided orchestral music with a wonderful and unique dimension. The two sides of Swing 1, the 78RPM, with “Honeysuckle Rose” and “Crazy Rhythm”, show that the producers’ cutting down the size of a Big Band to this precious cross section worked. The next two – a functioning, jamming, knowable combo ensemble – still earn their spurs as definitive Jazz episodes with these highlights. “Out of Nowhere”, many years after “One Hour” (Mound City Blue Blowers 11/14/1929) and the 1933 Hawkins’ ballad features with the Fletcher Henderson Orchestra, is still a major and early instrumental Jazz ballad. Coleman Hawkins offers genius, the emergence of the tenor saxophone as a (THE?) primary solo horn in Jazz, and a rare illustration that their CAN BE an abundance of one individual’s blowing on a single 78RPM side as heard on “Sweet Georgia Brown”.   On both “Out of Nowhere” and “Sweet Georgia Brown”, Benny Carter plays trumpet. It’s a revelation that The King is masterful and expressive on an instrument in a different family than the reeds. These would be marvelous Jazz trumpet records if the player was known or unknown or, in any case, exclusively a trumpeter. Admittedly the point made in #11 is arguable, controversial, and can bruise some feelings.   That it was so, came to me in a roundabout way, when I was quite young, in a conversation with my father, Walter Schaap, where he explained translating.   In his early career, my father was a translator; in fact, he worked for Charles Delaunay and Hugues Panassié from the end of his teens, starting in 1937. A book in the English language was becoming popular in France and I had learned that there was a demand for it to be translated into French. I ran to my dad, telling him of the possibility for a big gig. Walter explained: you only translate into your home language. My dad turned French into English and never the other way around. The home language of Jazz is its swinging rhythm. The drummer is most often the pivotal player in making the music swing. If one wanted music to be clearly in the language Jazz, then it was wise to use an American drummer so it would be properly translated into its home language. Walter Schaap was privy to more than a generic principle relating to the specific of Tommy Benford playing drums on the first Swing Records. My father knew, and I knew, too, eventually hearing it directly from Charles Delaunay that for all the wonderful music, glory, historic importance, and a profound, lasting impact across the board, there was a huge disappointment for Delaunay and Panassié in producing these all-time masterworks. The two were furious, perhaps more so Charles Delaunay, with Benny Carter. The King had been commissioned and paid for 4 arrangements and The King showed up on April 28, 1937 with one-and-a-half: all of “Honeysuckle Rose” and the first half of “Crazy Rhythm”.   Just these two titles would make it to the Swing Records label; indeed, “Honeysuckle Rose” and “Crazy Rhythm” are coupled on the 78RPM, Swing 1, the first release.   The other two tunes recorded, “Out of Nowhere” and “Sweet Georgia Brown” have no written music and no sax section. Benny Carter switches to trumpet and Combelle flips to clarinet for “Sweet Georgia Brown”. Delaunay and Panassié farmed out the release of “Out of Nowhere” and “Sweet Georgia Brown” to HMV (His Master’s Voice, {RCA) Victor in Europe). In 1984, I asked Charles Delaunay why “Out of Nowhere” and “Sweet Georgia Brown” never appeared on Swing. It’s then that he told it all. Adding that naming the group “COLEMAN HAWKINS & his all-star “Jam” band” was a subtle rebuff, privately revealing his and Hugues Panassié’s anger. Nearly a half-century earlier, my father, Walter E. Schaap, knew everything and, just as subtly as the producers, revealed it in one of the earliest editions of Jazz Information, a Swing Era periodical. In their November 14, 1939 issue, my father just back from France, in his series of articles entitled “Jazzmen Abroad” wrote: “As Coleman Hawkins and his All-Star Jam Band, they recorded “Crazy Rhythm”, “Honeysuckle Rose”, “Out of Nowhere”, and “Sweet Georgia Brown” for the Swing label. The first two sides are available here on Victor; the other two (on which Carter switched to trumpet) were thought unfit to be issued in France, and only appear on HMV.” A twist to our knowledge of one of the most important days Jazz History. Still, the music of April 28, 1937 is ALL stupendous! This is a slightly revised document recently created for a student working on Coleman Hawkins.