The AFM recording ban of 1942 had a large impact on Jazz. The AFM was – and still is – the American Federation of Musicians … the union. The musicians – at the time only instrumentalists could join – called for a strike against the record labels. It was a long bitter strike with many detrimental aspects. By striking, musicians were denied the opportunity to record. It also made the emergence of BeBop sound all the more startling when the strike ended.
But even before Columbia and RCA Victor finally settled in late 1944, recordings had been made. A little over a year after the ban took effect, small record companies, pre-existing, but mostly start-ups, had settled with the terms of the musicians union. They had arisen; sensing a void, and taking advantage of it. Not only were record companies eager to record, but musicians as well. A key one from a Jazz perspective was Coleman Hawkins.
By the early 1940s “Bean,” or “Hawk,” had been the preeminent tenor sax in Jazz for some time. He had taken the instrument from a vaudeville novelty and given it a Jazz voice. The ever restless and searching Hawk, was not about to allow a little recording ban to prevent him from recording, and seized upon the opportunity to record with these smaller companies. It was really an ideal situation for both sides: The record companies were eager to have top notch talent with their reduced budgets, and issue recordings, and without the commercial restraints the larger companies put on artists, gave them almost total freedom in selecting material, and personnel. Hawk, found this most appealing: the ability to record the music he chose, with the musicians he wanted.
While Hawkins had always mastered any material he was faced with, from Blues, and Big-Band arrangements, to even syrupy pop tunes, Hawk needed to progress. After living abroad from 1934-39, Coleman Hawkins returned looking for something new in Jazz and he soon found in young Dizzy Gillespie and with the dawn of BeBop.
Signature, Keynote, and Apollo were just three of the many record companies which had sprung up, and which Hawk was involved with. Beginning in December 1943 Hawkins recorded on what at times was a near daily basis. He surrounded himself with an interesting mix of jazzmen: his own outstanding peers, Teddy Wilson, Roy Eldridge, Cozy Cole, Sid Catlett, as well as up-and-coming musicians, Oscar Pettiford, Max Roach, Shelly Manne, Little Benny Harris, Denzil Best, Thelonious Monk, and Dizzy. In his own peers, he found musicality and experience that matched his own, while the younger players aided in his constant search for the next development in Jazz.
The material Hawk recorded in this period follows a similar vein. Updated arrangements of older material: “Hallelujah,” “How Deep Is The Ocean,” “The Man I Love,” “Beyond The Blue Horizon,” as well as contrafacts, i.e. “How High The Moon,” became “Bean at the Met,” “My Gal Sal” became “Cattin’ at Keynote,” and “China Boy,” became “Battle of the Saxes.” New compositions included “Stumpy,” “Salt Peanuts,” “Feeling Zero,” and “Bu-Dee-Daht. The previous two tunes had been recorded in February 1944, with a band featuring Dizzy Gillespie, Budd Johnson, Don Byas, and Max Roach in the first BeBop recording session.
Other recordings of note from this period include ones make along the same basis, but with Hawk as a sideman with Cozy Cole, or Walter “Foots” Thomas leading, “Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams,” and “Out To Lunch.” The ballads “Uptown Lullaby,” and “Yesterdays,” are also worth noting.
Very few jazzmen made as much of their circumstances as Coleman Hawkins did. Always pushing, searching, striving for something new, he found opportunity in any instance, and the recording ban was no exception. With the recordings made during this period he preserved classic Swing Era sounds and gave us our first glimpse of BeBop.
[by Rob Vrabel, edited by Phil Schaap]