The Song of the Hawk

The Life and Recordings of Coleman Hawkins
John Chilton
The first full-length biography of Coleman Hawkins


Coleman Hawkins has been hailed as "the father of the tenor saxophone," the musician who almost single-handedly established the saxophone as a jazz instrument worthy of serious attention. His thorough musicianship, as well as his openness to new styles, enabled him to remain in the vanguard of jazz developments, from the blues to big bands to bop and beyond.

The Song of the Hawk, the first full-length biography of Hawkins, reveals many fascinating details about the life and achievements of this jazz giant. Chilton begins with Hawkins's early life in Saint Joseph, Missouri, where he was given his first saxophone at age nine, and follows Hawkins's lengthy career; his performances with Mamie Smith's Original Jazz Hounds, his work with the Fletcher Henderson Orchestra, his experiences with his own band, and his participation in Norman Granz's "Jazz at the Philharmonic" tours. His numerous gigs and recording sessions brought him in contact with virtually every great jazz musician in America and Europe. Chilton's descriptions of Hawkins's recordings—which span some forty-five years—together with well-chosen anecdotes gleaned from interviews, letters, articles, books, and liner notes, provide a revealing portrait of a consummate professional at work.

Praise / Awards

  • ". . . an important and valuable addition to the jazz library . . . ."

  • "The Song of the Hawk is a tune worthy of its soaring subject. . . ."

  • ". . . a composite picture of a supreme musical artist, one fully confident of his importance as a creative performer, whose earned privilege it was to enjoy the best that life had to offer."
    —Jack Sohmer, Down Beat

  • "Here is a writer who understands jazz and knows its musical and social history, has the patience and diligence to find new information and use it well, and never forgets that he is dealing with the life of a great artist. . . . [A] book you can trust."
    —Dan Morgenstern, Jazz Times

  • ". . . a worthy addition to any jazz library."
    Mississippi Rag

  • Winner: Association for Recorded Sound Collections Award for Historical Recorded Sound Research

Product Details

  • 6 x 9.
  • 460pp.
  • 16 pages of photographs.
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Sales Restrictions

Our edition is available in Canada, Philippines, Puerto Rico, United States, Virgin Islands (U.S.)


  • Paper
  • 1990
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-08201-8

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  • $43.95 U.S.



  • jazz, jazz music, biography, American studies, musicology, saxophone, Coleman Hawkins, musician, musical history, social history