The jazz standard “Body and Soul” was first performed live in London by singer Gertrude Lawrence in 1930, and then recorded later that year by the great Louis Armstrong. But Coleman Hawkins cut the most historic version on October 11, 1939 — exactly 75 years ago today. The Missouri-born musician made the recording almost by accident, on a spur-of-the-moment-decision, and he had no inkling that he had created the first commercial hit of a pure jazz recording.
He later mused,”It’s funny how it became such a classic.” “Even the ordinary public is crazy about it. It’s the first and only record I ever heard of that all the squares dig as well as the jazz people, and I don’t understand how and why, because I was making notes all the way. I wasn’t making a melody for the squares. I thought nothing of it. I didn’t even bother to listen to it afterwards.”
For jazz historians, the song is recognized as one of the “early tremors of bebop.” That’s largely because “Hawkins hints at the song’s melody during his first six bars, but he is improvising right from the start, never actually stating the theme,” writes Kenny Berger in The Oxford Companion to Jazz.
In 2004, the Library of Congress placed Hawkin’s recording into the National Recording Registry. Above, you can listen to the landmark 1939 version and also watch Hawkins perform “Body and Soul” live in 1967 at Norman Granz’s Jazz at the Philharmonic.
A special thanks goes to Michael for flagging this anniversary for us.