Coleman Hawkins’ Landmark Recording of “Body and Soul” Turns 75 This Week

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.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

10 Great Per­for­mances From 10 Leg­endary Jazz Artists: Djan­go, Miles, Monk, Coltrane & More

Philoso­pher Jacques Der­ri­da Inter­views Jazz Leg­end Ornette Cole­man: Talk Impro­vi­sa­tion, Lan­guage & Racism (1997)

Haru­ki Murakami’s Pas­sion for Jazz: Dis­cov­er the Novelist’s Jazz Playlist, Jazz Essay & Jazz Bar

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