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He is commonly regarded as the first important and influential jazz musician to use the instrument: Joachim E. Berent wrote, "there were some tenor players before him, but the instrument was not an acknowledged jazz horn" .
Coleman is most strongly associated with the swing music and big band era, but he was also was important in the development of bebop in the 1940s, and was influenced by the avant-garde jazz of the 1950s and '60s.
 Life and career
 Early life and the Swing era
Hawkins was born in Saint Joseph, Missouri in 1904. Some out-of-date sources say 1901, but there is no evidence to prove such an early date. He was named Coleman after his mother Cordelia's maiden name.
He attended high school in Chicago, then in Topeka, Kansas at Topeka High School. He later stated that he studied harmony and composition for two years at Washburn College in Topeka while still attending THS. In his youth he played piano and cello, and started playing saxophone at the age of nine; by the age of fourteen he was playing around eastern Kansas.
Hawkins joined Mamie Smith's Jazz Hounds in 1921 with whom he toured through 1923, at which time he settled in New York City. Hawkins joined Fletcher Henderson's Orchestra, with whom he played through 1934, sometimes doubling on clarinet and bass saxophone. Hawkins' playing changed significantly during Louis Armstrong's tenure with the Henderson Orchestra.
In 1934 Hawkins accepted an invitation to play with Jack Hylton's band in London and during the mid to late 1930s Hawkins toured Europe as a soloist, memorially working with Django Reinhardt and Benny Carter in Paris in 1937, and many other groups until returning to the USA in 1939. In that same year of 1939 he recorded a seminal jazz solo on the pop standard "Body and Soul", a landmark recording of the Swing Era. What made it unique was virtually the entire recording is improvised, only in the first 4 bars is the melody stated in a recognizable fashion. It is considered by many to be the next evolutionary step in jazz recording from where Louis Armstrong's "West End Blues" in 1928 left off.
 The Bebop era
After an unsuccessful attempt to establish a big band he led a combo at Kelly's Stables on Manhattan's famed 52nd Street with Thelonious Monk, Oscar Pettiford, Miles Davis, and Max Roach as sidemen. He was leader on the first ever bebop recording session with Dizzy Gillespie and Max Roach in 1943. Later he toured with Howard McGhee and recorded with J.J. Johnson and Fats Navarro. He also toured with Jazz at the Philharmonic. In 1948 Hawkins recorded Picasso, an influential piece for unaccompanied saxophone.
During his long career Hawkins was always inventive and seeking new challenges. He directly influenced many bebop performers, and later in his career, recorded or performed with such adventurous musicians as Sonny Rollins, who considered him his main influence, and John Coltrane. He appears on the Thelonious Monk with John Coltrane (Riverside) record. In 1960 he recorded on Max Roach's We Insist! - Freedom Now suite.
 Later life
He also performed with more traditional musicians, such as Henry "Red" Allen and Roy Eldridge, with whom he appeared at the 1957 Newport Jazz Festival. Hawkins did a record (Coleman Hawkins Encounters Ben Webster) with fellow tenor saxophonist Ben Webster on December 16, 1957, along with Oscar Peterson (piano), Herb Ellis (guitar), Ray Brown (bass), and Alvin Stoller (drums). The Hawkins and Webster recording is a jazz classic, the coming together of two giants of the saxophone. In the 1960s, he recorded with Duke Ellington.
What was up to date in jazz changed radically over the decades. When record collectors would play his early 1920s recordings during Hawkins' later years he would sometimes deny his presence on them, since the playing on the old records sounded so dated.
In his later years, Hawkins began to drink heavily and stopped recording (his last recording was in late 1966). He died of pneumonia in 1969 and is interred at the Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx. A biography of Hawkins, The Song of the Hawk (1990), was written by British jazz historian John Chilton.
 Notable works
- Body and Soul (1939)
- Picasso (1948)
- The Hawk Flies High (1957)
- Coleman Hawkins Encounters Ben Webster (1957)
- The Genius of Coleman Hawkins (1957)
- Hawk Eyes! (1959)
- In a Mellow Tone (1960)
- Alive! (1962)
- Duke Ellington Encounters Coleman Hawkins (1962)
- "As far as I'm concerned, I think Coleman Hawkins was the President first, right? As far as myself, I think I'm the second one." Tenorman Lester Young, who was called "Pres", 1959 interview with Jazz Review.
- "When I heard Hawk I learned to play ballads." Miles Davis, cited in