“Why wait for the centennial of his birth to honor Coleman Hawkins?” queried tenor man Lew Tabackin, hosting a three-night Birdland tribute to the man they called Bean. Citing the fact that younger musicians and listeners may be unaware of the Hawkins legacy, Tabackin noted, “He was to the tenor sax what Louis Armstrong was to the trumpet.” Skirting any attempt to duplicate Hawkins’ robust texture and furry sound, Tabackin offered a program of tunes associated with the tenorist’s career to capture the essence and spirit of a legend.
Tabackin, who plays with fervent tonal and timbre varieties, and a great deal of emotional buoyancy, made a good case for hero worship with “Self Portrait of the Bean,” Duke Ellington’s languorous, lush and melancholic salute to Hawkins. While some of the honks and squeals invested by Tabackin might not be of the Hawkins school of playing, the intrinsic fiber of his approach is honest and musically valid.
Centerpiece was the Gershwin tune “The Man I Love,” which Tabackin began with an expansive unaccompanied intro. The tune sailed into a comfortable medium jump with the abundant drive and unfailing time of the rhythm section. Bassist Dennis Irwin especially shone with a persuasive solo, as did pianist Anthony Wonsey.
The expected finale was Johnny Green’s “Body and Soul,” which Hawkins first recorded in 1939, bringing him widespread recognition as a major influence on the sax. Tabackin framed it with an expected sense of reverence and romanticism. If one could hear echoes of the Hawkins original reverberating, Tabackin managed to grace it with a warmth, poignancy and dignity all his own.