Obituary: Erskine Hawkins

Erskine Ramsay Hawkins, trumpeter, band leader, composer: born Birmingham, Alabama 26 July 1914; died New York 12 November 1993.

'MAKE it look as if it's hard for you to do. You're making it look too easy.' Louis Armstrong's advice to Erskine Hawkins was appreciated by the man who had already learned many of Armstrong's solos note-for- note. Hawkins could even emulate Armstrong's version of 'Shine' with its 100 top Cs culminating in a super-F.

It was his ability to reproduce Armstrong's more showy high-note solos which had, in 1936, persuaded the members of the college band 'Bama State Collegians' to elect Hawkins as their leader. Hawkins, a pleasant man but awkward in appearance, was never really suited to the leader's job, yet he led the band until the Eighties. His penchant for high notes, which were often inaccurately hit and with bad intonation, caused him to be billed as 'The Twentieth Century Gabriel'.

Most of the best jazz solos in the band came from two brothers, the trumpeter Wilber 'Dud' Bascomb and his brother Paul on tenor sax. Hawkins was content to split the trumpet solos equally with Dud Bascomb and over the years Hawkins was credited with many fine solos on record which were actually played by Bascomb. Other good soloists in the band included the pianist Avery Parrish, the tenor player Julian Dash and Heywood Henry, who played baritone from the band's formation in the early Thirties until it broke up in 1953.

Hawkins aimed to please dancers and did just that at the Savoy Ballroom in New York, where the band was resident, built a huge following and often won musical battles with visiting bands like those of Ellington, Count Basie, the Bunny Berigan band with Buddy Rich on drums and the Glenn Miller band. Dud Bascomb recalled Miller's visit to the Savoy, 'the home of happy feet'; 'We were poorer-looking than Glenn Miller's band and maybe even hungrier but our band was mean that night - we all but killed Glenn.'

The Hawkins band had good reason to go after Miller. Hawkins and some of the sidemen composed a powerful blues-riff number which they called 'Tuxedo Junction' and recorded it for the Bluebird label, a subsidiary of RCA Victor to whom both they and Glenn Miller were contracted. 'We were on tour when the record was released,' said Bascomb. 'We were informed by friends that it was a hit, so while it was still climbing Bluebird got Glenn Miller to do it, so that amongst the white public Miller got more credit than we did.' This was an understatement, for Miller and RCA made a fortune from the huge sales of Miller's simple cover version. Rival companies worked up contemporary versions of 'Tuxedo Junction' by the white bands of Gene Krupa and Jan Savitt into hit records. In those days record companies put their resources into promoting white bands heavily, to the exclusion of black orchestras.

Hawkins's band was vastly popular with black Americans, and stayed with RCA from 1938 until 1950 in an unusually long relationship between a band and its record company.

Most of the music, often based on simple blues, was played at a medium fast pace, only changing tempo for one of Hawkins's florid ballad solos. Hard times eventually forced cuts in the band, and from 1960 Hawkins led a quartet at the Embers in New York, occasionally re-forming the full orchestra when necessary.

(Photograph omitted)

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Business Support - Banking - Halifax - £250 pd

£150 - £250 per day: Orgtel: HR Analyst - Banking - HR - Halifax - £150 - £250...

Geography Teacher

£24000 - £33600 per annum + pre 12 week AWR : Randstad Education Manchester Se...

Marketing Executive

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Charter Selection: A professional services company ...

Day In a Page

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

A land of the outright bizarre
What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

The worst kept secret in cinema

A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

The new hatched, matched and dispatched

Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
Why do we have blood types?

Are you my type?

All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

Honesty box hotels

Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn