Body and Soul: Jazz tenor saxophonists’ standard, part 1
In this 9 part series on the historical jazz iconic song, Body and Soul, the author compares recorded versions from some of jazz history’s greatest tenor saxophonists.
Body and Soul was written by Hollywood songwriter/conductor Johnny Green in 1930, with lyrics by Edward Heyman, Robert Sour, and Frank Eyton. The song was first recorded and popularized by the Paul Whiteman orchestra. It was released on October 11, 1930 and held the number one spot on the charts for six weeks. A second version appeared in the Broadway revue, Three’s a Crowd, sung by Libby Holman, also in October of 1930, and subsequently rose to number three on the recording charts. Between 1930 and 1939 the song was in the top twenty of the pop charts 11 times as recorded by such artists as Ruth Etting, Ozzie Nelson, Louis Armstrong, Benny Goodman, Henry Allen, and Art Tatum[i], but none had the impact of the version recorded by Coleman Hawkins exactly nine years from the original release date.
Considered by many as the definitive solo of the legacy of Coleman Hawkins, the circumstances of the October 11, 1939 recording are shrouded in mystery. Hawkins and his band members had just recorded three sides for Bluebird records, a subsidiary of RCA Victor, and a fourth side was needed. Although rumors suggest that its inclusion in the session was an afterthought, jazz historians Dan Morgenstern and Kenny Berger agree that the recording of “Body and Soul” was planned and that the rumor was “probably concocted by Hawkins to add to the record’s mystique.”[ii] Regardless of the circumstances, Hawkins’ two improvised choruses on Green’s ballad became one of the most celebrated recordings in the history of jazz. This recording became the first true jazz hit and one of the most influential jazz records in history, achieving Grammy status in 1973, and added to the top 50 list of the National Recording Registry of 2004 of the Library of Congress. Its entry in that registry reads: “Through the influence of this recording, “Body and Soul” became a standard for tenor sax players, with many referencing parts of Hawkins’ solo and playing in the challenging key of Db.”[iii]
In part 2 of this series, we’ll examine Hawkins’ version compared to his contemporary jazz saxophonist Lester Young.
[i]K. J. McElrath, Body and Soul. http://www.jazzstandards.com/compositions-0/bodyandsoul.htm
[ii] Kenny Berger, “Body and Soul”, The Oxford Companion to Jazz, ed. By Bill Kirchner, Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York: (2000), 185
[iii] National Recording Preservation Board, The National Recording Registry 2004, Library of Congress,
http//www.loc.gov/rr/record/nrpb/nrpb-2004reg.htm (accessed 10/14/2008).