On the 30 March 1934, the French liner, Ile De France, disembarked passengers at Plymouth. On the passenger manifest showing his London address as. c/o American Express was the 29 year old saxophonist, Coleman Hawkins. After transferring by tender to the port, Hawk, along with the other passengers took the ‘boat train’ to London’s Waterloo Station.
The intention was for Hawkins to appear at London’s Hippodrome Theatre on 22 April with Louis Armstrong, who had been in the UK for over six months on what was his second transatlantic trip.
It was Jack Hylton, the British band leader and entrepreneur, who was acting as a temporary manager for Louis, while he was in the UK who came up with the idea of a unique double bill. Hylton also wasted no time in getting Hawkins to work, and the day after he arrived he appeared at 7.30 pm on Hylton’s BBC radio show, In Town Tonight on 31 March. Later that evening he played the second house at the London Palladium with Hylton’s show.
At first Louis seemed happy with the arrangement for a Hawk and Satchmo double bill, but over the course of three weeks during March and April he pulled out of the gig, citing a raft of spurious reasons for doing so. Early on in negotiations for the concert that had been arranged by The Melody Maker they broke down and it was cancelled – it seems likely that it was Armstrong that pulled the plug.
Armstrong almost immediately went to Paris, while Hylton came up with the idea of presenting Hawk as a star guest with his orchestra. There were in fact two Hylton bands, one led by Jack, and the other by the band leaders wife, which was billed as Mrs Jack Hylton and Her Boys; Jack himself would appear with both bands as they toured variety halls around the country.
On 16 April, Hawkins was at The London Palladium with Mrs Hylton to begin a week-long engagement. Also on the bill were Ukulele Ike, Hutch (Leslie Hutchinson, seen on the right, the Grenadian cabaret artist who was a huge star during the late 1920s and 30s), Vic Oliver the actor and comedian, who, in 1938, married Sarah Churchill, one of the wartime prime minister’s daughters, comedian Max Miller and Forsythe, Seamon and Farrell – Charles Forsythe, Adeline Seamon and Eleanor Farrell were a comedy turn who had travelled across the Atlantic on the Ile De France with Hawkins.
After London Hawkins went to Southport and Blackburn in the north of England, before returning to London to play The Finsbury Park Empire for a week commencing 30 April. For the remainder of 1934 Hawkins worked pretty much non-stop around the UK with Hylton, before heading for the Continent, where he spent much of the next four years, although occasionally returning to play in the UK. These visits were unofficial as there was a ban in place by the British Musician’s Union on visiting American performers. It was not until March 1939 that Hawkins officially returned to the UK, and then mostly on a demonstration tour for Selmer Saxophones.
He later in the year played some engagements with the Hylton band, of which the last was at Brighton’s Hippodrome, for a week, beginning 19 June 1939. Shortly afterwards, Hawkins returned to America and less than three months later World War 2 broke out.