A PORTRAIT OF BOBBY HACKETT

This marvelous documentary in miniature — a precious tribute to the cornetist Bobby Hackett — surfaced recently on YouTube, courtesy of “The Murphy Family.”

I saw Hackett play less than a dozen times in the last five years of his life, twice at close range.  I was too awed and too shy to attempt conversation, but he was gracious to me, a fan lugging a heavy tape recorder, asking for an autograph.  His autograph, incidentally, says a good deal about the man: “Thanks, Bobby Hackett.”

So I cannot claim any particular intimacy.  But when I was growing up in darkest suburbia, the New Jersey radio station WPAT-FM often played Hackett’s recordings with strings — extraordinary traceries against dark blue skies.  My mother loved melodies: Puccini and Verdi, Streisand and Anna Moffo, and she shared my affection for Hackett.  The YouTube documentary awakened a memory: my mother calling me to come downstairs quickly, “Your friend is on the radio!”  And it would be Hackett, playing LAURA or MOONLIGHT BECOMES YOU.  And we would stand in front of the speakers, marveling.

Years later, a Hackett solo has the power to make me wonder at its shape, its logic, its warmth.  His music makes me feel his absence as a true loss.

The YouTube documentary, created by Kathleen Griffin, is touching for other reasons.  The photographs — from the collection of Michelle , Hackett’s granddaughter, remind us that the jazz musicians whose sounds we cherish and annotate are people when not behind their cornets or drum sets — people with families and houses, lounging on couches, eating dinner, hugging their children, caught in snapshots.  The soundtrack seems to be taken from a concert or concerts Hackett played with Benny Goodman in the 1970s.  And the jazz fanciers will notice rare pictures of Hackett in performance as well, amidst Punch Miller, Pete Fountain, Vic Dickenson, Dizzy Gillespie, George Brunis, Maxine Sullivan, and many others — but the eye comes back to Hackett.  As does the ear, inevitably.

I urge every reader of this blog to listen closely to a Bobby Hackett solo today.  And give thanks.

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14 responses to “A PORTRAIT OF BOBBY HACKETT

  1. Rob Rothberg

    I had similar experiences, Michael. Growing up, I heard the Hackett-with-strings recordings in a Key Foods supermarket in Long Beach. Later on, I heard them in a 7-11 store on Cape Cod (while on a trip to see his grave) and even in a New York theater that showed “specialized” films, if you know what I mean.

    Everyone mentions his influences — and they were there — but he developed his own unique, irreplaceable voice.

    And as you know, he was a nice guy — always kind to the fans.

  2. Nancie Beaven

    What a marvelous tribute…I have played it over and over :o) We all have great memories (many of mine are WPAT, also) and this brings them ALL back. You are such a treasure for all you continue to share with us!!!!

  3. Great documentary. I am the leader of the Bourbon Street Paraders Jazz Band on Cape Cod and Bobby used to sit in with us several times in the 1970s, especially when his son, Ernie, was playing drums with us. I also played with him at the Holiday Inn in Hyannis in 1972 and then again at Dunfey’s Hotel in Hyannis in 1975 and 76. The photos of the band playing at his burial in Chatham in 1976 include the following Cape Cod and beyond musicians, from left to right, Jim Cullum on bass, Frank Shea on drums, Dick Johnson on sax, Charlie Tourjee on trombone, George Masso on trombone, Lou Colombo on trumpet, and me, Lee Childs on clarinet. These photos are near the very end of the documentary. This band also played in the choir loft at Chatham’s Holy Redeemer Church for Bobby’s funeral earlier that day. For me, it seems like it was yesterday. Regards to all, Lee Childs

  4. Dear Lee,

    Many thanks for letting us know more about who’s who in those last pictures. If ever a man deserved a jazz funeral, it would have been Bobby. Gratefully, Michael

  5. A friend of mine who is a very famous drummer,
    was just telling me about playing in a trio
    with bobby and jimmy garrison. He went on to say
    that they played several times and that hacket was often to wasted to play. This was in the 60’s as well.
    Told me about going out to a wedding in jersey and playing with him and jimmy, funny stuff.

  6. Dear John,

    I don’t doubt you or your friend’s story, but it strikes me as odd, for Hackett was sober in the Sixties and remained so until his death, substituting black coffee for the more deadly stuff. However, he was a diabetic who didn’t always take the best care of himself in that regard, so it might have been a matter of blood sugar more than of alcohol.

  7. Thx for all the stuff you put on youtube on behalf of Bobby Hackett. I gave a copy of this tape to a friend years ago, and finally he puts it on youtube. All the guys on that tape are still playing, except Ted Easton himself.He past away in 1990. Regards, Jerry Steyger

  8. Ernie Hackett

    Thanks for all your kind words & thoughts. To put the record straight, occasionally Dad would “fall off the wagon”! — but only momentary lapses & only “on the road” — this in no way what-so-ever took anything away from the wonderfullness of his being!!! — heck!!! – I’m 61 & still imbibing! – but, thank God, not like I did back in my 30’s & 40’s!
    Again, thanks to all – & I would like to invite all to check out “Fans of Bobby Hackett (NOT BUDDY) on Facebook!

  9. Dear Ernie,
    I am very much delighted to hear from you and to know that you have read of my love for your father’s music — and his kindness. I never saw him the worse for wear, so I didn’t take those comments seriously. He was a lovely man and he remains one of my true aesthetic heroes . . . someone who could make memorable song out of metal tubing. And I hear you in my mind’s ear as a swinging, subtle drummer. I don’t do Facebook (too much time spent at the computer as it is) but am delighted to know that there is a FoBobby page. There should be thousands of pages! Cheers and thanks, Michael Steinman

  10. Kathleen Murphy Griffin

    You all may get a kick out of this. I did this for Ernie and his niece the other day. I create Machinima. It’s a form of animation. This was just a test for another version that will have a more musicians and maybeee I might build a virtual Columns I loved that place.

    One funny flash back for me with booby @ his home on the Cape in Chatham is you never knew who or what was going to be around the corner there.

    Many times while hanging out @ the house with Michelle Bobby would be practicing his scales walking a bout the house in his boxers hehehe. I never could forget that vision.

    When he passed away his Wife Edna asked me if I wanted anything of his and she gave me a poster and i asked for his bow ties. I love his bow ties. But I look back and laugh and say rats I should have asked for his boxers lol. But I guess that wouldn’t have been appropriate then.

    So many characters @ that home as kids we were the adults and the adults were the kids. Wonderful memories from those days. He was a nice man. A gentle soul he was. He also would be proud of his grandchildren and his grt grandchildren to this day.

    He & Edna did a great job together!

  11. Kathleen Murphy Griffin

    oops forget to post the link to the other film

    http://www.youtube.com/user/PROFILESophiaYates

    enjoy!

  12. Now whenever I hear Bobby playing I will have to try very hard to imagine him fully dressed! Thanks a million (a million thanks to you) for those memories, Kathleen! Cheers, Michael Steinman

  13. I just discovered Bobby Hackett . . . I play his cds over and over and over again. I love that pipe organ too . . . with the fabulous Johnny Seng. Unbelivable.
    Fran in Dallas

  14. Graham McLellan

    I enjoy listening to Bobby and so many other trumpet players long past wo were all original all played differant all loved their music ,personally i not interested in if a bloke drank or not or anything about his personal life that is not for me,but listening to their music is number one for me .

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