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.