We lost someone truly remarkable: the Boston-born drummer and raconteur Jake Hanna, who died on February 12, 2010.
When you saw — at a jazz party or on a new recording — that the band was going to include Jake, you could sit back and prepare to enjoy yourself. He lifted every ensemble with his floating beat — reminiscent of Jo Jones, Dave Tough, Sidney Catlett, and Gus Johnson. His tempo never shifted, and he knew how to support a band (whether at a whisper or a roar) and a soloist. Like the drummers he revered, he varied his sound and shaded it — although he wasn’t afraid to stay where he was if it was working (some musicians irritably keep changing their approach every four bars). Jake was a master of the hi-hat, the Chinese cymbal, the snare drum, the wire brushes. And he delighted in playing for the band in the best Basie-inspired way. “If you’re not swinging from the beginning, what the hell are you up there for?” he told me.
I only met Jake a few times, but I came away feeling as if I’d encountered someone larger-than-life. His enthusiasm for the things he loved — whether it was Jo Jones’s playing or a sought-after tube of King of Shaves (a compact replacement for aerosol shaving cream cans) came through loud and clear. His joy in being alive was powerful and infectious. And he was also a hilarious, indefatigable storyteller. If you got him started by mentioning a musician’s name, you could prepare to be laughing for an hour, as one anecdote chased another. (I hope someone got some of these stories — printable and otherwise — down on tape or video.) I remember his witty generosity when I interviewed him over the telephone for his memories of recording with Ruby Braff for the Arbors sessions issued as WATCH WHAT HAPPENS, and his pleasure in the music of Jimmy Rowles and Dave McKenna, which he and his wife listened to as their “dinner music.”
Here he is with Howard Alden, George VanEps, and David Stone, performing A BEAUTIFUL FRIENDSHIP:
And two performances from the 1995 Bern Jazz Festival featuring a truly extraordinary version of Bob Wilber and Kenny Davern’s Summit Reunion, with a rhythm section of Johnny Varro, Marty Grosz, Milt Hinton, and Jake:
Here’s YELLOW DOG BLUES, a masterpiece of sustained, building intensity:
And HINDUSTAN, where Jake and Milt trade phrases before the closing ensemble:
You can see why musicians of all ages and styles loved him and loved to play alongside him. His playing made sense, whether he was shouldering the whole Woody Herman band or backing Rosemary Clooney in a tender ballad.
Our condolences to his very charming wife, Denisa, and Jake’s family.