JAKE HANNA (1931-2010)

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.

8 responses to “JAKE HANNA (1931-2010)

  1. Bill Gallagher

    What you wrote of Jake was all true and then some. I saw him perform many times at Sacramento where he was also the Emperor of the Jubilee one year. However, some of the hallway and bandstand conversations were equally memorable. One evening Jake was on a roll talking about Buddy Rich’s funeral and Mel Torme running around trying to manage the event. No attempt to relate this would do justice to Jake’s gruff-sounding delivery. Even the usually composed Eddie Higgins was just about rolling on the floor. Ruby Braff once called Jake “William Frawley” after the actor who played Fred Mertz on I Love Lucy. Ruby nailed it with that one.

    Jake, you will be missed by the many who were lucky enough to cross your path.

  2. I’m devastated to hear of Jake’s passing. He was a great player, and always for the band (what a precious and undervalued talent that is), a good pal to me and master of the devastating put-down. Everyone in the jazz community is going to miss him. My thoughts are with Denisa to whom I extend my deepest sympathy.

    Ken Mathieson

  3. Jake’s drumming was masterful; full of imagination, flair and–most importantly–swing. He always played exactly the right thing at the right time for any musical situation. And he had the most devastating sense of humor of any musician I know.

    My heart goes out to Denisa and to Jake’s family.

  4. Michael

    This is a real service to the wider jazz community. Many thanks. May see you later this year in NYC.

    Best. Peter

  5. Jake was a marvelous musician who sparked every
    group he played with-he will be sadly missed by us all.
    Our thoughts are with Denisa & the family.

  6. Like everyone else here, I’m shocked. He had that ‘je ne sais quoi’ that marks out the greats from the merely very-goods.

    I agree with what Hal Smith (who surely knows) says about Jake’s drumming, and also your perceptive remarks:

    ” 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).”

    I was fortunate enough to hear him in person a few times and -like all the greats – he made it all look so easy and effortless.

    It’s no exaggeration to mention Jake’s name in the same breath as Catlett and Tough, though in terms of sheer technique, Buddy Rich might be a closer comparison. But Jake had one thing Buddy lacked: unfailing good taste.

    As I write this, I’m listening to his great 1979 ‘Concord’ trio recording with Scott Hamilton and Dave McKenna, “No Bass Hit”, which together with the 1986 “Major League” by the same trio cfame out as “Double Play” on Concord a few years ago. It’s one consolation that Jake’s work is so widely and easily available on both CD and Youtube.

  7. I loved Jake and and his drumming and am saddened by his passing. I got to know him “way back when”- here on the East Coast.

    When we saw each other I was Ollie (Hardy)and he was Stan (Laurel); we had some great laughs- improvising our roles.
    One of his good ones was turning to the very over- amplified bass player and saying: “Would you mind turning it down from kill” to “stun?”

  8. Pingback: Would I sell my soul to play like Jake Hanna? « Shiraz Socialist

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s