Seen up close, Bobby Hackett appeared to be one of us. A diminutive man, neatly dressed, he spoke quietly, in a deep voice. With Whitney Balliett, he chain-smoked, drank black coffee, and ate peanut-butter-and-bacon sandwiches. Many other people we know have performed all or some combination of those acts. I was close enough to him to exchange a few sentences; to have him borrow my Flair pen (this was 1972) to autograph my copy of COAST CONCERT. I wasn’t blinded by radiance; I sensed no otherworldly aura in the man.
But when Hackett began to play, it was clear that he existed on another realm, far beyond the ordinary. And this lovely impression remains. Consider his ethereal playing on this 1950 or 1951 recording — billed as the Ink Spots, it’s a feature for singer Bill Kenny:
I know that “immortal” is a cliche of advertising. But it seems to me that someone who played — no, plays music as delicate and resonant as that, so precise yet so deep in feeling, has never died and will never leave us. How could we thank Bobby Hackett sufficiently?
And thank you, Austin Casey, for inviting me into Hackett’s world once again by pointing me to a recording I had not heard. Music of the spheres.