Bobby Hackett, listening to Vic Dickenson sing. October 14, 1952. Photograph by Robert Parent, taken while Bobby and Vic were performing at Childs Paramount, New York City. For another vision of happiness at that same gig, although a different evening, click here.
I believe the photograph is posed rather than a candid shot, since no one is in motion, but the delight on Hackett’s face is not something he could or would have put on for the photographer.
Please study that expression — mingled astonishment, delight, and surprise.
Even though Bobby and Vic had worked together a few years before (their first recorded appearance is a 1945 Jubilee broadcast) and they would play together as friends until Bobby’s death in 1976, the emotions Vic could stir, and still does stir, are always fresh.
In this photograph, Vic is making a point — lightly, not emphatically, and Hackett is indicating, “I need to hear more of this.” If you looked only at each man, you would see a singular version of pleasure. Vic is ready to laugh — he had a particular high-pitched giggle — and Hackett is clearly enjoying what he hears. Vic might have been singing his own lyrics to SISTER KATE — a story of erotic wooing both difficult and ultimately unsatisfactory — but the song itself is not important.
Here are three versions of Dickensonian happiness.
In Vic’s seventies, he appeared with Trummy Young, Jay McShann, Milt Hinton, and Gus Johnson at Dick Gibson’s 1982 jazz party.
Forty-five years earlier, in a Claude Hopkins band recording for Decca, revisiting MY KINDA LOVE (a hit for Ben Pollack nearly a decade earlier). Vic has sixteen bars in the middle of the performance, and he leaps in with a break (tightly muted), and offers balletic ease and witty references to CHRISTMAS NIGHT IN HARLEM and SHOOT THE LIKKER TO ME, JOHN BOY — rather like a dazzling jazz acrobat who shows you all his twists and turns in less than thirty seconds:
And finally, Vic playing an ancient song (he knew them all) OH, BY JINGO! — introduced by Bobby. This comes from a Chicago television show, JUST JAZZ, 1969, with Lou Forestieri, Franklyn Skeete, and Don DeMicheal. Notice the mutual admiration between Bobby and Vic, and hear the latter’s “Yeah!” after Bobby’s break:
Between 1970 and perhaps 1981 I saw Vic as often as circumstances (time, finance, and geography) allowed — and although no one took my picture while he was playing, I am sure that my expression was much like Bobby’s — deep pleasure mixed with surprise.
And, three decades after his death, he still has the power to evoke those reactions. His friend, Mr. Hackett, continues to amaze at the same level.
Even if you do not get to listen to Vic or Bobby, alone or together, I hope that life brings you many opportunities to be just as pleased . . . whatever the reason.
May your happiness increase!