I’ve written at length about my affection and admiration for cornetist Bobby Hackett, someone who illuminated my musical life on recordings and in person and continues to do so. If Hackett is someone you haven’t heard deeply, I offer this as evidence of his quiet soaring majesty — a 1961 recording of LOVE LETTERS with Glenn Osser’s Orchestra — hidden in it are Dave McKenna and Jake Hanna:
The first thing I hear is Hackett’s sound — warm, glowing, controlled but entirely natural-sounding. One doesn’t think of vibrating breath going through metal — just as one doesn’t anatomize birdsong. No, that sound on its own seems both unearthly and completely friendly, evocative. And one does not have to be a cornet player to imagine how difficult it is to “make melody come that alive,” as Hackett said of his greatest inspiration Louis. LOVE LETTERS is itself simple-sounding yet treacherous, a test of a player’s delicacy and ingenuity: how to make all those repeated notes sound as if each one of them had a pulsing life? But Hackett did, and does.
The other side of Hackett’s recording and performing life moved at a faster pace — call it “Dixieland” or other names — often with the best Mainstream musicians, including Eddie Condon, Vic Dickenson, Bob Wilber, Pee Wee Russell, the aforementioned Dave McKenna, Jack Lesberg, Cliff Leeman. Here’s a 1962 sample, DARK EYES — from a “theme” album, Condon and friends capitalizing on the success of MIDNIGHT IN MOSCOW:
And the first recording where Hackett was in evidence that I can recall — the 1947 TOWN HALL CONCERT PLUS featuring Louis, Jack Teagarden, Dick Cary, Bob Haggart, Peanuts Hucko, Sidney Catlett, and AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’ — where Hackett takes over for Louis, presumably making his way to the vocal microphone, at :35, and then follows Hucko with his own beautiful solo:
And if you haven’t heard any of the 1937-onwards Dick Robertson sides made for Decca (for the jukebox market, with an identical piano introduction and similar formats) you need to begin your enlightenment here — 24 bars of pearly Hackett in the middle:
This posting isn’t meant to offer all of the Hackett recordings available on YouTube that move me: it would turn impossibly long. Readers can find or discover their own favorites. My purpose is to let you know about a superb book on Bobby and his music.
Although Hackett’s life (1915-1976) was not dramatic in the ways the chronicles of other musicians have been, he has deserved a book for decades. He appeared memorably in profiles by Whitney Balliett and Max Jones, but the first legitimate full-scale study of his musical life has just appeared, and it is a delight. The book, BOBBY HACKETT: HIS LIFE IN MUSIC, by George Hulme and the late Bert Whyatt, is a model of what such books should be, and the only reason it has taken me this length of time to write about it is that every time I open it, I am so suffused with Hackett-love that the book goes down so that I can listen.
Full disclosure: I traded tapes and information with Bert and George, and there is a little Hackett-reminiscence of mine, “Thanks, Bobby Hackett,” at the start of the book. (That is how he signed my record label when I timidly requested his autograph.) So I won’t pretend to objectivity here.
The book looks unobtrusive from the front:
but the cover design is this famous late-Forties photograph:
Its contents are anything but dull. and the 630-plus pages of this book (in a readable typeface, for which we give thanks) are detailed yet unfussy and thoroughly informative. It contains twenty rare photographs and an equal number of record label scans. The book is divided in three parts: after the acknowledgments, there is a fifty-page section of reminiscences — which begins with Hackett in his own words, then continues on to include brief essays by Vic Lewis, Hank O’Neal, Tony Bennett (via Will Friedwald), Warren Vache, Sr., George Hulme, as well as on-the-spot pieces about appearances of Hackett and bands from 1943 on. Hackett was an early recording / stereo equipment enthusiast, and Hulme has written an intriguing essay on that facet of his life.
From there, a truly informative musical biography, organized chronologically, which offers reviews of performances, details of sessions, gigs, and recordings. I find such assemblages of detail fascinating (especially because Hulme and Whyatt offer reasoned research rather than conjecture or repetitions of debatable facts). One small instance: “Eddie Condon offered a concert at Symphony Hall, Boston, MA, on March 21 , with Bobby Hackett, Max Kaminsky, Jack Teagarden, Peanuts Hucko, James P. Johnson and Dave Tough.” Those are words to dream about, and I can hear that band, faintly, as I write this.
Other delights pop up throughout the 135 pages. The remainder of the book — some four hundred pages — is a beautifully clear, well-organized discography, ending with pages of “discographical mysteries,” a bibliography, and two detailed indices. It is a worthy tribute to a musician whose work never disappoints.
Here is a link to purchase the book — which, because it’s paperbound, is surprisingly affordable. I recommend it with the greatest enthusiasm. And now, I’m going back to listen to more of Bobby:
May your happiness increase!