Tag Archives: immortality

BOBBY HACKETT, IMMORTAL

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.

HOW DO YOU KEEP THE MUSIC PLAYING?

I don’t celebrate Christmas, but this picture embodies what it might mean at its highest — an occasion for love, immortality, generosity, and art.  The little boy here, now grown up, is Stephen Hester — the noted Red Nichols scholar.  I’ll let him provide the details:

“The picture was taken on December 24, 1958 in our house in Pontiac, Michigan, by my grandfather. (My grandmother was holding my newborn baby brother, off camera.) Yes, that is my mother, me (age 3), and dad.  I tease dad,because of this picture, that he started me before I can remember.  I have been told at the time of this picture my favorite record was Felix The Cat (Whiteman w/Bix).  I do remember at age 5 my favorite record was Red’s O’er The Billowy Sea, which is about the time I did meet Red, at our house.  I remember I was collecting and starting to help dad with the reseach when Red passed in 1965.  That exact copy of Bixieland is still in the collection.  I do have “newer” copies to play, but that one has a special place.”

Steve’s father, Stan Hester — along with Woody Backensto — is responsible for much of what we now know about some eminent but often neglected jazz musicians of the Twenties, Red Nichols and his associates.  Steve told me, “Dad started collecting in 1941. He and Woody started the Nichols research (with Red’s help) the month after I was born.  I have been lucky to have been able to read and study all the correspondence, notes, from them, and all their contacts: bandleaders, musicians, collectors, etc. Many of the musicians and collectors became my friends, among them Joe Tarto, Mannie Klein.”

You might want to consider what this picture suggests.  One whimsical moral is, of course, “It isn’t Christmas without Condon!” and few would disagree.  But there is something larger resonating here.  Give something you hold dear to the people you love, and both gift and giver will transcend time and the calendar.

Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukah to all of you.  May jazz always  give you happiness, and may you find ways to spread happiness through jazz.

THEY FOLLOWED ME HOME

My title might make some readers think of the little boy or girl clutching a reluctant kitten or puppy: “Can we keep it, Ma?  It followed me home!”  But this posting isn’t about pet adoption, although that’s something I applaud — it’s about record collecting. 

These days, the phenomenon known as “junking,” where a collector years ago might find treasured rarities in people’s attics, antique stores, or junkshops, seems dead.  Record collectors go to shows; they bid on eBay.  But I found three exciting jazz records in the past week. 

The first occurrence was purely serendipitous.  While my car was being repaired (meet me at the intersection of Tedium and Economic Ruin), I walked a few blocks to the St. Vincent de Paul store.  The objects for sale there are often curious, sometimes sad: I LOVE GRANDPA coffee mugs, ornate furniture, homemade ceramics.  I hadn’t remembered a bookshelf full of records, and although I was not optimistic, I began to find jazz discs I had never seen before, a Neal Hefti long-play SALUTE TO THE INSTRUMENTS (Coral), fairly tame (I haven’t found out anything about the personnel) and a 10″ Brunswick lp, MUSIC AFTER MIDNIGHT, with Tony Scott, Dick Katz, Milt Hinton, and Philly Joe Jones. 

I was ready to take my treasures to the cashier, but I noticed a worn paper album of 78s — Forties pop.  Except for this one.  Yes, it has a crack, which makes for an audible, regular tick; two names were misspelled, but I didn’t care:

The other side, incidentally, featured Sarah Vaughan singing LOVER MAN.

When I brought my trove up to the counter, the cashier held court: everyone was “Sweetheart.”  She looked at the Guild 78.  “Dizzy Gillespie,” she said.  “I kinda know that name.  My mother used to listen to the radio.”  I said, “You know, you could have seen him on television yourself: he lived on until fairly recently.”  She agreed, so I ventured on, “If someone remembers you, you don’t die,” I said.  “You’re so right, Sweetheart!” she said.   

Last Saturday, the Beloved aimed us towards Columbia County (a good omen for a record collector?) where we had spent the past summer.  I was happy: she could enjoy beautiful gardens, and I could go to my favorite store on Warren Street in Hudson, New York — Carousel Antique Center, supervised by the very gracious Dan. 

I went into the back of the shop and spotted a box of 78s on the floor.  I had bought Clara Smith and Buck Clayton records here last year.  Initially, it offered only calypso records.  Then I reached for the lone 12″ 78 — in a decaying paper sleeve, its sides taped together:

I’m not so vain as to think that the cosmos works to make me happy, but this record might have provoked that feeling, for this side and the reverse, AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’, were the soundtrack to my childhood Louis-reveries (after the Gordon Jenkins sessions). 

But there was something else, a 10″ Harmony.  Most of the late-Twenties Harmony discs (excepting a Dixie Stompers surprise) I’ve found are dance bands and singers.  This one’s special:

I knew very well what I was holding — even though it looked as if someone had played it over and over.  And then I turned it over:

“Best Bix.” it says at top.  Someone not only loved this record, but knew who was on it, even if a devoted listener thought Frank Trumbauer was playing an alto saxophone instead of his C-melody.  Here’s a close-up of that annotation:

I paid much less than “25.00” for this one, but I found a treasure.  The music still sounds splendid but the worn grooves speak of love; the label does also.  Do any Bix-scholars care to comment on the handwriting and on the pricing?  

I once tried to be a spirited collector of jazz records; I’ve given that up.  And I have more music within reach than I could possibly listen to if I lived a long time.  But I am going to keep looking through piles and shelves of records if treasures like this are going to want to follow me home.  Wouldn’t you?