Tag Archives: Maria Judge

UNCLE JAKE IS WITH US: “JAKE HANNA: THE RHYTHM AND WIT OF A SWINGING JAZZ DRUMMER,” by MARIA S. JUDGE

Maria S. Judge’s book about her Uncle Jake — one of the most swinging musicians ever — JAKE HANNA: THE RHYTHM AND WIT OF A SWINGING JAZZ DRUMMER — is irresistible.

I write this in all objectivity, even though I have a connection to the book.  When Maria let people know that she was collecting stories about Jake for this group memoir / portrait, I sent her my recollections of an hour spent with Jake before Sunnie Sutton’s 2006 Rocky Mountain Jazz Party.

I don’t mean to inflate my own importance by this: I am not sure Jake knew who I was before, during, or after his recital, but he HAD to tell stories as  dogs have to bark and cats meow.  So I was the delighted recipient of some of his best tales — affectionate, scurrilous, sharp, verifiable.  My only regret is that I didn’t have my little digital recorder concealed to get Jake’s delivery — a Boston Irish W.C. Fields with expert comic timing — for posterity.  I contributed a paragraph about that encounter, and I read the manuscript before it went to press.

But when a copy came in the mail two days ago I thought, “Oh, I know all this already,” and was ready to put the book on the shelf unread.

But Jake’s powers extend far beyond the grave, and I opened it at random.  An hour went by as I stood in the kitchen reading, laughing, feeling honored to have met Jake and heard him play.

The book follows Jake from his family and birth in Dorchester, Massachusetts (1931) to his death in 2010.  The family narratives are fascinating, because all of the Hannas seem to have been engagingly larger-than-life and the book begins not with serious historical heaviness but with the genial mood of a Frank Capra film.  Here’s Jim McCarthy, a younger friend from the neighborhood:

We lived . . . two blocks away from the Dorchester District Courthouse. . . [which] was surrounded by a granite wall about two feet high that the guys used to sit on.  When Jake sat there he’d straddle the wall and hit on it with his drumsticks.  My mother and I were walking past the courthouse one day when we saw Jake playing the wall.  “Is that all you have to do?” my mother asked him.  “Just beat those sticks?”  “Hi, Mrs. McCarthy,” Jake said.  “Someday they’re going to pay me to beat those sticks.”

There are tales of Jake’s army service, his first meeting with Charlie Parker, “the nicest guy I ever met in my whole life,” working with Jimmy Rushing, Marian McPartland, Maynard Ferguson, and Harry James.  Here’s drummer Roy Burns:

When Jake was playing with Harry James, Harry used to go “one, two, one, two, three, four,” with his back to the band, but his shoulders were slower than the tempo.  So Jake finally asked him, “Harry, should I take the tempo from your shoulder, from the piano, or just play it at the tempo we usually play it?”  Harry said, “Jake, you’re the leader.”  Jake said, “Do you really mean that?”  Harry said, “Yes.”  Jake said, “OK, you’re fired.”  

There are many more funny, smart, naughty stories in this book — but it is not all one-liners and smart-alecky.  Jake comes across as deeply committed to his craft and to making the band swing from the first beat.  And for someone with such a razor-sharp wit, he emerges as generous to younger musicians and his famous colleagues, affectionate and reverential about those people who epitomized the music: Count Basie, Bing Crosby, Rosemary Clooney.  We read of  his work with Woody Herman, on television with Merv Griffin, in Russia with Oscar Peterson, Supersax, the long run of jazz albums for the Concord label, a sweet sad encounter with Chet Baker.  There are long lovely reminiscences by John Allred and Jim Hall, by Dan Barrett, and Jake’s wife Denisa — plus memorable stories from Scott Hamilton, Hal Smith, Charlie Watts, Rebecca Kilgore, Warren Vache, Jim Denham, and dozens of other musicians and admirers.

Uncle Jake is still with us — not only on the music, but in these pages.  “Pay attention!” as he used to say.

Here’s one place to buy the book — JAKE — and you might also visit Maria’s Jake Hanna blog here.

May your happiness increase.

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PAY ATTENTION! SOMETHING FOR JAKE HANNA (Dec. 28, 2011 and beyond)

This just in from Maria Judge:

WPKN-FM Bridgeport, Connecticut (89.5 Mhz) will be broadcasting a tribute to Jake on the Carl Frano Show this Wednesday, December 28, 2011, from 1-4 pm EST.  Those outside of the listening area can hear the show online by clicking on the Live Play button in the Listen Now box in the upper left section of the website here.  If you don’t get to hear the show on the 28th, it will be archived on the site.    Many thanks to Joe Corsello for arranging this.  He was invited to be the musical guest but very kindly suggested they instead pay tribute to Jake through his music.

THE WORLD ACCORDING TO JAKE

An update from Jake Hanna’s niece, Maria Judge:

As you know, I’ve been compiling material for more than a year, and it is shaping up nicely into If It Didn’t Swing It Wasn’t Jake: The Rhythm and Wit of Drummer Jake Hanna.  So far I have reached out to 111 people, 65 of whom have sent me something, 38 of whom have promised something, and 8 of whom I’m still waiting to hear from. I hope to connect with and hear from those 46 outstanding contributors within the next few weeks.  I have so enjoyed speaking with all of you and hearing your great Jake stories, most of which I hadn’t heard before. So please don’t worry if you think someone else has already told me what you were planning to share. And please don’t feel like you have to tell me something funny. I welcome your stories of how he inspired you and mentored you, how you enjoyed working together, and what an all-around great guy he was.

Here’s a quick description of the way the book is taking shape: Jake’s life doesn’t lend itself to a standard `story of his life’ format so this book is not structured along typical biographical lines. Instead, stories and tributes from fellow musicians, friends and family are woven throughout the chronology of his career as he progressed from big band drummer of the 1950’s and 60’s, through his role in the last era of studio orchestras, to working independently with singers,  instrumentalists and small groups, including several of his own.

My plan is to finish the manuscript by the end of October and then prepare for publication. I’ve sent out proposals to several publishers and am waiting to hear back. If I don’t get someone else to publish it I’ll do it myself – that was my original plan, anyway – and aim to have it in print by this winter. I hope that timeline works for those who would like to send me something.

I’ve set up a blog where I will post occasional information about the progress of the book.  You can subscribe to it to receive periodic updates, and please don’t worry about being overloaded with them. I won’t be doing too many updates for now.

 http://jakehannablog.blogspot.com/

Thank you so much for being a part of this, and I look forward to hearing back from you with more additions to the collection.

“PAY ATTENTION!” CELEBRATING JAKE HANNA (August 8, 2010)

The greatest artists have a way of making us comfortable.  We see them, unannounced, come on the stage, and we relax and get ready to be delighted.  “This is going to be wonderful!” we think, before the first note has been played.  Hank Jones and Milt Hinton and Ruby Braff and Vic Dickenson and another dozen others always evoked that feeling.  And Jake Hanna. 

 Jake lifted up every session with his beautiful sound, his floating, encouraging time, his own delight at being there.  But he was so consistently generous that I fear he didn’t get celebrated sufficiently when he was alive.  But the musicians knew, and wise listeners did also.

He isn’t with us anymore — to push the band joyously on his hi-hats, to crack wise on the bandstand, to tell long scurrilous hilarious stories off it.  But his presence is very much real and alive.

Jake’s niece, Maria Judge, has organized a musical celebration in honor of Jake.  It will be held in his hometown, Dorchester, Mass., on August 8 at 2 PM.  Musicians who loved Jake and who shared his artistic vision (loosely paraphrased, it went something like: “If you’re not going to swing, what the hell are you doing on the bandstand?”) will be there: Becky Kilgore, Howard Alden, Randy Reinhart, Warren Vache, Harry Allen, Joe Ascione (playing a set of Jake’s drums),  and Joel Forbes.  Knowing Jake — and how deeply people loved and admired him, there will be a great deal of laughter and swing.  I would give anything to be at the back of the hall with my video camera, and hope that someone takes my place.

The Hometown Celebration will take place on Sunday, August 8, beginning at 2 PM, at Florian Hall, 55 Hallet Street, Dorchester, Mass. 02124.  Don’t know how to get there?  Look-a-here . . . and there’s more information on the brand-new website, http://www.jakehanna.com.  My title (and one of my most-used tags)?  “Pay attention!” was one of Jake’s favorite phrases.  Attention must be paid . . . .