Tag Archives: Robert Parent

WHAT HAPPINESS LOOKS LIKE (October 14, 1952)

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.Untitled-1

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! 

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LISTEN TO VIC DICKENSON

Vic Dickenson, trombonist, singer, composer.  Photograph by Robert Parent (circa 1951).  Inscribed to drummer Walt Gifford.  From Gifford’s scrapbook, courtesy of Duncan Schiedt.

VIC by ROBERT PARENT

I dream of a jazz-world where everyone gets the credit they deserve, where Vic is as celebrated — and as listened to — as his contemporaries and friends Roy Eldridge, Lester Young, Benny Carter, Bobby Hackett, Teddy Wilson, Buck Clayton, Sidney Bechet, Mary Lou Williams, Frank Newton, and many more.

I’d like writers to pay attention to his delicate lyricism, his melodic improvisations, his way of illuminating a song from within.  This would require new language and new hearing: no longer putting Vic into the familiar compartments of “sly,” “witty,” “naughty,” and so on.

It would also require some writers and listeners to put aside their barely-concealed disdain for jazz as it was played before Charlie Parker came to town.  No disrespect to Bird, mind you, who jammed happily with Vic and Doc Cheatham and knew that they were masters. But Vic was more than a “Dixieland” trombonist, more than someone chained to TIN ROOF BLUES and SLOW BOAT TO CHINA.

Would Vic have been taken more seriously had he played trumpet? The trombone blends so well, so often, that it (like the string bass) is taken for granted. And Vic was one of the more reticent of jazz players: someone who wanted to play rather than chat or announce. But the musicians knew how special he was, and is.  (Some people celebrated Vic during his lifetime and still do: I think of Dan Morgenstern, George Wein, John Hammond, Dan Barrett, Mal Sharpe, Manfred Selchow, and others.)

We could begin to truly hear Vic, I think.  Perhaps the beginning of the campaign would be if we asked everyone we knew to listen — and listen with all their perception and love — to music like this:

It is indeed true that having Shad Collins, Ed Hall, Sir Charles Thompson, Steve Jordan, Walter Page, and Jo Jones along — in gorgeous sound — did no one any harm.  But I ask my listeners to do the difficult task of putting Vic first: his sonority, open and muted.  His time, his phrasing, the vocal quality of his sounds (plural).  His love for the melody and for the melodies that the original suggested.  His delicate concise force: what he could say in four quarter notes, or eight bars.  There was and is no one like him.

May your happiness increase!