Robert Leo Hackett
January 31, 1915 - June 7, 1976
Photograph from the collection of Jack
Go To: (1940)
(1950) (1960) (1970)
(Sound/References) [..Main Menu..]
Bobby Hackett, one of nine children, was born and raised in Providence,
Rhode Island. At an early age he played the ukulele and by the time he
was twelve played guitar and violin, and had bought his first cornet. He
left high school after his freshman year to take a steady job with a band
that performed seven days a week at the Port Arthur - a local Chinese restaurant.
He also played guitar regularly at the Rhodes and Arcadia ballrooms which
often broadcasted on Providence radio. A highlight of his time at the Rhodes
occurred when the Cab Calloway Band arrived short-handed and invited Bobby
to fill in. In the fall of 1932 he was recruited by The Herbie Marsh Orchestra
for a winter engagement at a hotel in Syracuse, New York. This was the
scene of perhaps the first of many great Hackett anecdotes. Although hired
as a guitar player, Bobby preferred the cornet and would play it occasionally.
After a few evenings, the manager called Marsh aside and reportedly said
"...if that kid picks up the horn again the whole band is fired."
Bobby spent the summer of 1933 on Cape Cod, at the Megansett Tea Room
in North Falmouth, playing with Payson Re's band. It was here that he first
met Pee Wee Russell. Later in 1933 Russell joined Teddy Roy's band at the
Crescent Club, a speakeasy and after-hours place in Boston. Pee Wee then
recruited Bobby for the group. In early 1934 Bobby rejoined the Billy Lossez
Band at the Biltmore Hotel in Providence, and then traveled to Cape Cod that
summer to play in Teddy Roy's quintet at the Megansett Tea Room.
In the fall of 1934, Bobby and Johnny Crandon (a drummer and Harvard
Medical School student) formed a band - The Harvard Gold Coast Orchestra
- to play New England colleges on weekends. The group consisted of four
professional musicians and four medical students. During the next several
months the orchestra visited virtually every college between the University
of Rhode Island and the University of Maine. In spite of the fact that
Bobby was still tied to Providence, he applied for a union card in Boston
and received it in early 1935. For the remainder of '35 and early '36 he
periodically traveled to Boston from Providence for gigs, typically with
In mid-1936 Bobby was asked to form a dixieland band to play at The
Theatrical Club in Boston, having been recommended by Herbie Marsh who
was just finishing an engagement there. To form the group, he took Teddy
Roy(p,voc) and Roger Malencourt(b) from the Crescent Club, Russ Isaacs(d)
from Meyer Davis's band, and recruited Pat Barbara(cl/alto), Billy Wiles(ts),
and Brad Gowans(tb, arr). The Club was an after-hours place and soon became
the favorite spot for musicians, both local and out of town visitors. Several
reviews of the Hackett band by noted Boston music critic George Frazier
drew widespread attention to the group. During the band's one year stay
The Theatrical Club grossed more than a million (1937!) dollars.
Later that year Bobby and several of the band members went to New York
to look for work. They were unable to find a job as a group, so when Eddie
Condon left the Condon-Marsala Band at the Hickory House, Bobby took his
place. After a short stay on 52nd Street he co-led the first band at Nick's
in Greenwich Village (12/37). The club soon became a favorite stop for many
New York City musicians. A number of photos taken at Nick's, many including
Bobby, appear in chapter 3 of the Stokes book cited in the references.
In January 1938 he participated in the historical segment of Benny Goodman's
Carnegie Hall Concert performing I'm Coming Virginia (sound clip below) in tribute
to Bix Beiderbecke who had recorded the number in 1927 with Frankie Trumbauer's
Orchestra. A 2-CD set, as well as cassettes, for this concert are available
on Columbia/CBS(40244). The following day, he recorded several numbers for Commodore
with Eddie Condon and His Windy City Seven. In April the same group (with
Jack Teagarden replacing George Brunies on trombone) recorded again (Com.
14427). After a year at Nick's, Bobby played briefly in the Lanin orchestra
and did club work with Eddie Condon, Jack Teagarden, and Teddy Wilson.
In 1939, encouraged by MCA, he formed his own big band. They played
at New York's World Fair, the Ben Franklin Hotel in Philadelphia, the Famous
Door, at several other NYC clubs, toured, and made several recordings:
That Da-Da Strain (CBS Portrait 44071) which included two Hackett
favorites: Embraceable You (his theme song) and Ja-Da. (Another rendition
of Embraceable You from this period appears on OKeh 4877 (1939),
as well as on the 4/38 Condon recording.) But, within six months the group
was in the red and forced to disband. Owing MCA nearly $3000, and desiring
to marry his childhood sweetheart, Bobby took a well-paying job with Horace
Heidt's Musical Knights. Aside from the good pay, the Heidt band spent
the summer on Nantucket Island, providing Edna and Bobby the opportunity
for an inexpensive honeymoon. In mid-1940 he took leave from the Heidt band
to record, along with Billy Butterfield, the sound track for the film 'Second
Chorus', starring Fred Astaire.
Go To: (1930) (1950)
(1960) (1970) (Sound/References)
After his stay with Heidt, he joined his close friend, Glenn Miller,
in July of 1941. He had dental problems and was unable to play the cornet
on a regular basis, so Miller hired him on guitar. Bobby was encouraged
to purchase an amplifier and switch to electric guitar. He bought the amplifier
and carried it around faithfully, but never plugged it in. Nevertheless,
it was under these conditions that two of his most admired cornet solos,
on A String of Pearls and Rhapsody in Blue, were recorded.
During 1942 the Miller band, including a camera shy Bobby Hackett,
appeared in the movie Orchestra Wives. Oh, Glenn Miller negotiated
the Hackett MCA debt down to $1000.
After Miller joined the Air Corps in late 1942, Bobby took a studio
job with NBC and became active in organizing the Condon Town Hall Concerts
which would be broadcast and recorded under the
supervision of Milt Gabler (Commodore Records). Many of these concerts
(the Blue Network broadcasts - 5/44 through 4/45) are now available in 2-CD
sets from Jazzology Records. Bobby
can be heard on volumes 1-5, 7 and 8 of the 10 sets. Also in 1942 he, along
with Louis Armstrong and members of the Condon gang, visited the fifth
grade class of jazz photographer Charles Peterson's son, Don, in Manhattan.
Two great photographs of this event can be found in the Stokes reference
After a year at NBC, followed by a short tour with Katherine Dunham's
revue, he replaced Red Nichols in Glen Gray's Casa Loma Orchestra where
he remained until 1946. At this time Bobby joined the music staff at ABC,
initiating a relationship that would last for 15 years. He also continued
to play at Condon's and other clubs in the New York area. In 1945 he recorded
If I Could Be With You (V-disc 587) with Jack Teagarden. Bobby was
musical director for, and performed in, Louis Armstrong's acclaimed May 1947
NYC Town Hall Concert. Louis was suffering from a recurrent ulcer problem, so
Bobby put the band together and rehearsed it: Jack Teagarden(tb), Dick Cary(p),
Peanuts Hucko(cl), Bob Haggart(b), 'Big' Sid Catlett(d), and George Wettling(d).
Also, Bobby was a leading participant in the Condon Floor Show series of the
Go To: (1930) (1940)
(1960) (1970) (Sound/References)
During 1949-51 he played periodically, with Red Allen and Lee Wiley,
at Bill Green's Rustic Lodge in New Jersey - some live recordings featuring
Red and Bobby are available on cassette. In the early 50's he held a long
engagement at the Copley Square Hotel in Boston, played frequently at Child's
Paramount, toured in the midwest, and also began his 'Music for Lovers Only'
recordings, produced by Jackie Gleason. Over the next decade six
albums were cut and heavily publicized by Gleason; Gleason and
Bobby were often seen together on television. Bobby was also appearing
on Martha Wright's weekly ABC-TV program. Aside from 'Lovers': supermarket
and department store shoppers, diners, elevator riders, doctors' office
visitors, and even people put on hold, could and still do enjoy the mellow
sound of Bobby Hackett's cornet.
In 1952 the Bobby Hackett band - from Lou Terrasi's - participated in
the seven month 'Dr. Jazz' series of WMGM radio broadcasts hosted by DJ Aime
Gauvin(The Doctor). These recordings have been released on 2 CD's by Storyville
- Dr. Jazz, Vol. 2, No.1 and No.2 - STCD6042, STCD6050. At this time,
the Hackett group only played two nights a week at Terrasi's, backing Billy
Butterfield or Pee Wee Erwin the other nights.
Eddie Condon's band and Bobby Hackett's sextet, featuring Lee Wiley,
opened the first Newport Jazz Festival, July 1954. Part of the festival
was televised on ABC, and the entire program was recorded for The Library
Four important sides were cut in October 1955 (Coast Concert):
Struttin' With Some Barbecue, Muskrat Ramble, Do You Know What It Means
To Miss New Orleans, and Bugle Call Rag, with Jack Teagarden joining
in on Bugle Call Rag. During January 1957 Bobby appeared with Eddie
Condon's band at Constitution Hall in Washigton and, at this time, performed
with the National Symphony Orchestra as guest soloist. In November 1956 he
put together a sextet to play the Voyager Room at the Henry Hudson Hotel on 57th
Street. The ensemble presented a wide ranging repertoire which included dixieland,
bop, cool jazz and even 'mood music'. In late summer 1957 the group embarked on a tour of the United
States and Canada. Also during 1957 the band produced an album for Capitol
(T857), The Gotham Jazz Scene, which featured some very nice Dick
Cary arrangements. Bobby also made additional recordings with Jack Teagarden:
Jazz Ultimate. Coast Concert and Jazz Ultimate appear
together on the Dormouse label (DM1 CD X02). In November of 1957 the Hackett
sextet was recorded live at The Embers. After the tour, Bobby returned
to studio work but continued to play occasional club dates in New York.
In 1959 a Hackett quartet including Dave
McKenna(P), Bob Carter(b), and Richard Scott(dr), recorded twelve sides
Go To: (1930) (1940)
(1950) (1970) (Sound/References)
Hackett ensembles continued to record during the early 1960's, mainly
for Columbia and Epic. In 1962, he joined Benny Goodman and participated
in the band's 1963 recordings available on a 2-CD set re-mastered for the
Yale University Music Library (vol 5) by MusicMasters. During fall of
1963 and summer of 1964 Bobby's band played in Hyannis, Yarmouth, and Dennis
on Cape Cod. In 1965 he became the official accompanist for Tony Bennett, and
they made two European tours ('65, '66). A favorite of vocalists, Bobby had
earlier accompanied Billie Holiday, Louis Armstrong (check out Rockin' Chair from the Armstrong
Town Hall Concert), Frank Sinatra, Maxine Sullivan, and Lee Wiley. Also,
in 1966, he traveled to Austin, Texas with Coleman Hawkins to attend a
jazz festival featuring Hawkins. While in Texas, he made an LP with Jim
Cullum's Happy Jazz Band (Happy Jazz Records), and in early 1967 a Hackett
orchestra recorded some jazz favorites for Verve Records. In the late sixties
he formed a quintet with Vic Dickenson, which spent much of the time on
the road. Eventually he settled in at The Roosevelt Grill in NYC with a
group that included Vic, Dave McKenna, Jack Lesberg, and Cliff Leeman.
The group produced several albums on the Chiaroscura label: Live at
The Roosevelt Grill, 1970. Also, during 1968 Bobby recorded with Billy
Butterfield on the Verve label, and with the Hackett/ Dickenson Quintet
Go To: (1930) (1940)
(1950) (1960) (Sound/References)
In the fall of 1970, while visiting Cape Cod, Bobby sat in with Ronnie
Bill's dixieland band at the Holiday Inn, Hyannis. He was invited to stay
on as the featured guest which he did for about six months. In the fall
of 1971 he purchased a house in West Harwich and moved to Cape Cod. In the early
seventies, Bobby traveled to Japan with George Wein and Dizzy Gillespie,
and made another visit to Europe. In 1973 he cut a CD, What a Wonderful
World (Signature/CBS Special Products 40234), which features two tracks
with singer Teresa Brewer. During the following year a Hackett sextet,
which included tenor saxophonist Zoot Sims, produced the LP Strike Up
The Band (Flying Dutchman) which included his last recording of Embraceable
You. Also, after moving to the Cape Bobby formed his own record company -
Hyannisport Records which produced several releases featuring Bobby and
fellow Cape Codder, Dave McKenna. For a month in 1975, Bobby was featured
at Disney World, and also played at Michael's Pub in New York.
Between trips he continued to play frequently on Cape Cod, often with
his son, Ernie, on drums. He became music director for Dunfey's (Hyannis)
and performed there regularly. It seems that everyone over fifty, who was
here then, saw him perform at least once, and most saw him several times.
The reminiscences are remarkably similar: always greeted by a big smile
on the first visit, and a personal Hackett greeting on the second. Of course,
we will never forget the music.
In 1976 Bobby died of a heart attack. The following year Jack Bradley
- former Hackett manager and close friend - asked Gordon Brooks, the leader
of The Clam Shack Serenaders, to play a cornet solo at Bobby's grave side,
which he gladly did (he chose More Than You Know)....and since then
Gordon has played a solo in the Chatham Cemetary every June 7th.
On June 2, 1996 The Cape Cod Jazz Society presented a tribute to Bobby
Hackett: I Remember Bobby, at Cape Cod Community College featuring
an all-star sextet and an exhibit of Hackett photographs and memorabilia,
including a 10 minute movie of Bobby playing in 1938, presented by Jack
Bradley. The tribute to Bobby was hosted by jazz DJ Dick Golden of WQRC
Go To: (1930) (1940)
(1950) (1960) (1970)
[..Site Main Menu..]
Sample Sound Clips
A String of Pearls (1942) - (m.) Jerry Gray, (w.) Eddie De Lange:
From Glenn Miller: Moonlight Serenade, Bluebird, 1941.
Available on Compact Disk. Visit BMG Music,
Struttin' With Some Barbecue (1927) - (wm) Lil & Louis Armstrong:
From Dr. Jazz, Volume 2, Storyville (CD), 1993.
I'm Coming Virginia (1927) - (m.) Donald Heywood, (w.) Will Cook:
From Benny Goodman Live At Carnegie Hall, Columbia (CD), 1993.
W. Balliett, More Ingredients, American Musicians II: Seventy-one
Portraits in Jazz, (NY: Oxford University Press, 1996). pp. 143-51.
J. Bradley and G. Brooks, Bobby Hackett, Unpublished Manuscript.
G. Frazier, The Theatrical Club: Jazz Comes to Boston, down
beat, July 1936.
J. Higgins, All That Jazz: Guys and dolls, Mary Jane and Jim Crow,
Billy Holiday and George Frazier - Boston nightlife in the thirties,
Boston Magazine, April 14, 1986.
G. Lombardi, Eddie Condon On Record: 1927-1971, (Milano, Italy:
The Black Saint, 1987).
W O'Neill, I Remember Bobby, Cape Cod Standard Times,
(Hyannis: June 1, 1996). Section B.
W.R. Stokes, Swing Era New York: Featuring the Jazz Photography of
Charles Peterson, (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1994).
You can also visit Bobby at The
Landing Jazz Club in San Antonio - Home of Jim Cullum's Jazz Band
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