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Bobby Hackett Photo (jpg)

Robert Leo Hackett

January 31, 1915 - June 7, 1976

Photograph from the collection of Jack Bradley

Short Biography

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. 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 Ted Roy.
. 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.

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. 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 (pp. 140-41).
. 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 late 1940's.

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. 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 of Congress.
. 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 for Capitol.

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. 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 on Project.

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. 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 radio, Hyannis.
- John Ciccolo, 11/96 -

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Sample Sound Clips

       A String of Pearls       Struttin' With Some Barbecue
      (Ted Roy on piano)
      I'm Coming Virginia

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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. 1996.

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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