Born Robert Leo "Bobby" Hackett on January 31, 1915; died June 7, 1976; one of nine children raised in Providence, Rhode Island.
Bobby Hackett, whose music career was generally influenced by Louis Armstrong and Bix Beiderbecke, had a very mellow tone and style to his playing, which was in stark contrast to the other dixieland players of his time. When he started his musical career, he was given the name, "The New Bix," because he sounded very much like Bix Beiderbecke. It would be difficult to label Hackett's music, because his style was so diverse; he played dixieland, swing, and traditional pop. His own career influenced many artists, including Ruby Braff, Miles Davis, and Wild Bill Davison. Other artists that are comparable to Hackett in his time were Charlie Barnet, Ruby Braff, James Dapogny, Al Hirt, Harry James, Yank Lawson, Joe Newman, Bob Scobey, Warren Vache, Bob Wilber, and Ron Altbach.
Robert Leo "Bobby" Hackett was born on January 31, 1915 and died June 7, 1976 at the age of 61. He was one of nine children, and he grew up in Providence, Rhode Island. When he was a young boy, he learned how to play the ukulele, guitar, violin, and cornet. He never finished high school, for he left after his first year to play in a band that frequented a Chinese restaurant in Port Arthur. His guitar playing was featured often on Providence radio when he performed at the Rhodes and Arcadia ballrooms. Early in his career, he started playing for the Cab Calloway Band when he was asked to fill in for an absent member. He also played with the Herbie March Orchestra in Syracuse, New York. He was generally characterized as being a very easy going and gentle man, and one of the jazz world's most renown artists.
New England was Hackett's home, and he spent almost all of his career there. While he played with Payson Re's band in 1933, he met Pee Wee Russell on Cape Cod. Russell recruited Hackett to play for Teddy Roy's band at a speakeasy called the Crescent Club in Boston. In 1934 Hackett and Johnny Crandon, who was a Harvard Medical Student and band drummer, formed The Harvard Gold Coast Orchestra to play at colleges in New England on weekends. The band, made up of four professional musicians and four medical students, traveled all over New England. Hackett then went on to receive his union card and lived in the area from 1935 to 1936.
While living in New England, Hackett formed his own band. In the year of 1936, he was primarily playing the cornet. He formed a dixieland band to play in Boston at a well-known night club called The Theatrical Club. He asked Teddy Roy, Roger Malencourt, Russ Isaacs, Pat Barbara, Billy Wiles, and Brad Gowans to join him. The band was extremely successful, and it caught the ear of George Frazier, a very well known music reviewer. Riches soon fell on the owners of The Theatrical Club, for thousands of people heard Hackett and his band play great jazz and dixie. The club grossed over $1 million in 1937, a rather large sum in its day.
However, the band's success was slow to spread to other regions of the country. When they tried to see what success it would have in New York, they could not find any work. Nevertheless, to make a living again, Hackett decided to join the Condon-Marsala Band at the Hickory House in New York. He was so successful there that he went on to regularly perform in Greenwich Village at a nightclub spot called Nicks.
Yet Nicks was not the end of the road for Hackett; he then became a member of the Carnegie Hall Concert in which Benny Goodman performed the famous "I'm Coming Virginia." At this point, Hackett started to record a number of songs with Eddie Condon and his band The Windy City Seven for the record company Commodore. In addition to being part of The Windy City Seven, he was a member of the Lanin Orchestra. Hackett also continued his professional relationships with Eddie Condon, Jack Teagarden, and Teddy Wilson.
In 1939 it seemed that Hackett's professional musical career would place him into large sums of money. He received strong support from the record company MCA to form his own band under their label. Almost overnight, the promise of big money eluded him, as the honeymoon with MCA was short lived. Despite playing at New York's World Fair, the Ben Franklin Hotel in Philadelphia, and the Famous Door, along with numerous recordings, the band was unprofitable within six months of its inception. Amazingly, Hackett also found himself owing MCA $3,000. At this time, Hackett had sights of marrying his childhood sweetheart, yet his poor financial situation prevented him from doing so. He opted to take a job with the group The Musical Knights, which allowed him to spend a great deal of time on Nantucket Island. A high point in his career came in 1940 when he recorded the soundtrack for the film Second Chorus, which starred famous dancer and actor Fred Astaire.
Hackett's fortunes would soon turn for the better in the early 1940s. In 1941, he joined the Glenn Miller band. However, he had a terrible time trying to play the cornet due to the dental problems he was experiencing at the time. To compensate for his inability to play wind instruments, he settled on playing the guitar. At this time, Glenn Miller joined the Air Corps in 1942. Meanwhile, Hackett decided to accept a studio job with NBC. He played with Louis Armstrong and the Condon Gang for about a year, and then performed with the Casa Loma Orchestra until 1946, when he formed a new association with ABC, which would last for 15 years. Hackett also continued to play around New York. One of the most notable times in his career was when he had to help lead Louis Armstrong's band during the May 1947 NYC Town Hall Concert. Armstrong was suffering from an ulcer, and the band prospered under Hackett's leadership.
Between 1949 and 1951, television started to become a heavy influence in America, and it proved to be a great advancement for the music industry. Hackett began recording music for Jackie Gleason's production Music For Lovers. He was also on other television shows. His music could be heard in many arenas, some of which were modern for the day, such as supermarkets, department stores, and elevators. The smooth sounds of his cornet playing attracted many followers.
In 1957, Hackett created a sextet that toured the United States and Canada. The band recorded The Gotham Jazz Scene, Jazz Ultimate, and Coast Concert. They were also recorded live at The Embers in 1957. Into the early 1960s, Hackett bands recorded for Columbia and Epic. While his band continued to play constantly on Cape Cod, he also joined Benny Goodman in 1963. He gained much success from being in constant demand from many well known vocalists such as Billie Holiday, Louis Armstrong, Frank Sinatra, Maxine Sullivan, and Lee Wiley. Later, he also recorded some records for the Verve label.
Finally in 1971, he made Cape Cod his real home. At this time, he also extensively traveled to Japan and Europe to perform. He also formed his own record company while on Cape Cod called Hyannisport Records. One of his most enjoyable times was in 1975 when he was a regular jazz performer at Disney World.
Hackett died of a heart attack in 1976. A former manager of the Hackett band, Jack Bradley, asked the leader of The Clam Shack Serenaders, Gordon Brooks, to play the song "More Than You Know," at his gravesite. Today, that tradition continues every year on June 7 at the Chatham Cemetary. On June 2, 1996, the Cape Cod Jazz Society presented, "I Remember Bobby," which was a memorable tribute to Hackett's enormous career. His life spanned a time when jazz in America was king, and he was everywhere in the middle of it.
by Bill Bennett
Bobby Hackett's Career
Played with Payson Re's band, 1933; joined the Condon-Marsala Band at the Hickory House in New York; member of the Carnegie Hall Concert; recorded many songs with Eddie Condon and his band The Windy City Seven; member of the Lanin Orchestra; Joined the Glenn Miller band; played with Louis Armstrong and the Condon Gang; played with Casa Loma Orchestra until 1946; recorded music for Jackie Gleason's production Music for Lovers; formed his own record company called Hyannisport Records; played under eleven record labels, including Okeh, Commodore, Columbia, Epic, Capitol, Sesac, Verve, Project 3, Chiaroscuro, Flying Dutchman, and Honey Dew.
- Selective Works
- You Stepped Out Of A Dream, 1943.
- Off Minor (Jack Teagarden), 1943.
- String Of Pearls, 1943.
- Vol. 2 - Live At The Roosevelt, 1943.
- Jazz In New York, 1943.
- And His Orchestra, 1943.
- Vol. 2 - Dr. Jazz Series, 1952.
- Live At The Roosevelt Grill, 1970.
- What A Wonderful World (W/Teresa Brewer), 1973.
- Balliett, W., More Ingredients, American Musicians II: Seventy-One Portraits In Jazz, (NY: Oxford University Press, 1996) pp. 143-51.
- Bradley and G. Brooks, Bobby Hackett, Unpublished Manuscript, 1996.
- Stokes, W.R., Swing Era New York: Featuring The Jazz Photography of Charles Peterson, (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1994).
- Periodicals Boston Magazine, April 14, 1986.
- Cape Cod Standard Times, June 1, 1996.
- Down Beat, July 1936.
- The Hartford Courant, March 20, 1997.
- National Review, July 6, 1992 .
- The Providence Journal Bulletin, August 11, 1997.
- Sun-Sentinel, January 27, 1995.