For a myriad of reasons, it seems that the audience which supports a major portion of jazz music’s current fortunes knows little about the mainstream artists of the ‘40s and ‘50s. It’s as if anything that occurred before Charlie Parker hit becomes lost in the shuffle. Sure, these fans may be familiar with Duke Ellington or Count Basie, but that’s about the extent of things. And that’s unfortunate for musicians such as trumpeter Bobby Hackett, a name that is largely unfamiliar to those still caught up in the hard bop or “Blue Note” school of jazz.
Loosely associated with the Chicago-styled jazz that Eddie Condon and his boys fostered during the ‘40s, Hackett was blessed with a brassy and ebullient tone that endeared him to many of his peers, including Louis Armstrong and Miles Davis. And while his fervent sense of melody brought him work with more commercial units such as those led by Glenn Miller and Glen Gray (not to mention his success with ‘mood music’ albums as produced by Jackie Gleason), Hackett remained a committed professional capable of masterful performances when the circumstances and the personnel were right.
Of the sessions he led under his own name, there are none more rewarding than the lion’s share of 10 albums cut for Capitol during the period of 1953 to 1959. Aside from his collaborations with Jack Teagarden ( Coast Concert and Jazz Ultimate, which are not included here), these performances constitute the core of Hackett’s legacy as a recording artist. While there are those sessions with strings added and even a concept album full of Hawaiian tunes, what cuts through it all and bonds things together is the Hackett horn, full of vim and vigor and intensely melodic.
Spanning the years 1953 to 1957, this five-disc set gets started with material from the albums Soft Lights and Bobby Hackett, In a Mellow Mood, Rendezvous, and Don’t Take Your Love From Me. The titles of these obscure items really tell the story, with arrangers Sid Feller, David Terry, and Glenn Osser providing the charts for orchestra and the basic rhythm section that backs Hackett’s trumpet. The selection of tunes is decidedly pleasing (“Easy to Love,” “Lazy River,” “Serenade in Blue,” and “Isn’t It Romantic?”), although nothing really gets above a medium tempo. Hackett, whether he’s playing muted or wide open, tells his story in a plain-spoken and effortless manner and somehow elevates these settings beyond what on the surface smacks of commercial allure.
The smaller group stuff is up next and this is where Hackett’s hotter style finds a place to roam at length. Gotham Jazz Scene is an all-time classic and several musician who helped keep the Dixieland flame alive during the ‘50s and ‘60s are on board, most notably Dick Cary, Tom Gwaltney, and John Dengler. The writing is particularly strong, even if such familiar items as “Wolverine Blues” and “At the Jazz Band Ball” are part of the assortment. For example, “In a Little Spanish Town” is voiced by clarinet and tuba, with the other horns’ interjections of “Salt Peanuts” proving to be a catchy device. Grouped along with the Gotham sides are the quartet albums originally released as At the Embers, The Bobby Hackett Quartet, and Easy Beat. Here again, Hackett strikes a mainstream pose, but casts a wider shadow due to the fact that he serves as the main solo voice in each ensemble. Names such as Dave McKenna and Buzzy Drootin figure prominently into the mix as well.
Finally, things wrap up with two lively concept albums that manage to work despite what meet seems like nothing more than an A&R man’s plan for bringing in some bucks. Blues With a Kick, from 1958, is arranged by Stan Applebaum, known for some kitschy charts he provided Cal Tjader during the ‘60s. The strong Hackett quartet includes Dave McKenna, bassist Milt Hinton, and drummer Joe Porcaro, with the strings providing some polite commentary that never fortunately gets in the way. Hawaii Swings came about because regular Hackett bassist Bob Carter was of Hawaiian ancestry and decided that a few native melodies might benefit from a jazz treatment. Even among the steel guitar and ukulele, the trumpeter is clearly at the forefront and jazz is his aim, making this oddity a humble pleasure despite the hokey conception.
Housed in an LP-sized box, this collection finds the original performances mastered in 24-bit format for excellent sound quality. A 16-page booklet, with an abundance of photos, puts each session in context and writer Dan Morgenstern provides a concise biography to boot. All recordings are available solely through Mosaic Records; 35 Melrose Place; Stamford, CT. 06902; (203) 327-7111. Check their website at www.mosaicrecords.com for more information or to place an order.
Personnel: Bobby Hackett (trumpet or cornet) with Bob Wilber, Dave McKenna, Bucky Pizzarelli, Cutty Cutshall, Dick Cary, Buzzy Drootin, and many more