Thursday, August 13, 2009

Bobby Hackett-Bix Session (1940)

T0 his is our first post on the wonderful cornetist Bobby Hackett (1915-76). It won't be the last. Bobby was one of the most melodic and creative soloists in the field of traditional jazz and swing. No less than Louis Armstrong cited Bobby as having the "best ingredients" in referring to his skills as an improviser.

This interesting session came about during Bobby's tenure with the Horace Heidt Orchestra. (Sept. 1939-June 1940). Starting as a guitarist in the New England area and soon doubling on cornet, Bobby rapidly became a popular freelancer and sideman before leading an ill-fated big band in 1939. The band was a musical success but not financially. At this point in his career Bobby was frequently compared to Bix Beiderbecke and even did a guest spot at Benny Goodman's famous 1938 Carnegie Hall concert playing Bix's solo on I'm Comin' Virginia. Heidt was a showman who led a large entertainment unit (he was the Lawrence Welk of the day). Alvino Rey and the King Sisters had just left Heidt and his current band featured Frankie Carle on piano and Art Carney was a featured singer and comic.

Heidt saved Bobby at a time when the big band venture had left him in financial straights. His role in the band was similar to Bix's with Paul Whiteman in providing some jazz punch. This session for Vocalion billed as Horace Heidt Presents gave Bobby the spotlight on two Bix classics and two old favorites. The band consisted of Heidt sidemen (including Carle) with Bobby's former big band drummer Don Carter sitting in. On some issues Bobby is credited as arranger. This is quite possible as Bobby did some arranging for his big band and certainly knew the Bix solos and routines. The results feature some prime early Hackett work.

On January 25, 1940 the band recorded That Old Gang of Mine and Clarinet Marmalade. Singin' the Blues and After I say I'm Sorry were also waxed but were rejected and remade. On January 31, Old Gang and After I say were remade and on February 1, Singin' the Blues was reworked. The Tempo Twisters vocal group sings on Old Gang and there's an unknown vocalist on After I say I'm Sorry (perhaps one of the band members). Here are some of the musical highlights.

That Old Gang of Mine: opens with some nice Bobby dancing around the organ tones of the band and taking a nimble break into the melody (trombone handles the bridge). A modulation brings on the Tempo Twisters in a style reminiscent of The Modernaires with nice obbligato by Bobby. (He was a master at vocal accompaniment.) Following an arranged dixie spot and Dorsey-like trombone, Bobby is back with more mellow blowing , a clarinet spot (Bob Reidel) and tasty coda.

Clarinet Marmalade: much of the original Bix-Trumbauer original is retained in this tasty chart. Bobby's two chorus solo is a gem of twisting, melodic phrases with some of Bix's licks included. Jerry Borshard (trombone) and Frankie Carle have spots before Bobby and the band ride home usung Bix's original solo as an arranged band passage. Nice Stuff!

What can I say After I say I'm Sorry?: another winding melodic intro over sustained chords brings on an opening dixie passage reminiscent of the Pete Kelly band. Bobby weaves into the unknown vocalist with nice backup. After the vocal Bobby comes in with some repeated notes and a Bix-like but pretty chorus. At this point Bobby's embouchure was still a little weak in spots. (He would soon correct that.) A nice arranged ensemble takes us home.

Singin' the Blues: opens with a quote from Bix's I'm Comin' Virginia. The ensemble plays the melody with pretty cup mute obbligato by Bobby. He takes over the lead for the middle followed by George Dessinger's tenor. Bobby's chorus is full of lovely Bix-like lines including some of the original but mainly pure Hackett. The closing ensemble again uses Bix's original solo as a scored passage. Bobby plays Bix's original break and tenor and ensemble take us home.

The Heidt boys must have had a ball playing some relaxed, swinging jazz under the leadership of Bobby, one of the nicest guys in the business. There may be a lead trumpet on some of the ensembles. (Bernie Mattinson was listed, but he was Heidt's drummer).

After Heidt Bobby went with the great Glenn Miller band from July 1941 to September 1942. Glenn loved his playing and brought him in on guitar--Bobby was recovering from dental surgery--and cornet solos. Bobby's solo on String of Pearls has become a classic and is still played to this day. Bobby also had a stint with Glen Gray's Casa Loma Orchestra from October 1944 to September 1946. By the post war years he had developed into a seasoned pro and had conquered his technical problems.

The Bobby Hackett of the 50s and 60s was a consummate jazzman who also reached the general public through his Mood Music albums with Jackie Gleason and under his own name.

Two CDs provide a good account of this session-, Classics CD, No. 890 and Past Perfect CD, Poor Butterfly, though, alas, these may be out of print.

We will be revisiting the great Hackett horn many times on this blog.

No comments: