Bobby Hackett: Capitol Sessions

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Bobby Hackett
As the suburbs expanded in the early 1950s and home-ownership soared, so did sales of phonographs. The iPods of their day, factory models could accommodate the new 33 1/3 speed needed for long-playing records. Columbia was first to introduce the LP in the late '40s but soon other labels chimed in. At first, the 12-inch LP was for older, wealthier classical fans while the 10-inch platter was for young adult consumers of pop and jazz. Both sizes gave consumers more time in their chairs before having to rise and turn over the discs.

Pop fare was segmented for a range of demographic groups. In the early days of the LP, there was sticky novelty music and overly sincere vocals for basic listeners and jazz from the '20s and '30s for sophisticates. In the middle was a marriage of sorts between music that was easy to follow and a jazz soloist who pushed the envelope instrumentally. In many respects, the model for this genre was Charlie Parker with Strings in 1949 and 1950—in which familiar Tin Pan Alley songs were served up lush but fronted by a freewheeling instrumentalist.

The pioneer of this genre—which would become known eventually as Easy Listening—was Bobby Hackett. The trumpeter and cornetist was a direct stylistic link to the laid-back, punctuating style of Bix Beiderbecke, and in the '30s and '40s he had been a featured soloist in Glenn Miller's and Benny Goodman's bands.

Hackett's role in the '50s as the Pied Piper of Mood Music owes a great deal to Jackie Gleason's foresight. Hackett's earliest recordings of this ilk for Capitol were done for the comedian's mink-and-martini projects. The success of their combined efforts was so potent from a sales perspective that Hackett began recording similar though more smartly arranged albums under his own name.

The first—Soft Lights—was recorded in the spring of 1953 and the last—Hawaii Swings—was waxed in 1959. The 10 albums in all are as you would expect—a lyrical, patient trumpeter wandering around songs you know and backed by strings and woodwinds. While the orchestra served up a relaxed, echoing backdrop, Hackett's round tones and dancing style seemingly sing the standards.

All of Hackett's recordings have been gathered on The Complete Capitol Bobby Hackett Solo Sessions (Mosaic), which was released in 2002. The reason I'm writing about the box now is that I hear Mosaic is running low. From my perspective, there's nothing like Hackett circling a song when I'm writing on a tight deadline. His inventiveness eggs me on while the plush arrangements keep my powder dry. In short, what you get here is Hackett playing trumpet as though he's whistling the great American Songbook.

The box's liners are by Dan Morgenstern, and they are as glorious and elegantly spare as Hacket's own notes. Here are the two opening paragraphs...

“ ' Bobby Hackett—always lovely to listen to, makes it come out so pretty.' The speaker was Louis Armstrong discussing his favorites. And Louis, of course, was Bobby's idol. 'I worshipped him,' he told Whitney Balliett in 1972. 'I heard my first Armstrong record in a Providence department store when I was a kid, and it turned me around. The sound has never left me.'

“There are many, this writer included, who can say the same about the sound of Bobby Hackett. It is a sound that for a decade or so, when the recordings gathered here were made, was almost ubiquitous, heard in public places throughout an America that now seems almost impossibly innocent, a country in which a genre called 'mood music' sold millions of records and was a constant on the airwaves."

On these 124 tracks, you hear songs served neat—with orchestrations that were always conscious of the listener's nerves and anxieties. After Monday's horrible and traumatic news out of Boston, I reached for the Hackett box and understood instantly why the recordings resonated so deeply with a generation still coping with the war.

JazzWax tracks: You'll find the five-CD box The Complete Capitol Bobby Hackett Solo Sessions (Mosaic) here.

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This story appears courtesy of JazzWax by Marc Myers.
Copyright © 2021. All rights reserved.

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