Born: January 31, 1915 | Died: June 7, 1976 Primary Instrument: Trumpet
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.