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Bobby Hackett was one of the true class acts in space age pop. His wistful trumpet solos added a unique and essential touch to music by everyone from Glenn Miller to Jackie Gleason to Dizzy Gillespie. Before he died of a heart attack just short of collecting Social Security, he joked that "I've been working steady since I was 14."
Hackett actually started out playing guitar as much as trumpet, and when working for Glenn Miller in the early 1940s, he only occasionally got to bring out his horn. Despite this fact, he got the spotlight solo on "String of Pearls" when MGM made The Glenn Miller Story, starring James Stewart (and Henry Mancini arrangements). Hackett worked swing, Dixieland, and bebop, depending on the gig, and earned a peerless reputation regardless of the setting. Jazz critic Leonard Feather wrote that Hackett had "a consistent habit of unceremoniously putting all the notes in the right place at the right time."
That reputation led Jackie Gleason to ask for Hackett by name when he was putting his first easy listening album together. He gave Hackett free rein to improvise over the melody, and a distant and fading coda of Hackett's playing closed out many a Gleason number. Hackett was for several years the only performer to be mentioned by name on Gleason's album. Hackett later returned the compliment, commenting only half-jokingly, "I got my music lessons from Jackie Gleason." After Hackett moved on to other things, Gleason enlisted Harry "Sweets" Edison (and later, Don Goldie) to reproduce Hackett's sound.
Hackett put out a number of albums under his own name on a variety of labels. For the most part, these are imitation Gleason albums, only with Hackett featured a little more prominently. He also did an occasional straight jazz album, but not as often as most of his fans would have liked.
He shifted away from easy listening toward the end of his career, when he moved from New York City to Cape Cod. He became a regular at the legendary Colorado Jazz Parties and appearing with small combos in New York Boston. If Hackett tended to be pretty undiscriminating in his choice of what he played on, the same can't be said of his performances. Bobby Hackett was one of the few performers who truly shaped the sound of easy listening and space age pop.
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