In the wake of Monday's Boston bombings—clearly committed by someone who can't bear the thought of tens of thousands of people enjoying their families and cheering on the personal triumphs of others—I needed a mind break. And you probably did, too. So I reached for The Complete Capitol Bobby Hackett Solo Sessions (Mosaic), which was released in 2002 and I hear is running low. This box features hugely understanding and patient music because it was recorded during similarly anxious times—when the world was changing a little too fast, the news was grim and the future wasn't so certain. Technology and new ways of living also played a role.
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 introduced the LP in the late '40s but soon other labels followed. 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 eventually become known 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 effort 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, 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. From my perspective, there's nothing like Hackett circling a song to soothe the worry and sorrow of the unthinkable. His calm and inventiveness gives you hope while the plush arrangements keep your powder dry. In short, what you get here is Hackett playing trumpet as though he's whistling on his way to a fishing hole.
The box's liners are by Dan Morgenstern, and they are as glorious and elegantly spare as Hackett'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 events in Boston, I put on the Hackett box and understood instantly why the '50s recordings had resonated so deeply with a generation still coping with the horror of a world war and trying to block out the Cold War. The music's salve-like qualities are still effective today.
JazzWax tracks: You'll find the five-CD box The Complete Capitol Bobby Hackett Solo Sessions (Mosaic) here.
JazzWax clip: Here's Hackett playing Thank You for a Lovely Evening from Capitol's Rendezvous (1956), which is included in this box...