Bobby Hackett, trumpet/cornet: Louis Armstrong was his inspiration, Miles Davis said he was among his favorite trumpet players, Jackie Gleason was an admirer who featured him on a series of 50s easy-listening records, Tony Bennett was among his many employers. Hackett seems largely forgotten these days and that’s a darn shame, as he had one of the sweetest brass sounds of any jazz trumpeter. (Maybe that’s why his name isn’t bandied-about as an influence on contemporary jazz - Hackett was of a generation of jazz players where "playing pretty" was an art form, and that attribute got downplayed when jazz became an art form with a capital A.) This 2 LPs-on-1 CD reissue is not necessarily Hackett at his finest, but it’s still very good & deserving of being heard by the CD-generation. Hello Louis! is an Armstrong tribute that, while the cover practically screams "cornball," is actually a very creative & heartfelt tip-o’-the-hat to Armstrong the composer. Each of the 12 tunes on this 1964 session was written or co-written by Armstrong, and NOT ONE is the dreaded "Hello Dolly" or a hackneyed standard. The instrumentation is a bit unusual: cornet, trombone, soprano sax, tuba, piano, banjo & drums, harkening to the original New Orleans sound (tuba was the predecessor of bass & banjo rather than guitar was a prominent "rhythm" instrument). Amazingly enough, the soprano saxophonist is Steve Lacy, the straight-horn specialist that was, at that time, making quite a name for himself in New Thing/avant garde jazz circles, & he’s still going strong today. (I mean, jeez: how many jazz musicians can say they’ve played with artists seemingly disparate as Hackett, Cecil Taylor, Monk & Evan Parker?) Initially, the banjo sounds a tad corny, but once you get used to it -at times it has an almost percussive sound - this is one fine tribute. Notice how Monk-like is the melody of "If We Never Meet Again," and how Lacy almost steals the show with his "weird" playing. Hackett is a delight: though Armstrong was his inspiration, his tender, breathy, rounded tone is his own, not nearly as high-note, crackling big ‘n’ brassy as LA. This captures the ESSENCE of Armstrong’s sound of the 20s, all the swagger, jauntiness & careening energy. They really DON’T make ‘em like Bobby H. anymore.
The second LP reissued here is "Plays Tony Bennett’s Greatest Hits" - an odd pairing, as this is quite the easy-listening experience, and a somewhat corny one at that. The tunes are standards and tunes that Bennett has made standards: "I Left My Heart In San Francisco," "Just In Time," "Stranger In Paradise." Hackett’s playing is gorgeous, but some of the arrangements - by a guy named "Frank Hunter" - are SO dated, sappy and corny you’ll think you’ve been transported into one of those early 60s Doris Day movies. I think this set from 1966 was aimed at those types we hepcats referred to as "squares." That said, however, Hackett’s playing elevates the proceedings, the way a great singer can elevate a cliché-ridden or just-OK song. The beauty and honest warmth of his playing makes "Plays...Hits" worthwhile (and, at times, I must confess the mushy strings and arrangements have a certain goofy charm).