Though jazz cornetist Bobby Hackett was also proﬁcient on the guitar, it was his horn work that brought him prominence. His mellow tone and melodic style contrasted sharply with the brash sound of many of his early contemporaries, especially when he played Dixieland. A sought-after instrumentalist, Hackett worked with dozens of top artists during his long career and brieﬂy led his own big band.
Hackett began working professionally in an around the Boston area soon after graduating high school. Appearing with such artists as Teddy Roy, Pee Wee Russell, Herbie Marsh, Payson Re, and the Harvard Gold Coast Orchestra, he quickly earned a reputation. In 1936, he was asked to form a Dixieland outﬁt for Boston’s Theatrical Club. The group proved very popular, and after their one-year engagement ended the members decided to try their luck in New York. Unable to get a job as a group, they eventually split up, and for the next couple of years Hackett worked on and off with various artists, including Benny Goodman, Teddy Wilson, Jack Teagarden, and Eddie Condon.
In 1939, Hackett formed his own big band. Louise Tobin, then the wife of Harry James, was featured vocalist. The group contracted with MCA and made several recordings, but ﬁnancial problems forced it to disband after only six months. Owing MCA almost $3000, Hackett decided to take a steady job with Horace Heidt in order to pay off the band’s debts. He remained with Heidt through the summer season of 1940.
In 1941, Hackett joined Glenn Miller. Miller and Hackett were close friends, and Miller helped renegotiate Hackett’s debt. Hackett also recently had had dental surgery and was unable to play the cornet, so Miller placed him as a guitarist. Hackett eventually took up his horn again and can be heard as the featured soloist on the Miller standard “String of Pearls.”
When Miller disbanded his orchestra in 1942 to join the Army Air Force, Hackett took a studio job at NBC. He also spent a brief time with Katherine Dunham’s revue. In 1943, he joined the Casa Loma Orchestra and remained with them for two years. He then took a job with ABC, where he spent the next ﬁfteen years.
From the 1950s up until his death from a heart attack in 1976, Hackett continued performing and recording. He led several small groups and worked closely with many other top artists, including Goodman, Teagarden, Tony Bennett, Billie Holiday, Louis Armstrong, Frank Sinatra, Maxine Sullivan, and Lee Wiley. In the early 1950s, Hackett was the star of Jackie Gleason’s memorable “Music for Lovers Only” album series.