Robert Leo ‘Bobby’ Hackett (31 January 1915 – 7 June 1976) was an Irish American jazz musician who played trumpet, cornet and guitar with the bands of Glenn Miller and Benny Goodman in the swing era. He is probably most well known for being the featured soloist on some of the Jackie Gleason mood music albums during the 1950s.
Hackett was born in Providence, Rhode Island to a family of Irish immigrants. Originally a guitarist, he performed in local bands, and by 1936 was leading his own group.
He moved to New York in 1937 where he played with Joe Marsala. In 1938, he appeared at Benny Goodman’s Carnegie Hall concert where he recreated legendary cornet player Bix Beiderbecke’s solo on ‘I’m Coming Virginia’. In the late 1930s, he played lead trumpet in the Vic Schoen Orchestra, which backed the Andrews Sisters, and by 1939, he was leading his own big band.
Unfortunately, this band failed, owing money to talent agency MCA. To pay off his debt, Hackett played briefly with Horace Heidt, before joining Glenn Miller’s Orchestra from 1941 to 1942, where he took a famous solo on ‘String of Pearls’. Following this, Hackett played with the Casa Loma Orchestra, and then became a studio musician while still appearing with jazz groups. A highlight of this period was his inclusion in Louis Armstrong’s 1947 Town Hall Jazz Concert.
In the 1950s, Hackett gained some fame when he was hired by Jackie Gleason as a cornet soloist for some of Gleason’s earliest mood music albums. Starting in 1952, Hackett appeared on Gleason’s first Capitol Records album, Music for Lovers Only. The record went gold and Hackett went on to appear on six more of Gleason’s LPs. This led directly to Hackett signing with Capitol for a series of his own albums.
From 1956 to 1957, Hackett led an unusual group that sought to modernize Dixieland using Dick Cary’s arrangements and an unusual instrumentation – but the band did not catch on.
Hackett made some commercial records during 1959–1960 and worked with Benny Goodman from 1962 to 1963. He toured with singer Tony Bennett in the mid-1960s, and co-led a well-recorded quintet with Vic Dickenson at the end of the decade. In the early 1970s, Hackett recorded with Jim Cullum, the World’s Greatest Jazz Band, Dizzy Gillespie and Mary Lou Williams, remaining active up until his death.
In 2012, Hackett was inducted into the Rhode Island Music Hall of Fame.
This 1962 footage shows the Bobby Hackett Sextet playing ‘Bill Bailey (Won’t You Please Come Home?)’ in New York.