[Dixielandjazz] Jake Hanna (London Guardian)

Robert Ringwald rsr at ringwald.com
Mon May 3 08:37:09 PDT 2010

Jake Hanna
Jazz drummer with a zest for performance
by Peter Vacher
London Guardian, May 3, 2010

Not many jazz drummers are able to perform equally well in big bands, small groups
and with vocalists. Jake Hanna, who has died aged 78, could do all these things,
whether working with Woody Herman's powerful orchestra or providing lift and swing
for piano trios led by Marian McPartland and Toshiko Akiyoshi or backing singers
including Rosemary Clooney and Bing Crosby.
Hanna zigzagged between orchestral and television jobs, taking in a rich variety
of recording and combo work along the way. Never much interested in band-leading
himself, he preferred to work as a sideman, responding to offers only when he felt
good about the musicians or the surroundings involved. He travelled extensively,
visiting Britain frequently with all-star groups and playing at festivals. His final
British performance was with the singer Roberta Gambarini's trio at the Brecon jazz
festival in 2008.
Hanna was born in Dorchester, a suburb of Boston, Massachusetts, and learned to play
drums as a child in a marching band. He studied the drummers who appeared with the
great touring bands of the day when they played Boston's vaudeville theatres and
was well aware of the many talented players in Roxbury, Boston's thriving African-American
community. He listened to all the records he could, especially those featuring Jo
Jones and Gene Krupa, then the most celebrated drummers in jazz.
By the age of 13, he was a professional. Most bands had vacancies due to the wartime
draft, and he kept busy with local groups before branching out, following his military
service in Korea, with bands led by Tommy Reed and Ted Weems. He joined Akiyoshi's
trio in Boston in 1957 after studying at the Berklee School of Music, and played
summer engagements with her for four years at the Hickory House in New York before
transferring to McPartland's trio at the same venue. To McPartland he was "a pleasure
to watch; there is no wasted motion, yet he does everything with a flourish".
>From then on Hanna's career see-sawed between big bands such as those of the trumpeters
Maynard Ferguson (visiting Britain in 1967) and Harry James (whom he disliked), and
Woody Herman's Swingin' Herd. Herman had been through lean times but Hanna's zest
for playing helped to put him back on top, many observers sensing that the Herman
orchestra of the early 1960s was among the best he had. The veteran critic George
Simon applauded Hanna's emergence: "The way he drives everything is absolutely outstanding."
Hanna went on to play briefly with Duke Ellington and trumpeter Herb Pomeroy, and
to work as house drummer for George Wein's Storyville jazz club in Boston, before
joining the studio band on Merv Griffin's TV show in New York. Given the opportunity
to move with the show when it relocated to Los Angeles in 1970, Hanna took the bait,
later describing the decision as "the stupidest of my life". He admitted that the
band was outstanding even if the talents of those who appeared on the show were often
dire, citing one Danny Meehan -- who apparently used to whistle while standing on
his head -- as about the best of a bad lot. Even so, by the time the show folded
in 1975, he had been with it for 10 years.
Thereafter Hanna was a free agent, basing himself in Los Angeles. He played often
with neo-mainstreamers such as tenor-saxophonist Scott Hamilton and trumpeter Warren
Vache. He also helped Clooney to stretch her range to include jazz and was part of
Crosby's touring entourage for the last two years of his life.
Bluff in manner and known for his caustic sense of humour, Hanna loved to tell stories
about his fellow musicians, these often becoming more and more outlandish as the
night wore on. Randy Sandke, the trumpeter, said of Hanna that "being with him on
and off the bandstand was pure joy".
He is survived by his wife, Denisa, whom he married in 1987, and two sisters, Mary
and Eleanor.
John Edwin "Jake" Hanna, drummer, born 4 April 1931; died 12 February 2010.

--Bob Ringwald
Amateur (ham) Radio call sign K6YBV
Fulton Street Jazz Band

Doesn't "expecting the unexpected" make the unexpected expected?

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