There are many mysteries in the World of Soundies. For fans of jazz and the Swing Era, this one is particularly delicious!
Glen Gray and his Casa Loma Orchestra had been a nationally-recognized jazz and dance band for more than a decade-and-a-half when their Soundies were produced in 1945. But by this time, the band was well past being an influential force in jazz. The Casa Loma’s musical style had often been a high energy affair, with hard-driving riffs dominating many performances. But in 1945, with only one exception, the producer selected ballads and pop songs for the band’s Soundies performances. More about the Casa Loma history in another post. Here our concern is a most perplexing musical controversy!
While a contract for the Casa Loma series is extant, there were changes in personnel between the time the contract was drawn up and when the band made their seven shorts. Noted on the contract, as well as seen on screen, is one of the greatest jazzmen of the era: Bobby Hackett. But is he on soundtrack? THAT is the question.
The Casa Loma’s soundtracks were recorded at R.C.A on May 31, 1945. The same day Hackett was the leader of an eight-piece jazz combo that recorded four titles for Melrose. Did Bobby pull “double duty” (that would not be unusual in the least), or was there a “time conflict” of some sort, resulting in another trumpet player performing a solo in Bobby’s style?
What do the experts say? First to chime in was Jack Teagarden authority Joe Showler who argued that it is not Hackett on soundtrack. Artie Shaw opined, “Hackett never played like that in his life!” Uan Rasey, on the other hand, knew Hackett well and commented, “Yes, that’s Bobby, I know his sound, and I am certain that Hackett is there.” Johnny Blowers played with Hackett on many occasions, and he told me, “Well, I think Artie is, uh, just being Artie. He could be contrary just for the sake of being contrary. I have good ears for Bobby, and they tell me that it is him on soundtrack as well as screen.”
Dan Morgenstern, who has very discerning ears, was somewhat unsure. In a February 2016 e-mail Dan commented, “Hey, love those Harem girls! I now recall that when I saw this a long time ago, had a discussion with my dear departed friend Dick Katz, who said the chops were too strong for it to be Bobby, while I suggested that his then regular job with the band plus studio work had him in unusually good lip condition. The phrasing, especially the opening four bars, sounds like Bobby (I’m not quite as certain about the rest). He recorded a feature with the band for Decca, on which he also has good chops, if memory serves, and of course the Melrose session also has top drawer playing. Bobby was very frank about the changeable nature of his embouchure, and went from cornet to trumpet quite a few times. Bottom line is that I would plump for Mr. Hackett.”
Trumpet player Randy Sandke, in an email dated 4/19/16, noted, “I’d say it’s pretty definitely not Hackett. Not a cornet sound, not Hackett’s sound and vibrato, but most tellingly, the approach—emphasizing the upper register Bb’s and C’s is totally un-Hackett-like. He would use those notes occasionally but not start with them and repeat them, even in his big band playing. I’m pretty confident it’s not Hackett. Sound-wise, it doesn’t remind me of him at all. But it is a nice workman-like solo, if not exceptional.” And finally, a thought from trombonist Dan Weinstein, who notes that the AFoM contract points to the Melrose recording session the same day the Soundies were recorded. “Perhaps Glen gave Bobby the day off for his own date, had someone else record a solo that sounds a little like Bobby, a lot like Pops [Louis Armstrong]. I wouldn’t swear that we are listening to Bobby Hackett here.”
As for me, I just listened again and a shoulder shrug is all I can offer.