Robert Leo Hackett, 31 January 1915, Providence, Rhode Island, USA, d. 7 June 1976, Chatham, Massachusetts, USA. After learning to play a number of instruments while still at school, including cornet and guitar, Hackett became a professional musician when barely into his teens. For the first few years he played violin and guitar but by 1934 he was concentrating on cornet. In 1936 he briefly led his own band, then moved to New York where he played in the society dance bands of Meyer Davis and the Lanin brothers. In 1937 he moved towards the more jazz-orientated currently-popular big bands, working with Joe Marsala and Red McKenzie. In 1938 he was one of the guest musicians at Benny Goodmans prestigious Carnegie Hall concert. At this time Hackett was leading a band at Nicks, a prominent New York nightclub. The last few years of the 30s found him working in radio in New York, on motion pictures in Hollywood, making records and leading his own bands, big and small. In mid-summer 1941 he joined Glenn Miller, playing mostly guitar (though he was featured on cornet on the hit record String Of Pearls), and then spent more time with the Marsala band, the Casa Loma Orchestra, and in staff work at NBC. He played on numerous jazz record and concert dates, including the Town Hall concert in New York that established the Louis Armstrong All Stars.
At the end of the 40s and throughout the 50s Hackett worked steadily along the east coast and in Canada and continued to make records. Many of his recordings were classics of their kind, especially his 1955 sessions with Jack Teagarden and a series of mood-music albums he made for comedian Jackie Gleason. A splendid band he led at the Henry Hudson Hotel in New York during 1956/7 featured at different times Tommy Gwaltney and Bob Wilber. In the early 60s Hackett rejoined Goodman, played with Ray McKinley and then became a regular accompanist, on stage and on record, to Tony Bennett. In the late 60s and early 70s he toured the USA and Europe, playing club and festival dates often in company with Vic Dickenson.
A superb cornetist with faultless taste, his delightful obbligati behind singers as diverse as Bennett, Armstrong, Lee Wiley and Teresa Brewer are ample testimony to his unobtrusive skills. The mood-music albums he made for Gleason similarly demonstrate his extraordinarily graceful playing. He was equally at home both in dixieland and mainstream groups, where his straight jazz work was fiery and inventive but always elegant. Although no one could ever guess it from his cornet playing, ill health, brought on by heavy drinking, plagued Hackett for most of his life.
Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.