Late in 1974, when Bobby Hackett – then nearly sixty – forgot a diabetes injection and lapsed into a temporary coma, jazz lovers felt a sense of foreboding. That year, Hackett had undertaken a short British tour, and it was plain that advancing age and chronic diabetes were slowly taking their toll. Towards the end of that tour, Keith Ingham, the brilliant British pianist who accompanied Hackett, found him ‘sometimes almost too weak to play and making, for him, a few uncharacteristic mistakes, although at other times he played superbly.
Once he walked off-stage in mid-concert to inject himself with insulin, murmuring ‘I have to get some blood’, and yet he continued his punishing schedule, leaving London to fly to Montreal and open with Teresa Brewer the same night.
Now, several years after Bobby Hackett’s death, the greying roster of bright young men with horns who illuminated the jazz scene in the Thirties and after continues to diminish, but Hackett’s passing was in many ways a special loss. Besides being a seminal jazz trumpeter who for over thirty years worked with every great jazz figure of his era, Hackett was a generous, lovable man who inspired affection. “The truth is,” he told critic Brian Priestly, “I love everybody – but I like musicians best.” And everyone in turn loved Hackett, from Louis Armstrong – who hired him for his All-Stars to play “them pretty notes” – to Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett – who used him as featured back-up trumpeter – and Dizzy Gillespie, who subbed for him during illnesses.