An Appreciation: Jake Hanna by Ed Shaughnessy

The news came out late yesterday – drummer Jake Hanna had died.  Hanna, who was so often referred to as a drummers’ drummer.  The dependable rhythmic engine of the band on the Merv Griffin show.  The heart of the rhythm section for Woody Herman’s Herd of the ‘60s.  A solid, dependable player with a resume reaching from the bands of Count Basie, Maynard Ferguson, Duke Ellington and Harry James to small group work with the likes of Roberta Gambarini, Marion McPartland, Supersax, Carl Fontana and many, many others.

Born April 4, 1931 in Roxbury, Massachusetts, Hanna was 78 when he passed away.

When I heard from Ed Shaughnessy about Hanna, I asked him – as a Hanna contemporary, a drumming compatriot, and a good friend – if he would grace iRoM with a few words about his old pal.  Ed generously complied with some anecdotal recollections that revealed Hanna’s ingenuity as well as his spontaneous wit.

By Ed Shaughnessy

You never knew what to expect from Jake.  Like the time when he cleverly got a carpenter to cut his bass drum and his floor tom in half to telescope the other drums and close with airplane clips. It saved money and space while traveling.  And the drums sounded fine.

He had an undying passion for the Boston Red Sox. I once sent him a sports magazine with Ted Williams on the cover, and he had to tell EVERYone about it.  Then he met my wife and found out that she had done Red Sox commercials and knew Ted Williams. After that, no one else could get a word in for an hour!

Another time, when I arrived at a drummers lunch, I brought news: “Lou Bellson broke his hip.”  And Hanna immediately cracked, ” I’m surprised he didn’t break two at once.” A reference to Bellson’s playing two bass drums.  We all cracked up while I tried to protest, “That was cold!” between laughs.

That legendary wit was as much Jake as his remarkable gifts as one of the most in-demand drummers in jazz history. From powering the Woody Herman big band of the 60’s to his sensitive small group work of the last 4 decades, he was a masterful rhythm maker, never over-playing, always playing “just right.”

I was proud to be Jake’s friend and will miss his great story telling… as much as his superb drumming.

Here’s a YouTube clip of Hanna performing with the Woody Herman band.  Notice the subtlety of the way his drumming backs Nat Pierce and Sal Nistico, supports the full ensemble, and energizes the rhythm.

6 thoughts on “An Appreciation: Jake Hanna by Ed Shaughnessy

  1. Jake Hanna was a very musical drummer. He didn’t clutter the music with a lot of notes. His playing was subtle but he had balls & he knew when & where to use them !!!! He should be an inspiration to all drummers.
    May he rest in peace & my condolonces to his family.


  2. I am deeply saddened by Jake’s passing! In NY we were both very much on the scene at John Popkin’s Hickory House, where he appeared many times with Marian McPartland, and we alternated sets [I was Pianist there for half a year at a time for several years, touring the other six months for Joe Glaser with my Trio.]
    Jake was always into some kind of mischief creating jokes and generally enliving the room from the raised oval bandstand in the middle of the great Jazz club-Steak-House with humongous murals of great Prize Fighters painted on the walls, and glass walled storage areas with carcasses of cows hanging inside, from which chefs gleaned their succulent treasures.
    His playing was a great compliment to Marian’s Trio, whicg was reliable, and British conservative. but there was an immediate joy and lightness when he replaced Morello. They played a LOT with Chuck Israel[yes IsraeL… I announced him many hundreds of times], a really stupendous [real]Bass player[just before Israel joined Bill Evans.
    Jake actually replaced Joe Morello, whose departure Marian never recovered. Their personal situation was too intense for him… But we all really liked Jake’s playing much better, and there was a lightness of being that was immediately heard in Marian’s Trio. Thoroughly a great drummer and very sensitive in the Art of playing with a Trio which is a LOST ART… being full of sound but you could hear Marian and the Bassist clearly at all times. He knew the lessons of Papa Jo Jones…”If you cant hear the Pianist, you’re too loud…”
    Jake scuffled a lot, but could cover any type of gig and did. even the dreaded Meyer Davis”Club Date.” Doing so with a sense of joy and honesty. He loved his “tastes” [Scotch-Rocks], and intermission trips to the Jazz Bar up the street and Condon’s , a Dixieland club a block away, and years later when I ran into him out here [LA]at Dontes, he fell into tears, announcing to everyone about our days at the “Bar H”[Hickory House], and how much I sounded like Bud Powell…Thereafter when I ran into him it was the same scene… Tears, reminiscing over the great jazz days in NY… and I really had a new appreciation for him… he was intensely unhappy as a jazz player out here, and considered his Tonight Show gig more like a club date, not to be confused with his life as free lance Jazz Drummer in NY. He liked and respected the other players he worked with out here, but the edgy,dangerous and tenuous existance of the NY Jazzer was forever embedded in his psyche… THAT was who he really was…and he never ever forgot old friends from those hard -scuffling- days in Manhatten…I was just talking with my new drummer, Timm Boatman about Jake at Timm’s first concert with my Chamber Jazz Trio last Sunday! We laughed a lot remembering him.I will miss him with respect, smiles, and gratefulness for having been a part of that scene, and remembering those jazz days with love, and sorrows for all the players I knew who are gone, and thankful I am , and have had such joys, and continue my tradition..


  3. this Bostonian and long-time Red Sox fan is so grateful that she got to hear Jake for so many decades. and to enjoy his crazy sense of humor as well. got to spend some good time with him in recent years when he accompanied Roberta Gambarini on a 10-day jazz cruise. i’ll always remember the look on his face when as the result of some heavy-duty seas, he and his drums starting sliding towards the audience! May Jake RIP. anbd my sincere condolences to his family.


  4. Way back when I was 15 I bought the Woody Herman 1964 album and literally wore the grooves off trying to sound like Jake. Many years later I was performing at the Elkhart Jazz Festival with the Jazz Ambassadors (US Army) and Jake sought me out and was generous with his compliments. I got to hang with him (God,if I only had a tape recorder!) and he called me up to sit in with a group he was playing with. I hope I conveyed to him somehow what all that meant to me. It’s made me happy to think about it for 20 years now. God bless and keep you, Jake.


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