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.