Le Down Beat was hardly bigger than a living room, with just a bar, a few tables and a bandstand.
But Jake Hanna, the renowned drummer, will never forget the shoe box-size club, which was located at 54th and Broadway in New York City. It was there, in 1952, that he first met and heard alto master Charlie Parker.
“My buddy and I were in there in the afternoon, and Charlie came in, carrying a bag of groceries for his family,” said Hanna, who was in the Air Force and on furlough at the time. “We bought him a lot of drinks--about a dozen--and he was still cold sober when he left. He was the friendliest guy you’d ever want to know.”
That evening, Hanna caught Parker in live performance at the room. “He played so fast he scared me,” Hanna said. “And he had a sound that you could never capture on record. It buzzed. It was like a vibration that you felt. Louis Armstrong had it, too; so does Phil Woods.”
Although Hanna never played with Parker, he has performed with many greats, among them Duke Ellington, Bing Crosby, Tony Bennett, Woody Herman, Harry James, Count Basie, Oscar Peterson and Zoot Sims. And he’s heard the rest, from Parker and Dizzy Gillespie to Ben Webster, Coleman Hawkins, Lester Young and Louis Armstrong.
You could call Hanna an “ear witness” to jazz history.
The drummer talked about the two Woody Herman bands he was associated with--one that he said was successful from a musical standpoint, and one that wasn’t.
“I was with Woody for a while in 1957, and though the band had a lot of great players, it never seemed” to come together, he said. Things were different with Herman’s 1962 band, which spotlighted sax man Sal Nistico and trumpeter Bill Chase. “That band just took off,” Hanna said. “We played three dates in New York, and, just like that, we were booked for a year. That band had fire. Bill Chase had fire. He had a sound that buzzed.”
These days, the 62-year-old drum ace, rather than working steadily with any one band, takes occasional free-lance gigs. He travels to Europe maybe once a year, is part of several weekend all-star jazz gatherings in the United States, and plays intermittently in Southern California.
“I try to, only I like to play with people I like,” Hanna said. “That way, even though I don’t make as much money, at least I have a good time.”
A native of Dorchester, Mass., who has lived in Los Angeles since 1970, Hanna says the band he’s taking to Chadney’s on New Year’s Eve is on the level he favors: top drawer. Hanna’s trio includes pianist Ross Tompkins and bassist Dave Carpenter, with singer Polly Podewell.
“Ross has got everything. No tune can throw him, and if you’ve got hard music, he can read it right off the bat,” Hanna said, adding that he met and worked with the pianist in New York in 1959. “And Polly’s one of the best. She has perfect pitch and perfect time; she sings with a lot of feeling.” Podewell, whom Hanna also met in New York in the late ‘50s, has worked with Buddy Rich and Benny Goodman.
And if Hanna has numerous reasons for avoiding the confines of a regular group (“You play the same thing every night, then there’s no surprise”), he relishes the spontaneity that he can bring to his now-and-then stints as a leader.
“I try to keep things as loose as I can. That’s the way jazz is supposed to be,” he said. “I was listening to a recording by Lester Young the other day where he played the same tune three times in a row, and the solos on each take were completely different. That’s a lesson in how to play jazz music.
“When it’s my date, I try to be like cornetist Ruby Braff, who stands there, pointing to this guy to play, then to that guy, like he’s directing traffic,” said Hanna, laughing. “That’s why I like the looseness of the jazz parties. I’m perfectly suited for them.”
At Chadney’s, Hanna guessed that the group’s repertoire would focus on classic American pop standards, such as Jerome Kern’s “I’m Old-Fashioned,” Cole Porter’s “The Song Is You” and “So in Love” and Richard Whiting’s “My Ideal.” Hanna joked that the band will play requests “only if we like them.”
Hanna has long been touted by musicians and fans alike as one of the ablest of jazz drummers, a man with a perfect sense of time who innately knows where the beats should go. He’s not a natural, he insists. “I have to concentrate. If I put things in the right places, it’s from listening to such greats as Jo Jones, Gene Krupa, Dave Tough and Bud Rich.”
Dennis Duke, who books the acts at Chadney’s, calls Hanna “incredibly sensitive.”
“He can get so much out of just a couple of drums. And he’s a master of the brushes,” Duke said.
Hanna considers his life in music immensely rewarding. “This is what I was tickled to death to do, and what I practiced to do,” he said. “I’ve had a good time.”
Where and When
What: Jake Hanna’s trio, plus singer Polly Podewell.
Location: Chadney’s, 3000 W. Olive Ave., Burbank.
Hours: 9:30 p.m. to 1:30 a.m. tonight.
Price: $10 cover, two-drink minimum. Dinners also available from $22 to $39. Complimentary champagne toast at midnight.
Call: (818) 843-5333.