Jake Hanna dies at 78; versatile jazz drummer was in Merv Griffin’s TV show band

Jake Hanna was a member of Merv Griffin's TV show band.

Jake Hanna, a versatile drummer who played with such jazz figures as Woody Herman and was a longtime member of the band on Merv Griffin’s television show, has died. He was 78.

Hanna died Friday at Kaiser Permanente West Los Angeles Medical Center of complications from a bone marrow disease, said his wife, Denisa.

Hanna was equally at home playing with big bands or small groups. He performed with Herman in 1957 and the early 1960s, then joined Griffin’s band, in which he played until 1975. Hanna moved to the West Coast when the show relocated from New York to Los Angeles.

During his career, he also played with Maynard Ferguson, Toshiko Akiyoshi, the Marian McPartland Trio, Roberta Gambarini, Harry James, Count Basie and Duke Ellington, among others.

The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz (1988) said Hanna was “highly regarded for his unerring sense of time, his ability to control a band at any tempo and his refined musical taste.”

He also led a group with trombonist Carl Fontana and worked regularly with the group Supersax.

John Edwin Hanna was born April 4, 1931, in Dorchester, Mass. He started playing drums as a teenager. “My father played all the early records. Benny Goodman, when Gene [Krupa] was with the band. It was easy for me,” he told the Sacramento Bee in 2002.

Hanna served in the Air Force from 1951 to 1953.

In 1977, he met his future wife while he was playing in a quartet accompanying Bing Crosby.

Besides his wife, whom he married in 1984, Hanna is survived by his sisters, Mary Howard and Eleanor Judge.