Jake Hanna: Drummer whose controlled power made him the linchpin of the Harry James and Woody Herman bands

Already established as an outstandingly gifted and versatile drummer, in 1961 Jake Hanna arrived at Harry James's house to join the James band.

Harry's wife, the blonde film star Betty Grable, billed as "the girl with the million dollar legs", answered the door and helped him to carry his drum kit into the house. "Now," said Hanna to himself "I've really made it."

Starting to play the drums when he was five, Hanna later studied in Boston with the famous teacher Stanley Spector, and began working as a professional during the Second World War, when he was 13. Many older players were in the services and there was no shortage of work. He played drums when he himself was in the Marines from 1950 to 1953.

In 1956 Hanna enrolled at the Berklee School of Music in Boston, a crucial step that had made the careers of many young jazzmen. Hanna was no exception, as was proved when, at what some would regard as the climax of his career, he joined Woody Herman's 1962 band, a 16-piece group mostly made up of Berklee graduates.

While studying at Berklee, Hanna took on professional work in the evenings, playing for Buddy Morrow's big band and pianist Toshiko Akiyoshi's trio among others. When finally he left the college in 1958 he continued with Akiyoshi, playing four summer seasons with her trio at New York's Hickory House. After a spell in trumpeter Maynard Ferguson's band he became the house drummer at Boston's Storyville Club. "That was when a big change in my life came. The band included Buck Clayton, Bud Freeman and Pee Wee Russell and I had never realised what real quality playing was all about until then."

Until then Hanna had played only "modern" jazz, but the giants of jazz he met at the Storyville played what was called Dixieland or mainstream, and called for a different kind of drumming. Hanna said: "Each man was a marvel, and every night at the drums I had the best seat in the house."

Marian McPartland, the expatriate English pianist, heard Hanna at Storyville and was impressed. He joined her trio in 1959 and stayed until 1961, honing his playing and proving his great mastery in accompanying McPartland's delicate inventions. McPartland greatly admired his playing and later described Hanna as "almost without peer as a big-band drummer", writing: "There is an easy flow, a logical, methodical purpose to everything Jake does."

Hanna eventually left McPartland to work for Harry James but was soon left out on a limb when, in an impossible collision of two giant egos, James hired Buddy Rich. Hanna was fired without ceremony. "I need a job," wailed Hanna on the phone to his old Boston comrade, the pianist Nat Pierce. "You got one," said Pierce, who in 1962 was putting together a band for Woody Herman.

This became one of the greatest Herman bands of all, and Hanna was its dynamo, pinning the band meticulously and swinging it with colossal but always controlled force. With Pierce on piano, Chuck Andrus on bass and Hanna on drums, Herman had a uniquely talented foundation on which to display his jazz giants – including the tenorist Sal Nistico, trombonist Phil Wilson and Pierce himself. "Jake is, I think," Nat Pierce told this writer, "one of the most underrated drummers of all time."

Like so many veterans of the road, Hanna tired of all the touring and when in 1965 he was offered a job in the band on Merv Griffin's television show in the New York studios – death to any jazz ambitions – he took it. The programme moved to Los Angeles at short notice and Hanna went with it. He stayed until 1975 and when he left went on a highly successful tour to Europe with Bing Crosby, starring with Joe Bushkin in the Old Groaner's quartet.

From then on Hanna returned to jazz, working as a freelance. He was much in demand for jazz parties and concerts, becoming for many years virtually the house drummer at Concord Records. He was featured on innumerable albums for many different labels and leaders, only rarely recording under his own name and briefly co-leading a band with the trombonist Carl Fontana.

From 1975 he, pianist Joe Bushkin and guitarist Johnny Smith, all highly gifted musicians, toured the world in a leisurely manner with Bing Crosby. He met a young woman, Denisa Heitman, who was teaching guitar in Smith's studio and they married in 1984, soon after Crosby's death. He spent the last years of his life until his final illness touring with the new diva of jazz singing, Roberta Gambini.

John Edwin "Jake" Hanna, drummer: born Dorchester, Massachusetts 4 April 1931; married 1984 Denisa Heitman; died Los Angeles 12 February 2010.

Suggested Topics
Sport
Thiago Silva pulls Arjen Robben back to concede a penalty
world cup 2014Brazil 0 Netherlands 3: More misery for hosts as Dutch take third place
Sport
Robin van Persie hands his third-place medal to a supporter
Van Persie gives bronze medal to eccentric fan moments after being handed it by Blatter
News
Ian Thorpe had Rio 2016 in his sights
people
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
scienceScientists have developed a material so dark you can't see it...
News
Monkey business: Serkis is the king of the non-human character performance
peopleFirst Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Arts and Entertainment
Blackman: Landscape of children’s literature does not reflect the cultural diversity of young people
booksMalorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Voices
Mrs Brown's Boy: D'Movie has been a huge commercial success
voicesWhen it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
Arts and Entertainment
Curtain calls: Madani Younis
theatreMadani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Life and Style
Douglas McMaster says the food industry is ‘traumatised’
food + drinkSilo in Brighton will have just six staple dishes on the menu every day, including one meat option, one fish, one vegan, and one 'wild card'
Life and Style
Once a month, waistline watcher Suran steps into a 3D body scanner that maps his body shape and records measurements with pinpoint accuracy
techFrom heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Sport
Mario Balotelli, Divock Origi, Loic Remy, Wilfried Bony and Karim Benzema
transfersBony, Benzema and the other transfer targets
News
Soft power: Matthew Barzun
peopleThe US Ambassador to London, Matthew Barzun, holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence. He says it's all part of the job
Sport
Joe Root and James Anderson celebrate their record-beaking partnership
cricketEngland's last-wicket stand against India rewrites the history books
News
Gavin Maxwell in Sandaig with one of his pet otters
peopleWas the otter man the wildlife champion he appeared to be?
News
Rowsell says: 'Wearing wigs is a way of looking normal. I pick a style and colour and stick to it because I don't want to keep wearing different styles'
peopleThe World Champion cyclist Joanna Rowsell on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, Accreditation, ITIL)

£70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, A...

C# Developer (HTML5, JavaScript, ASP.NET, Mathematics, Entity)

£30000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

C# Integration Developer (.NET, Tibco EMS, SQL 2008/2012, XML)

£60000 - £80000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Integration...

Biztalk - outstanding opportunity

£75000 - £85000 per annum + ex bens: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: Biztalk Te...

Day In a Page

Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

The evolution of Andy Serkis

First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

Blackest is the new black

Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy: Was the otter man the wildlife champion he appeared to be?

Otter man Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy

The aristocrat's eccentric devotion to his pets inspired a generation. But our greatest living nature writer believes his legacy has been quite toxic
Joanna Rowsell: The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia

Joanna Rowsell: 'I wear my wig to look normal'

The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef gives raw ingredients a lift with his quick marinades

Bill Granger's quick and delicious marinades

Our chef's marinades are great for weekend barbecuing, but are also a delicious way of injecting flavour into, and breaking the monotony of, weekday meals
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014 preview: Why Brazilians don't love their neighbours Argentina any more

Anyone but Argentina – why Brazilians don’t love their neighbours any more

The hosts will be supporting Germany in today's World Cup final, reports Alex Bellos
The Open 2014: Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?

The Open 2014

Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?