John “Jake” Hanna, who played the drums professionally for about 60 years, was born in Dorchester on April 4, 1931. Jake Hanna always stayed close to his Boston roots, but it was only during the early years that he was especially active in his hometown.

Photo of Jake Hanna

Jake Hanna, 1964

After his discharge from the Air Force in 1953, he played in a Texas territory band for about a year, and arrived back home in the fall of 1954.

Hanna gigged around Boston in 1954-55, spending time at the Jazz Workshop and the Stable, and working in Al Vega’s trio. In January 1956, he entered the Berklee School of Music, where two of his new classmates were bassist Gene Cherico and pianist Toshiko Akiyoshi. They formed the first Toshiko Trio, and George Wein hired them as a house band at Storyville. They spent their summer  at the Hickory House in New York, then came back to Boston for another semester at Berklee, and more time at Storyville. In April 1957, Hanna left Berklee to tour with the big band of Buddy Morrow. That summer he reunited with Toshiko at the Hickory House, and followed that with stints with Woody Herman and Maynard Ferguson. Jake left the Ferguson band in May 1958—just in time for another summer at the Hickory House.

Finally, in fall 1958, returned to Boston, at Storyville as the house drummer in another promising trio. Lou Carter, the longtime pianist in the Soft Winds, and bassist Champ Jones completed the combo. (Jones would later form the popular Paul-Champ Three with Paul Broadnax). Hanna always warmly remembered  Storyville in 1958-59, playing behind singers like Anita O’Day and Jimmy Rushing, and working with Storyville regulars Pee Wee Russell, Vic Dickenson, and Buck Clayton.

“I finally got the message at that point,” Hanna told Down Beat in 1963. “Suddenly I knew that that was the style I sound best in. No confusion—everything very simple. Basic.” His inspiration, he often noted, was Jo Jones, and like Jones, Hanna had exquisite time and impeccable taste, and he somehow made it look easy.
In 1959, Hanna joined Marian McPartland’s trio, and aside from a short time filling in with Pomeroy’s big band in 1960, he was part of the New York, and then the Los Angeles, scenes thereafter. There are too many highlights to recount, and happily I don’t need to, because his niece, Maria Judge, has put it all down in Jake Hanna: The Rhythm and Wit of a Swinging Jazz Drummer, published in 2012. Therein are the stories of Jake’s years with Woody Herman’s Swingin’ Herd,  Concord Records, and Merv Griffin’s TV show band. You might also check out Jake’s page at for the photo gallery.

Here’s video of Jake with the Concord All-Stars on “Perdido.” Scott Hamilton solos first, then Jake takes over.