Remembering Bob Haggart

Bassist Bob Haggart (1914 -1998) was a remarkable person in many ways. He’s known to most as a string bassist. But he was also a composer and talented artist.

He was guest bassist for the three Pensacola Jazz Parties 1989-1991 and at the 1991 event, trumpeter Yank Lawson also attended. Lawson had been a colleague with him in the Lawson-Haggart Jazz Band and also, they led the World’s Greatest Jazz Band from 1968-1998.

Haggart was best known for two compositions, Big Noise from “Winnetka” and the ballad What’s New?

Photo by Norman Vickers

But I should also mention Haggart’s tune My Inspiration and his co-composition also with drummer Ray Baduc, South Rampart Street Parade.

Bob’s artistic talents can be seen on several record covers. When he’d go to a recording session, during the lag times, he’d sketch scenes from the session. These have been featured on record covers, especially LPs since there was adequate room to show artwork. Haggart also was a painter, like vocalist Tony Bennett. I was told that his art frequently won prizes in art exhibits.

Photo by Norman Vickers

The story I heard about the spontaneous composition by Haggart and Baduc came about when they were entertaining a group from Winnetka. Baduc was a talented New Orleans drummer and the spontaneous bass and drum composition included Haggart whistling through his teeth and Baduc taking part of his solo by beating on the bass strings while Haggart did left handed fingering of bass strings to provide the melody. This tune became so popular that emerging string bassists were almost required to add this piece to the jazz bassist repertoire.

Photo by Norman Vickers

The second composition that requires mention is Haggart’s 1939 ballad, What’s New? with lyrics by Johnny Burke. I was at an Arbors Jazz Party in the ‘90s and Roger Kellaway was playing solo piano on stage. He played a very angular and dissonant arrangement of Haggart’s ballad. I happened to be standing next to Haggart and asked him if he was pained to hear his lovely tune stretched and distorted to this degree. His reply, “No it doesn’t bother me. There was one man who made tape recordings of arrangements of What’s New and sent them to me. It filled up two cassettes. I don’t know why anybody would want to do that.”

Thanks Bob, wherever you are in the hereafter. Thanks for enriching our lives!

Arbors Records has a CD entitled “Piano Giants at Bob Haggart’s 80th Birthday Party.”

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