The Troy Street Observer

On June 1, 1940… Jack Hill Loses Two Jacks

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Harvard Crimson columnist Mike Levin decries the cost-cutting move at Little Dixie—resizing the house band from eight men to six.

Mike Levin started writing a jazz column called “Swing” for the Harvard Crimson in February 1939, and by the spring of 1940, was following local jazz more closely than anyone at any of the Boston papers. A regular in the Mass Ave clubs, he was quite familiar with the house band at Little Dixie, Jack Hill and His Jacks, one of the three first-rate bands in Boston at the time (Joe Nevils and Sabby Lewis led the other two).

The Jacks’ lineup was Bill Stanley and Bob Chestnut, trumpets; Danny Potter, tenor saxophone; Wibur Pinckney, alto and tenor saxophones; Walter Sisco, clarinet and alto saxophone; Highland Diggs, piano and arranger; Eddie Hawley, bass; and Dave Chestnut, drums. Frances “Frankie” Gatewood was the singer. Where’s Jack Hill? There was no Jack Hill. This was a cooperative band, and its members chose to pluck a name from the newspaper and assign it to their imaginary front man.

Levin was irritated because the club decided to go with six pieces, and trumpeter Chestnut and bassist Hawley were out of a job. No telling why they let go of the bassist while keeping three reeds. Nonetheless, Levin said the diminished band was still worth catching, with Diggs, Stanley and Potter the standouts.

Jack Hill and His Jacks broke up sometime that spring or summer. That fall, Wilbur Pinckney was listed in advertisements as the bandleader. The Jack Hill musicians all continued to work at the Little Dixie through October 1943, with Pinckney, Potter, and Diggs all identified as the bandleader at various times.

Mike Levin graduated from Harvard in 1942 and worked in Down Beat’s New York office until he entered the army. In 1946 he resumed his career with Down Beat as its East Coast editor, and it was he who first started assigning stars to records in his reviews—a system still employed by that magazine 65 years later. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

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