It's difficult to picture Jack Webb making an easy listening record or enjoying some cool jazz. The actor played a granite-faced police sergeant named Joe Friday on the television drama series Dragnet during the 1950s, and that is the lasting image that comes to mind at the mention of his name. How could the man who portrayed the rigidly controlled cop, and who spoke in a stern monotone, ever be cool enough for jazz? As hard to believe as it may be, Webb definitely knew cool jazz and he did, indeed, record several albums. The genre remained one of his lifelong passions. During his youth he devoted endless hours to practicing on his cornet. As an adult he amassed more than 6,000 albums in his personal collection. He even married sultry voiced torch singer Julie London.
In addition to his work on Dragnet, which he created, Webb directed the movie Pete Kelly's Blues. He also starred in that and other Warner Bros. movies, which led to the company's asking him during the 1950s to record a pair of albums for its new subsidiary, Warner Bros. Records. Rhino Handmade reissued Webb's albums, You're My Girl and Jack Webb Presents Pete Kelly Lets His Hair Down. Both had been unavailable for almost 40 years. The Rhino Handmade release, a limited edition which combines the two albums for the first time in CD form, is playfully called Just the Tracks, Ma'am: The Warner Bros. Recordings. On You're My Girl, Webb spoke rather than sang the song lyrics, including the soulful Otis Redding classic "Try a Little Tenderness." That number can also be found on Golden Throats: The Great Celebrity Sing-Off!. The Rhino collection features actors who are not normally known for their singing, such as William Shatner. Unfortunately Webb does not sing -- or speak -- on Jack Webb Presents Pete Kelly Lets His Hair Down. It is actually an instrumental collection played by musicians who appeared on the movie soundtrack, among them Dick Cathcart, Eddie Miller, Nick Fatool, Matty Matlock, Moe Schneider, Ray Sherman, Jud de Naut, and George Van Eps. The actor was born John Randolph Webb in Santa Monica, CA, in 1920. His grandmother and mother raised the asthmatic child when his father deserted the family, and Webb faced many economic hardships in his youth. One of the joys he found in his poor neighborhood was his proximity to a jazz cornetist who was also down on his luck. When the musician moved on, he gave his instrument to Webb, who even as a boy had evinced a love for blues and jazz. Webb and London wed in 1947 and raised two children, Alisa and Stacey. After their divorce in 1954, she wed Bobby Troup, a jazz composer and musician. Webb married three more times, to Dorothy Towne for two years beginning in 1955, to Jackie Loughery from 1958 to 1964, and to Opal Wright. His marriage to Wright lasted from 1980 until his passing two years later. He died of a heart attack.