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The Return of Jess Stacy

Jess Stacy

Jess Stacy - The Return of Jess Stacy Jess Stacy - The Return of Jess Stacy
33IJess Stacy1

Hanover Records...HM8010...[1959]...33 1/3 LP...High Fidelity

Side 1
1) Way Down Younder In New Orleans - Henry Creamer/J. Turner Layton...2:50
2) St. Louis Blues - W. C. Handy...2:33
3) After You´ve Gone - Henry Creamer/J. Turner Layton...2:40
4) Evil Old Man - Jess Stacy...2:52
5) Can´t We Be Friends - Kay Swift/Paul James...3:00
6) Memphis Blues - George A. Norton/J. Russel Robinson...2:33

Side 2
1) Tin Roof Blues - L. Roppolo/P. Mares/G. Brunies/M. Stitzel/B. Pollack...2:40
2) Steve´s Blues - Jess Stacy...2:35
3) I Can´t Believe That You´re In Love With Me - Clarence Gaskill/Jimmy McHugh...2:28
4) Old Ideas - Jess Stacy...2:32
5) Up A Lazy River - Sidney Arodin/Hoagy Carmichael...2:42
6) Young Ideas - Jess Stacy...2:20

Jess Stacy - The Return of Jess Stacy Jess Stacy - The Return of Jess Stacy


Jess Stacy

Jess Stacy - The Return of Jess Stacy

The Return of Jess Stacy

As a high-school boy in Chicago in the late 30´s I used to save my spending-money all week so- that on Saturday night I could go to either of the two great swing emporiums the town boasted: The Panther Room of the Hotel Sherman and the Black Hawk. All the great bands of the day, when passing through town, played at one or the other of these spots. I can still remember that it was the custom for us youngsters to buy the bands´ records, memorize the arrangements and solo choruses and then go to hear them played in person, singing along with the arrangements partly just for the sheer fun of it and partly, perhaps, to impress our girl-friends or our more square companions.

One night at the Black Hawk I was fortunate enough to stand packed in the crowd that clustered around the Bob Crosby band and I was able therefore to concentrate on what Jess Stacy was playing at the piano. The overwhelming tidal-wave technique of Art Tatum had moved me only to respect, since emulation was out of the question. Even the delicate lace- work of Teddy Wilson seemed beyond my grasp, but with Stacy I felt that here at last was something that I could not only accept but attempt to put into practice. Jess´s habit of playing his ideas octave-style, putting them together with a sort of horn man´s attack, rattling an octave at the end of a phrase vibrato-like, seemed something that I could personally absorb. He became, therefore, the first and still most profound influence on my own jazz playing.

I had the impression, even in those days, that his playing with Crosby was somewhat different from his work earlier with Benny Goodman, but perhaps it was just that the styles of the two bands were so dissimilar. In any event Jess had made a lot of musical history by the time I awakened to his existence. Born in 1904 at Cape Girardeau, Missouri, a Mississippi River town south of St. Louis, he had early absorbed jazz into his blood since Cape Girardeau was one of the regular stops for the excursion steamers that paddled north to St. Louis or south to New Orleans. As a young man Jess heard such river-boat greats as Louis Armstrong, Johhny Dodds, and Bix Beiderbecke. "Bix was the first influence on me," he says today, thus possibly explaining the horn-like quality of his style.

One even ng when the s amer Majestic was docked at Alton, Illinois, the pianist with the Majestic´s band drowned while swimming in the river and had not been replaced by the time the boat put in at Cape Girardeau. Jess, who until then had played with a high school group called "The Agony Four," was on vacation; he eagerly snapped up the offer of the piano chair, a job which paid an extra five dollars for playing the steam calliope when the boat came round the bend.

After playing a couple of seasons on the river-steamers Jess moved upstream to Chi- cago where during the late 20´s he met and played with many of the young white men who were later to formulate "Chicago style" jazz: George Wettling, Floyd O´Brien, Bud Freeman, Frank Teschmacher, and Mugsy Spanier. these men were, of course, influenced chiefly by the Louis Armstrong - Carroll Dickerson band, which in 1927 featured Earl Hines at the piano. Jess, who credits Hines with being the strongest influence on his piano style, used to hear the band at the old Sunset club and frequently sat in when "Fatha" wanted a rest. During this time, however, Stacy played chiefly with Floyd Towne´s orchestra at the Midway Gardens; the Sunset visits were for kicks. Not too many years later Jess worked as leader himself at the old Merry Garden Ballroom in Chicago, playing for dance marathons. "Frankie Laine was one of the contestants," he says. "We used to let him sing with us."

Stacy´s first definite move toward the big time came as a result of "the call from Benny." "In 1935 I was playing at the Subway Cafe when I got a phone call from New York from somebody who said he was Benny Goodman and wanted me to come to New York to join his band. I thought it was just somebody playing a practical joke on me so I told him if he was really Goodman to send me a wire confirming the offer. The next day the wire arrived and I left for New York." Jess spent four swinging years with the Goodman aggregation, reaching what was probably the high point of his creativity at the famous 1938 Carnegie Hall Jazz Concert. Describing the event Irving Kolodin points to "the corruscating sound-showers from Hampton´s vibes that culminated the first half of the concert, and the reasonable doubt that anything afterwards could come close to matching it ... until the matchless Stacy resolved all that had preceded with his Sing, Sing, Sing episode.. . . When it seems that nothing is left but closing formalities Stacy drops into a new groove to play one of the most original solos of his life."

The solo (and all the rest of the concert, for that matter) as jazz aficionados know was just a pleasant but increasingly hazy memory until the discovery of the old recordings brought it to national attention many years later.

It was in 1939 that Jess and Benny finally split, at which time Stacy joined the Crosby Bob-Cats. The Crosby semi- Dixie groove was actually, I think, closer to Jess´s original approach to music since there was more of the Chicago- style or river-boat spirit in the band´s music than there had been in Goodman´s clean, lean, precise playing. Oddly enough it was only at this late date that Stacy received the wide popular acclaim he had long deserved, a fact attested to by his winning of the national Down Beat polls in 1940, 1941, 1942, and 1943. When the Crosby band broke up Stacy rejoined Goodman in 1942 and then eventually moved over into the driving Tommy Dorsey orchestra.

By 1944, after six months with Dorsey, Jess left to form his own group but by this time the panic was on. Jazz itself was no longer of interest to the public, nor was big-band swing music as commercial as it had been. There was nothing personal about Jess´s decline during the war years; it was part of the decline of an industry and an art-form.

1950 found Jess living permanently in Los Angeles. In 1959 I found him playing at the Huddle-Bundy, a combination restaurant and cocktail-lounge in Santa Monica, to an audience generally unappreciative of his talent, stature, and history. Mike Gould, a Hollywood music-publisher, took me out to hear him and we spent a very happy evening together. Jess got a kick out of my telling him that I had just recorded an album in which I did impressions of fourteen of the all-time favorite pianists and that he was one of them. He asked me to take over the piano and I showed him a few of the Stacy licks I remembered picking up as far back as the Chicago high-school days of 1939. We talked Beiderbecke, Hines, and Goodman (under which heading he filled me in on certain aspects of a more horse´s- mouth version of The Benny Goodman Story, as distinguished from the Universal-International film version in which I had previously appeared).

The idea to produce this album was born that night. So hail the return of Jess Stacy. Here he is, playing "Chicago style," blues and old standards, playing very much the way he must have the fateful night in 1935 when Benny Goodman called him.



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