He began writing about the jazz scene for the French magazine Jazz Hot in 1935. In 1937, he visited New York City's jazz scene for three weeks with Helen Oakley, whom he married in 1946, and resided in England until moving to Connecticut in 1959. He wrote for Jazz Journal from 1948 until his death in 1999. In the 1950s he coined the term mainstream to describe those in between revivalist and modern, or alternatively between Dixieland and bebop. He is credited with helping to revive the career of pianist Earl Hines in 1964.
He also contributed liner notes for numerous musicians including Duke Ellington and Count Basie. In 1964 he was co-winner of the first Grammy Award for Best Album Notes. He was inducted into the Big Band and Jazz Hall of Fame in 1999, the year of his death, and posthumously received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Jazz Journalist Association.
His distaste for bebop, and most innovations in jazz after it, made him controversial. However, he is admired for having been a champion of what he did like, as well as a significant collator of oral history in several books containing the recollections of swing era musicians.
Emerging from the popularity of Dixieland and preceding the post-World War II domination of Bebop, there was the Swing Era, a fertile period that many enthusiasts claim to be the pinnacle of Jazz. Stanley Dance, was a jazz critic and historian that certainly advocated this position. His close kinship with the great musicians of the 20th century led to insightful oral histories, published in Jazz Journal International, JazzTimes, Down Beat, the bilingual Jazz Hot, and many others. Often traveling with the bands, he recorded the musicians’ words, letting them speak for themselves. Although most closely associated with Duke Ellington and his talented orchestra (he delivered the eulogy at Duke Ellington's funeral), Stanley Dance endorsed all jazz music and musicians that swung.
In 1959, the inseparable team of Stanley and Helen Oakley Dance had moved with their four young children from Stanley's home in Braintree, Essex in England to the New York City suburb of Rowayton, CT, leaving his conventional career and beloved natural family behind. For the next 40 years, he followed his heart, dedicating himself to his extended family; the music and musicians he loved. He fulfilled diverse roles such as serving as an Artist & Repertoire (A&R) coordinator at recording sessions; managing Earl Hines’ career from its resurgence in 1964 which he helped orchestrate; writing Grammy award winning album liner notes, compiling Duke Ellington’s autobiography "Music is my Mistress" (sadly out of print at this time), and writing eight books.
It was in the late 1960s that Stanley Dance was awarded a book contract with Charles Scribner’s Sons. "The World of Duke Ellington" was published in 1970 to critical acclaim. In 1974, the first book in his trilogy of "The World of Swing" was issued under the same name. Columbia Records complemented its release with a double album containing his personal selections. He continued his series with "The World of Earl Hines" in 1977 and "The World of Count Basie" in 1980. Except for "The World of Earl Hines", these hallmark texts, documenting the experiences and insights of these great band leaders and their sidemen in their own words, are still available in paperback editions through Da Capo Press.
Dance died on February 23, 1999, at the age of 88, briefly after retiring as book editor at Jazz Times. His interment was located in Mission San Luis Rey Cemetery.
- Jazz Era the Forties (The Roots of jazz) (Da Capo Press, 1961) ISBN 0-306-76191-2
- The World of Count Basie (Da Capo Press, 1985) ISBN 0-306-80245-7
- The World of Duke Ellington (Da Capo Press) ISBN 0-306-81015-8
- The World of Earl Hines with Earl Hines (Da Capo Paperback, March 1983) ISBN 0-306-80182-5
- The World of Swing: An Oral History of Big Band Jazz with introduction by Dan Morgenstern (Da Capo Press; Diane Publishing Company re-edition 2003) ISBN 0-7567-6672-9
- Scott Yanow, Allmusic
- Jazz House article
- The Dance Archives at Yale University Music Library papers and documents from Stanley Dance and Helen Oakley Dance