Jess Stacy

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Jess Stacy
Stacy, c. 1945
Stacy, c. 1945
Background information
Birth nameJesse Alexander Stacy[1]
Born(1904-08-11)August 11, 1904
Bird's Point, Missouri, U.S.
OriginCape Girardeau, Missouri, U.S.
DiedJanuary 1, 1995(1995-01-01) (aged 90)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
GenresSwing, jazz
Helen Robinson
(m. 1924, divorced)
(m. 1943; div. 1948)
Patricia Peck
(m. 1950)

Jess Alexandria Stacy (born Jesse Alexander Stacy;[1] August 11, 1904[2] – January 1, 1995)[3] was an American jazz pianist who gained prominence during the swing era. He may be best remembered for his years with the Benny Goodman band during the late 1930s, particularly his performance at Goodman's 1938 concert at Carnegie Hall.

Early life[edit]

Jess Stacy was born in Bird's Point, Missouri,[2] a small town across the Mississippi River from Cairo, Illinois, to Frederick Lee Stacy, a railroad engineer, and Sara (Alexander) Stacy, a seamstress.[1] His first piano teacher was Mabel Irene Bailey, who played piano for silent movies. In 1918, Stacy moved to Cape Girardeau, Missouri. He received his only formal music training with Clyde Brandt, a professor of piano and violin at Southeast Missouri State Teachers College (now Southeast Missouri State University)[4] while sweeping at Clark's Music Store.[5]

By 1920, Stacy was playing piano in Peg Meyer's jazz ensemble at Cape Girardeau High School, the Bluebird Confectionary, and the Sweet Shop. Schoolmates called them the Agony Four.[6] By 1921, the band was known as Peg Meyer's Melody Kings and started touring the Mississippi River on the Majestic and other riverboats.[7]


Stacy on the last night of the existence of the Benny Goodman Orchestra (New York, 1947)

In the early 1920s, Stacy moved to Chicago, where he performed with Paul Mares,[2] leader of the New Orleans Rhythm Kings, playing a genre of jazz which came to be called "Chicago-style". Stacy cites his main influences as Louis Armstrong and especially pianist Earl Hines, who played piano for Armstrong and the Carroll Dickerson band.[4]

In 1935, Benny Goodman asked him to join his band.[2] Stacy left Floyd Towne, moved to New York City, and spent 1935–39 with the Benny Goodman Orchestra, including the Carnegie Hall concert in 1938.[2][4] The Carnegie Hall performance was elevated in part by Stacy's unplanned piano solo during "Sing, Sing, Sing (With a Swing)", around which a great modern legacy has grown.[2] Following a Goodman/Krupa duet, Stacy received a nod from Goodman to take a solo. "At the Carnegie Hall concert, after the usual theatrics, Jess Stacy was allowed to solo and, given the venue, what followed was appropriate ... Used to just playing rhythm on the tune, he was unprepared for a turn in the spotlight, but what came out of his fingers was a graceful, impressionistic marvel with classical flourishes, yet still managed to swing. It was the best thing he ever did, and it's ironic that such a layered, nuanced performance came at the end of such a chaotic, bombastic tune", wrote David Rickert.[8] After leaving the Goodman Orchestra, Stacy joined the Bob Crosby Orchestra and the Bob Crosby Bob-Cats.[2] He won the DownBeat magazine piano poll in 1940.[5]

In 1950, Stacy moved to Los Angeles.[9] His career declined to club work.[2] While playing at the piano bar in Leon's Steak House, he walked out after a drunken woman spilled beer in his lap. He announced he was quitting the music business and retired from public performances.[5] He worked as a salesman, warehouseman, postman, and for Max Factor cosmetics before being rediscovered. He played for Nelson Riddle on the soundtrack of The Great Gatsby (1974). The same year as the film's release, he was invited to play at the Newport Jazz Festival,[2] and was asked to record twice for Chiaroscuro Records, in 1974 and 1977 (Stacy Still Swings).

His final performance was broadcast on Marian McPartland's Piano Jazz on December 1, 1981.[10] After his brief and revival in the 1970s, he again retired from music and lived with his third wife, Patricia Peck Stacy.[5] In addition to the Goodman and Crosby orchestras, Stacy played with Bix Beiderbecke, Eddie Condon, Bud Freeman, George Gershwin, Lionel Hampton, Billie Holiday, Gene Krupa, Jack Teagarden, and Horace Heidt.

Personal life[edit]

Stacy had a tumultuous love life as a young man. His first wife was Helen Robinson; both were young when they married in 1924. Stacy worked at night in clubs and slept during the day while Robinson worked. She needed more security than Stacy was willing to provide, and Stacy was unwilling to work at a radio station for steady employment. This did not change when the couple had a son, Frederick Jess. They divorced and Robinson married a friend of Stacy, saxophonist Phil Wing.[11]

His second wife was jazz singer Lee Wiley. The couple was described by their friend Deane Kincaide as "compatible as two cats, tails tied together, hanging over a clothesline."[12] They divorced in 1948, after several years of marriage.[12] His third wife was Patricia Peck. They dated for a decade before getting married on September 8, 1950. They lived in Los Angeles and were married for forty-five years. Stacy died of congestive heart failure in Los Angeles on January 1, 1995, aged 90.[3]

Awards and honors[edit]

Stacy was inducted into the Big Band and Jazz Hall of Fame in 1996.[12]


As leader[edit]

  • Piano Moods (Columbia, 1950)
  • Jess Stacy (Brunswick, 1956)
  • Tribute to Benny Goodman (Atlantic, 1956)
  • Stacy Still Swings (Chiaroscuro, 1974)
  • Stacy's Still Swinging (Chiaroscuro, 1977)
  • Blue Notion (Jazzology, 1983)
  • Stacy and Sutton (Affinity, 1986)[13][14]

As sideman[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Biography, Accessed July 8, 2023.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i Colin Larkin, ed. (1992). The Guinness Who's Who of Jazz (First ed.). Guinness Publishing. pp. 374–375. ISBN 0-85112-580-8.
  3. ^ a b Peter Watrous (January 4, 1995). "Jess Stacy, 90, Big-Band Pianist For Goodman and Others, Dies". The New York Times.
  4. ^ a b c Allen, Steve. "The Return of Jess Stacy", unknown newspaper, undated. Jess Stacy Collection, Box 1036, Folder 7, Item B, Special Collections and Archives, Kent Library, Southeast Missouri State University. but see 'Discussion' Archived 2009-03-03 at the Wayback Machine
  5. ^ a b c d Levin, Floyd (2002). Classic Jazz : A Personal View of the Music and the Musicians. University of California Press. pp. 136–139. ISBN 978-0-520-23463-5.
  6. ^ Kenney, William Howland (2005). Jazz on the River. University of Chicago Press. p. 136. ISBN 9780226437330.
  7. ^ Special Collections and Archives, Southeast Missouri State University, Jess Stacy Collection Finding Aid, Descriptive Overview.
  8. ^ David Rickert (January 31, 2005). "Benny Goodman: "Sing, Sing, Sing"". Retrieved August 7, 2018.
  9. ^ "He's Come a Long Way from St. Louis", The San Francisco Chronicle, November 20, 1950. Jess Stacy Collection, Box 1036, Folder 7, Item G, Special Collections and Archives, Kent Library, Southeast Missouri State University Archived 2009-03-03 at the Wayback Machine
  10. ^ "Jazz Rambler": San Diego November/December 2004 No 6
  11. ^ Keller, Keith (1989). Oh, Jess!: A Jazz Life: The Jess Stacy Story. Mayan Music Corp. ISBN 978-87-88043-08-2.
  12. ^ a b c Collier, Derek (1998). Jess Stacy : the quiet man of jazz : a biography and discography. New Orleans: Jazzology Press. p. 113. ISBN 978-0-9638890-4-1.
  13. ^ Yanow, Scott (2000). Swing. San Francisco: Miller Freeman Books. pp. 212–213. ISBN 978-0-87930-600-7.
  14. ^ Dobbins, Bill (2002). Kernfeld, Barry (ed.). The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz. Vol. 3 (2 ed.). New York: Grove's Dictionaries. p. 172. ISBN 1-56159-284-6.

Further reading[edit]

  • Meyer, Raymond F. "Peg". Backwoods Jazz in the Twenties. Edited with an introduction by Frank Nickell. Center for Regional History and Cultural Heritage, Southeast Missouri State University, Cape Girardeau, Missouri, 1989. ISBN 9780934426190

External links[edit]