FIRST-HAND: JACK ROTHSTEIN RECALLS LEE WILEY

Lee Wiley and Jess Stacy, by Gjon Mili

never knew that Lee was so overbearing [as described in CHICAGO JAZZ AND THEN SOME, the recent book of Jess Stacy’s memories] but was not surprised.  After all, she had been a star in the late 20’s and early 30’s.  She had had her own radio program and had been a headliner at the best supper clubs in New York but by the late 30’s she was considered a has-been.  The only people in the business whose admiration for her singing never wavered were the Condon group.  Her Rogers & Hart session with Bushkin, Freeman,etc. was for the Liberty Music Shop, not exactly a major label.  She probably visualized Stacy as her ticket back to stardom. 

I only saw her with the Stacy orchestra once, in the fall of 1945 at the Panther Room of the Hotel Sherman in Chicago.  My only memory of that evening is that she sang IT’S ONLY A PAPER MOON better than anyone I have ever heard, before or since.

The comments about her adultery seemed quite disingenuous.  Well before Stacy, she had a reputation of only going to bed with guys she liked and that she didn’t have an enemy in the world.  Her lovers allegedly included Bunny Berigan and Fats Waller.

The only time I met her was at a club in New York in 1952.  She was sitting with a couple of musicians who invited me to their table.  She impressed me as not being very bright but extremely honest.  Her language was exceedingly vulgar, although not at all malicious.

(Postscript: nothing of Lee as overbearing or vulgar comes through in the 1945 recording of IT’S ONLY A PAPER MOON, which has all of her inimitable tenderness, that sweet phrase-ending vibrato, and the improvisatory playfulness, as if she had learned a great deal from Berigan and Hackett in taking risks.)

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6 responses to “FIRST-HAND: JACK ROTHSTEIN RECALLS LEE WILEY

  1. As I mentioned in correspondence recently, I’ve always loved her voice and thought her very underated and under represented. Only two days ago I was in a local record store and found her last recordings on a CD (with some interesting outakes and rehearsals) from 1971 – “Back Home Again”. Her voice was still in good form only some four or so years before her death. The material is interesting and although standards, include some very little heard selections. Great band comprising Dick Hyman, Bucky Pizarelli Johnny Mince, George Duvivier, Don Lamond Buddy Morrow & Rusty Dedrick (a new name to me).

  2. Pingback: FIRST-HAND: JACK ROTHSTEIN RECALLS LEE WILEY | Jazz News

  3. Thanks!!! It’s always appreciated that you post stuff about my favorite singer, vulgar or not, she’s just the best.

  4. Lee Wiley’s spirit must be visiting… I’m only getting to this post now, but I have been unexplicably binging on her records for the last four or five days, including the record that Pete found a few days ago. It’s an interesting record. She seems have moved about a third down from where she would have once put the tunes, giving her voice a more “solid” quality in a lower register.

  5. She’s MY favorite, too–together with Ethel Waters and Ivie Anderson.
    Despite their considerable differences, Lee and Jess made a wonderful team. The Eddie Condon broadcasts where Lee sang and Jess accompanied her are “out of the world” as Bob Zurke used to say.

    Lee appreciated Jess’ skill, too. Long after their breakup she once said, “Jess was a very, very, good accompanist. The only one better was Earl Hines.” (Wouldn’t we like to hear THAT pairing)???

  6. Interesting about her voice lowering (as many felame vocalists do as they age) as when I was listening to that 1971 album she reminded me very much of a later Rosie Clooney – another favourite!

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