Tag Archives: Camel Caravan

OUR MAN FROM MISSOURI: NEW JESS STACY DISCOVERIES (November 28, December 5, 1939)

In the past year, a few holy relics of the beloved and subtle pianist Jess Stacy have come my way.  (Today would have been his 116th birthday, which counts as well.)  At a swing dance, I purchased one of his Chiaroscuro solo recordings — especially after I turned it over and saw that Jess had inscribed it, “Hi Jack, Well, I tried, Best, Jess.” which says so much about his character.  On eBay two months ago, a late photograph of Jess which he signed, again graciously, to the photographer.  And perhaps ten days ago, this disc crossed my path, and although it is not a Stacy solo, it’s priceless evidence of what he did so well and for so long.

But — for the delicate — these sides have not been well-cared for in their eighty-year life, and I think that aluminum acetates are less gentle to the ear than shellac.  So if you quail at surface noise, there is a substantial amount.

Pictorial evidence:

And the other side:

An explanation, or several.

Bob Crosby was Bing’s brother, handsome and presentable, who had a career because of his last name and a passable although quavery singing voice.  His band — featuring Ray Bauduc, Bob Haggart, Eddie Miller, Irving Fazola, Matty Matlock, Billy Butterfield, and many others — made its fame with a New Orleans-inspired rocking approach and a small band, the Bobcats.  Crosby usually had first-rate pianists, Joe Sullivan, Bob Zurke, and, joining the band after five years with Benny Goodman, Jess Stacy.  Goodman had had great success with a radio program sponsored by Camel cigarettes, the “Camel Caravan,” but in 1939, Crosby took over the program.

One of the featured performers with Goodman was songwriter-singer Johnny Mercer, whose feature was “Newsy Bluesy” or I’ve seen it as “Newsy Bluesies.” Mercer had done something like it when he was with Paul Whiteman: a variation on the vaudeville device of straight man and comedian, with Mercer playing the latter with great skill and singing in his inimitable way (which I love) — the weekly theme drawn from odd stories in the newspapers.  The result is a hilarious scripted playlet, set over a quick-tempo OLD-FASHIONED LOVE.  Mercer shines, especially with a very stiff Crosby as his foil.

But the real treasure here is the rollicking piano of Jess Stacy, lighting the skies alongside Bob Haggart, string bass, Nappy Lamare, guitar, and Ray Bauduc, drums.  You might have to pay close attention or even listen twice, but Jess, bubbling and swinging, is completely there.

November 28, 1939.

December 5, 1939:

Small mysteries remain.  Why did Mercer have a New York City recording studio preserve these sides for him?  (He was, one biography says, commuting between New York and Hollywood.)  How did they survive (although the labels have had a rough time of it)? And how did they wind up where a mere collector-mortal could purchase and share them in time for Mr. Stacy’s birthday?

Whatever ethereal forces are at work, you have my gratitude — as do Jess, Johnny, the Crosby band, ACE Recording, and WABC.

And happy birthday, Mr. Stacy.  You not only tried: you are irreplaceable.

May your happiness increase!

NOTES FROM SAM: CLARINETITIS

clarinetThat’s Leroy (Sam) Parkins, musician, man of letters, raconteur, observer, and frequent contributor to this blog — for which I am most grateful.

The Benny Goodman Festival on WKCR hit home. Remember that the Camel Caravan in ca. ’36, which I listened to because my brother, little knowing what he was doing, pinched me to keep me awake “This is important” quoth he, did me in. So when I got going as a true dixieland player I tried to kill off both my fathers – Benny, and Leon Russianoff, teacher to the stars – like the clarinet section of the NY Phil and the La. Phil, Bob Wilber, who sent me to him – and Jimmy Hamilton*.

I shamelessly worked on a rotten** sound like Johnny Dodds, worshipped Pee Wee*** and Lester Young’s metal clarinet ( a Selmer – I have one). And eschewed Benny – until a few years ago, when said brother sent me tapes of late Mel Powell/Red Norvo sessions, which knocked me out. “Hey – I don’t have to kill off my fathers any more” {my records from the early 60s, when I was just finishing up with Russianoff show a superb, utterly boring clarinet sound}.

With this damned festival I got a bunch of small band records and the classical stuff I didn’t re-issue myself – Columbia – Bartok, Copland**** etc. Plus what I did re-issue at RCA – Nielsen, von Weber etc. And playing along with trios and quartets – I finally figured out how he did it*****. He didn’t tongue. Barefield taught me that years ago but it didn’t occur to me that it translated to clarinet.

**** Copland wrote the concerto for Benny. I’ve heard other great performances, but Benny’s is unique in being almost casual. He doesn’t play it with great care like a full time classical player. In a way he just knocks it off – which means in this case the true human feelings shine through.

* In later years Leon was unhappy about the way Hamilton worked out. Leon, a Goodman worshiper himself, would have liked it better if Hamilton really blew out stronger. But once in awhile – like at Newport…

** In the ear of the behearer. Dodds was and is great.

*** Pee Wee was actually a well schooled clarinetist. Shows in ensemble work with Wild Bill et al. Clean as a weasel. He did what he did because he meant to. The first modern jazz player.

***** It helps immeasurably to have a totally accurate, hard charging rhythm section at hand. Playing along with, say, Mel Powell and Dave Tough, you CANNOT go off the rails. Hard to find if at all now.