Jess Stacy

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Jess Stacy (August 11, 1904 - January 1, 1995) was an American jazz pianist who became famous playing during the Swing Era.

Stacy was born Jesse Alexandria Stacy in Bird's Point, Missouri, a small town across the Mississippi River from Cairo, Illinois. Stacy moved to Cape Girardeau, Missouri in 1918. In 1920, Stacy played in Peg Meyer’s jazz ensemble at Cape Central High School, the Bluebird Confectionary on Broadway and Fountain, and the Sweet Shop on Main Street. By 1921, the ensemble was known as "Peg Meyers Melody Kings" and toured the Mississippi River on riverboats. [1] It was during his years in Cape Girardeau that Stacy received his only formal training; studying under Professor Clyde Brandt, a professor at Southeast Missouri State University then named Southeast Missouri State Teachers College [2]

In the 1920s Stacy moved to Chicago, Illinois where he made a name for himself performing with Paul Mares, playing a sub-genre of jazz appropriately called “Chicago-style.” Stacy cites his main influence at the time as Louis Armstrong and pianist Earl Hines, the pianist for the Carroll Dickerson band[3]. Stacy would frequently go to the bar where Hines played, even playing in Hines band when allowed. However he did not join the band because during this period, Stacy was playing with Floyd Towne’s orchestra.

Stacy’s big break came in 1935 when Benny Goodman asked Stacy to join his band. Stacy left the Floyd Towne orchestra, moved to New York City, and spent the four years from 1935-1939 with the Benny Goodman Band. He reached his acclaimed peak when he performed with Benny at Carnegie Hall in 1938 [4]. The Carnegie Hall performance has gained attention due to an unplanned, yet widely praised, solo by Jess during "Sing Sing Sing.” Following a Goodman/Krupa duet, Stacy received a nod from Goodman to take a solo, and he created a memorable, masterpiece. It is believed that Stacy did not gain the recognition he rightly deserved because Teddy Wilson was the pianist for the Benny Goodman quartet[5]. But during this era, Stacy did play with such legends as Bob Crosby, Gene Krupa, and Horace Heidt.

After leaving the Benny Goodman orchestra, Stacy joined the Crosby Bob-Cats. It was during his period with that band that he received his widest acclaim. He won the national Down Beat polls in 1940, 1941, 1942, and 1943[6]. Stacy would late be credited with revitalizing the dying band . When the Crosby band broke up, Stacy rejoined the Goodman in 1942 for a short period before joining the Tommy Dorsey orchestra.

Stacy spent six months with the Tommy Dorsey orchestra. He then left to put together a big band of his own and recorded with Lee Wiley, whom he was married for a time. It was not a wise decision and the band did not last long. Wiley and Stacy would later divorce. In 1950 he moved to Los Angeles California[7]. His career declined to mostly club work and he eventually retired from public playing. For a time, he worked as a salesman for Max Factor cosmetics.

Stacy was a unique jazzer in that he chose to leave the music industry and take regular jobs until he was able to retire. He returned to playing again in 1974 and produced Stacy Still Swings in 1977. The years after that included compilations and some club work. In 1995 he died of congestive heart failure in Los Angeles, California.

Since his death in 1995 he has gained new attention and honors. In 1996 he was inducted into the Big Band and Jazz Hall of Fame and in 1998 a biography of him titled Jess Stacy: the Quiet Man of Jazz. a Biography and Discography by Derek Coller was published.


  1. Special Collections and Archives, Southeast Missouri State University, Jess Stacy Collection Finding Aid, Descriptive Overview.,%20Jess/Jess%20Stacy%20Scope%20and%20Content.htm
  2. Allen, Steve. "The Return of Jess Stacy," unknown newspaper, undated. Southeast Missouri State University Special Collections and Archives, The Jess Stacy Collection,%20Jess/Jess%20Stacy%20Container%20List.htm#Series_VI_
  3. Ibid.
  4. Ibid.
  5. "Stacy, Goodman Pianist, Hides Light of Ability Under Bands Bushel of Swing," The Dartmouth, April 27, 1937.,%20Jess/Jess%20Stacy%20Container%20List.htm#Series_VI_
  6. " Photograph, Jess Stacy, Dorothy Lamour and Bob Crosby, presenting Stacy with "Best Pianist of the Year" award. Published in Downbeat.,%20Jess/Jess%20Stacy%20Container%20List.htm#Series_II_
  7. "He's Come a Long Way from St. Louis," The San Francisco Chronicle, November 20, 1950,%20Jess/Jess%20Stacy%20Container%20List.htm#Series_VI_