The Chronological Jess Stacy 1951-1956 – Classic Records 1453, 67:04 [Distr. by Albany] ***:

(Jess Stacy – piano; accompanied by a wide variety musicians in duo, trio, quartet, and nonet formats on historic recordings.)

Since the essence of  jazz is based, for the most part, on improvisational playing, it often interesting to speculate what might have happened to certain individuals had they not done something. If Coleman Hawkins had not recorded Body And Soul in 1939, what would his future have looked like? How about Stan Getz’s earthy solo on Early Autumn for the Woody Herman Band in 1948 or Paul Gonsalves’ 27 choruses on Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue with the Duke Ellington Orchestra at the 1956 Newport Jazz Festival. Finally Jess Stacy’s two-minute Debussy-flavored solo on Sing, Sing, Sing for the Benny Goodman Band at the famous 1938 Carnegie Hall Concert. Since it is impossible to prove a negative, the unfavourable outcomes that might have transpired can only be left to the imagination.

Before going to the Goodman Band in 1935, Stacy was a knock-about pianist playing with territory bands and freelancing in the Mid-West of the US. His four years with Goodman were for the most part uneventful apart from the 1938 Carnegie Hall Concert. For those who attended that evening, Stacy’s solo was memorable, but forgotten. Although Goodman had recorded the concert, he put the tape away and it was not until 1950 when Goodman discovered the tape in a closet, and arranged for its issuance in LP format that same year. Voila, Stacy was discovered. By that point, Stacy had again been in and out of the Goodman band, and was pretty much a journeyman solo pianist working in New York and the West Coast.

The sides presented in this CD were originally recorded between 1951-1956 for Brunswick and Atlantic Records, and were meant to capitalize on the new interest in Stacy’s belated fame due to the Carnegie Hall release. While Stacy had his own pianistic  technique and artistry, he was very much a derivative player rather than an innovator. The first eight tracks are a quartet session with guitarist George Van Eps and are standards from the Great American Songbook. Stacy covers these tunes with taste and a sense of swing associated with his musical roots. He is particularly effective on “You Took Advantage Of Me”, “ I Can’t Get Started” and a spirited “Indiana” where Van Eps is given some solo space to show his skill on guitar.

The most interesting tracks are 9 to 18, in which Stacy is leading a group of eight alumni from the Goodman band and they run through some updated charts that were associated with the band during their tenure. Starting with the Mary Lou Williams composition “Roll’Em,” which has a boogie-woogie beat that the band seems to admire. Trumpeter Ziggy Elman takes a spirited solo as well as tenor saxophonist Vido Musso. “Sing, Sing, Sing” is given an abbreviated rendition, and Stacy does his solo thing, with some  chords and phrases that harken back to the Carnegie Hall recording. So whether the band sprints away with “ King Porter Stomp” or “Don’t Be That Way”, the swing-era charm of the arrangements and the commitment of the musicians to their craft is appealing. Throughout these tracks, Stacy confines himself mostly with fills and breaks, with occasional appropriately structured solo.

The balance of the disc, tracks 19-26, feature Stacy in either a trio or duo setting. For the most part these are appealing efforts, while not challenging the intellect, will put a smile on your face.

TrackList: You Took Advantage Of Me; Fascinating Rhythm; I Can’t Get Started; I Want To Be Happy; Indiana; Stars Fell On Alabama; If I Could Be With You; Oh,Baby; Roll’Em; Where Or When; Sing, Sing, Sing; Let’s Dance; Goodbye; King Porter Stomp; Don’t Be That Way; Somethings I’m Happy; When Buddha Smiles; Down South Camp Meeting; You Turned The Tables On Me; I Must Have That Man; Gee, Ain’t I Good To You; Blues, For Otis Ferguson; Boo-Boos For Bob; EC-Stacy; Complainin’; Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere

—Pierre Giroux