Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music


STONE, Jesse

(b 16 November 1901, Atchison KS; d 1 April 1999, Altamonte Springs FL) Pianist and arranger influential for decades. He grew up in St Joseph and Kansas City MO; he led a territory band called the Blues Serenaders, recorded 'Starvation Blues' for OKeh '27, of which Gunther Schuller wrote (in Early Jazz): 'This expressivity was achieved in terms of (or perhaps despite) written-out arrangements, and very advanced, sophisticated ones at that. For Jesse Stone was a well-trained musician...' Stone also ran the Blue Moon Chasers in and around Dallas, and helped Terrence Holder form the Clouds of Joy '29 (it later became Andy Kirk's band); he worked with Julia Lee and her bandleader brother George E. Lee, joining the band and playing piano on Lee's recording of Stone's lovely 'Paseo Strut' '29; he was co-director of Thamon Hayes's Kansas City Rockets '32-4.

Working in a Detroit club '36 Stone was discovered by Duke Ellington and soon went to work at the Apollo in Harlem. Writing for Chick Webb, he helped alto saxist Louis Jordan to find his own style, encouraging him to leave Webb and become one of the biggest black acts of the '40s. Stone also wrote for Jimmie Lunceford '39, Harlan Leonard '40 (the re-formed Rockets) and Earl Hines; he was running his own bands and did an overseas tour for the USO, and replaced Eddie Durham as music director of the International Sweethearts of Rhythm, a highly rated all-girl band. He wanted to concentrate on writing, getting some advice from Cole Porter; as a staff writer for Irving Mills he wrote 'Idaho' for a Roy Rogers movie, a hit for Alvino Rey and Benny Goodman '42, and 'Sorghum Switch' for Doc Wheeler, a hit for Jimmy Dorsey the same year.

With Herb Abramson he was involved with National Records '45, then Atlantic Records from '47 when Abramson met somebody with access to money (Ahmet Ertegun). They recorded jazz at first with no commercial success; in a changing pop market it was Stone who figured out what was needed: 'The kids were lookin' for something to dance to,' he told Nick Tosches (see Unsung Heroes Of Rock'n'Roll). Stone virtually invented the music with a bass line used on saxist Frank Culley's 'Cole Slaw' '49 ('Sorghum Switch' with new words; also a hit for Jordan). Next the label signed Ruth Brown; working on her records, rehearsing and recording vocal groups, Stone was the most important arranger at the label, putting his stamp on a whole new era: Stone helped convince Ray Charles to let his hair down and become one of the biggest acts in the business. He wrote and arranged 'Chains Of Love' and 'Shake, Rattle And Roll' for Big Joe Turner (whom Stone had known since KC days), 'Money Honey' for the Drifters '53 (a huge hit with their first record, soon covered by Elvis Presley); 'It Should Have Been Me' and 'Losing Hand' (Ray Charles) and 'Your Cash Ain't Nothin' But Trash' (the Clovers), all under the name of Charles Calhoun.

When the Chords brought in the rhythm novelty 'Sh-Boom' he recorded it for Atlantic's subsidiary Cat (it became one of the first big hits of the new rock era, albeit in a stiff copycat version by the Crew-Cuts). He directed A&R at Lamp, an East Coast subsidiary of Aladdin; it failed, but one of his vocal groups, the Cookies, became Ray Charles's Raelettes. In '55 he wrote 'Come And Dance With Me' for Al Sears and sang (as Charles Calhoun) on Big Al's Coral record; by January '56 he and Sears had written 'Right Now, Right Now', disc jockey Alan Freed's theme. He started Roosevelt Music, his own publishing company; he retired to the West Coast but ended up at Reprise Records '61, then accepted a ridiculous offer to run a record company in Chicago: it was a mob front, lots of money being laundered but nothing to do.

Stone's own bands recorded for Variety '37, RCA '47 and '49, Atlantic '54-5 (with such sidemen as Mickey Baker on guitar, Sam Taylor on tenor sax). Off and on he had also composed 'classical' music, with no success; in 1983 he was looking at video and thinking that the kids weren't doing enough with it; but he attended Sears's funeral at age 90 and a long career had come to an end. From charts for his own territory band '27 to Alan Freed's trashy theme in '56, it could be said that Stone's career had run down with the century's pop music.