Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music


DANCE, Stanley

(b 15 September 1910, Braintree, England; d 23 February 1999, Rancho Bernardo CA) Jazz journalist and record producer, editor of several collections of oral history, and of author of countless liner notes and magazine columns, particularly close to Duke Ellington. From a prosperous family, he attended Framlingham College, a prep school where the boys brought records to school after school holidays (some of them were the offspring of record company executives), and when they got tired of the pop music, they discovered jazz. Dance was inspired to write because he thought that much of what he saw in print was second rate. He wrote for the French mag Jazz Hot in 1935, and first visited the USA two years later. In early 1947 he married Helen Oakley, and they lived in Braintree, where they continued their music journalism while they had four children and Dance managed his family's mercantile business.

Dance complined to Sir Edward Lewis, the head of Decca Records, that many of his favourite musicians who had become international jazz stars during the Swing Era were still very active but were being ignored by the record companies. He had coined the term 'mainstream' to describe the music he loved the best, and it was Decca who had sent Spike Hughes to the USA in 1933 to record Hughes's own compositions by some of the same musicans Dance so admired. The upshot was an agreement with Decca for nine albums in a 'Mainstream Series' on the Felsted label (a Decca subsidiary named after a village in Essex where Sir Edward had lived), most produced by Dance in New York in 1958 and '59, with notes by him. The albums were by Buster Bailey, Rex Stewart, Buddy Tate, Coleman Hawkins, Budd Johnson, two albums by Dicky Wells, and a Johnny Hodges album released under Billy Strayhorn's name, and Dance hired a friend in San Francisco to record Earl Hines, one of the finest of all jazz pianists, who after 40 years in the music business was running a bar and fronting a Dixieland band. (Nearly all of the musicians mentioned here have their own entries in this Encyclopedia.) Felsted went under in 1964 but all the albums were reissued on Affinity in Britain and most of them on MasterJazz in the USA, and most recently in a box of CDs from the Fresh Sound label in Barcelona. 

In the middle of all this, in 1959 Dance, now a middle-aged man, boldly gave up the family businesses, and the Dances moved to the USA to concentrate on music journalism. He produced records for English Columbia, some of which appeared on MasterJazz. There was also work for French RCA and other labels, and always a lot of writing. He had met young Dan Morgenstern and encouraged him to write a monthly column about the New York scene for the English magazine Jazz Journal; the magazine couldn't pay, but that was the beginning of an illustrious career for Morgenstern, and the two remained close. Dance saw to it that Morgenstern received copies of the Felsted records as they came out, and in 1964 Morgenstern and David Himmelstein had got the green light to produce weekend jazz concerts at the Little Theater on Broadway in New York. When they heard the Hines record, Morgenstern wrote, 'We looked at each other and said, we must get this man to New York, he's been under a barrel for too long.' Hines would have to be talked into coming across the country and to play some solo sets (Hines modestly doubted that the public would sit still for him playing solo), so they recruited Dance, who gave the others his seal of approval. Hines insisted on a rhythm section, and Budd Johnson as a guest artist, but did play some solo numbers; there were two concerts, and critics were ecstatic: 'Bob Thiele immediately grabbed him for a recording,' Morgenstern wrote, '[Whitney] Balliett went gaga in the New Yorker, and even John S. Wiilson [in the New York Times] showed some enthusiasm.' The result was a whole new career: during the next 20 years Hines toured the world and made dozens of albums, most of them astonishingly fine solo piano sets that we wouldn't have if it hadn't been for Dan Morgenstern, David Himmelstein and Stanley Dance. Dance had never wanted to go into artist management, but Hines insisted, so Dance looked after Hines' second career until his death in 1983.

Dance's closeness to Ellington was the source of a lot of work. He shared a Grammy with Leonard Feather '63 for their notes to The Ellington Era, one of two three-LP compilations of vintage tracks that were treasured by Ellington fans for decades. There were several more Grammy nominations for notes on Hines and Ellington albums. He was a chronicler of the Ellington band, accompanying it on tours and writing endlessly about it, his articles and sleeve notes helping to whet the appetites of generations of jazz fans. After Ellington's death he was able to help Mercer, Duke's son, with the stockpile: on the road, whenever he felt like it, Ellington would book a studio and do some recording, and the stash yielded dozens of posthumous albums by Ellington units, some of the music dating back to the 1950s.

In his books Dance stayed in the background and let the musicians speak for themselves; his oral histories are priceless compilations of interviews, including The World Of Duke Ellington '70, The World Of Swing '74, The World Of Earl Hines '77, The World Of Count Basie '80. As-told-to biographies include The Night People: Reminiscences Of A Jazzman (Dickie Wells), Duke Ellington In Person: An Intimate Memoir (with Mercer Ellington; the book won an ASCAP/Deems Taylor award in 1979), and Those Swinging Years '84 (Charlie Barnet). When Ellington had signed a contract for a book and was going to write it in longhand with a pencil, Dance finally had to be called in to rescue Duke's autobiography Music Is My Mistress (no doubt a thankless task: there was no way Ellington was going to reveal himself.) Dance also contributed interviews to the Smithsonian Institution Oral History Project, and delivered the eulogy at Ellington's funeral, held at St. John the Divine Cathedral in NYC and covered by the TV networks nationally.

In 1979, Helen and Stanley moved to California. To partly finance the move Dance sold his record collection, which included complete runs of Earl Bostic and Bill Doggett, for example, and items from obscure labels around the world by other artists who had never been treated as they deserved by the critics. In California Helen and Stanley continued to be supportive of performers in the mainstream such as Roomful of Blues, and the Sweet Baby Blues Band of Jeannie and Jimmy Cheatham. (Stanley actually sang in the Cheathams' 'Glee Club'.) Stanley and Helen were interviewed on film by Hamilton College, as well as by Ken Burns. In 1995 the Stanley F. Dance and Helen Oakley Dance Archive was established at Yale University.  

'Moldy figs' (or 'mouldy figs') were aficionados of the earliest jazz who preferred to believe that most jazz musicians could not read music, and that jazz rook a wrong turn when it started using printed music: they hated Swing, and insisted that it wasn't jazz at all. There have been moldy figs in every generation; today Wynton Marsalis embraces be-bop, which is history. Stanley Dance was a mid-period moldy fig, who lived in the Swing Era, and had no time for the be-boppers; he thought that the music had been going downhill since World War II. He wrote a monthly column for over 25 years for Jazz Journal, beginning with the first issue in 1946 (the column was called Lightly and Politely, and Morgenstern thought it contained some of Dance's best writing). Never afraid to be an old fogey, he complained about 'bootleg' issues of old jazz records at a time when the big record companies sat on their vaults like dogs guarding bones, so that we could not hear the classics of earlier times except as bootlegs. Reviewing books at JazzTimes until 1998, when Helen persuaded him to retire, his attitude towards the work of other writers was often prejudicial.

But Grover Sales (d 14 February 2014, aged 84), while complaining about Dance's criticism in Gene Lees' Jazzletter (available on this site), acknowledged that 'Stanley Dance's qualifications as a research specialist are beyond question. For four decades his meticulous and affectionate [writings] made an essential contribution to the literature of jazz.' Dance's acerbic opinions were more than balanced by his contribution to the era that he loved the best. See also Helen Oakley Dance, who had her own illustrious career as a record producer and in jazz journalism.