Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music


ROWLES, Jimmy, and Stacy Rowles

(b James George Hunter, 19 August 1918, Spokane WA; d 28 May 1996) Pianist, composer, later occasionally a singer. Long famed as an accompanist with an amazing memory, said to be a favourite of every singer he has backed, including Peggy Lee, Julie London, Billie Holiday, Carmen McRae, Tony Bennett, Sarah Vaughan etc. His uniquely witty solo style came to the fore in the mid-'70s but had always been highly regarded by musicians. He took his stepfather's surname, attended U of Washington, moved to Los Angeles '40, worked in dance bands, with Slim and Slam, then with Lee and Lester Young at the Trouville '42, where he met Holiday. She could be suspicious of white people, but Lester Young told her, 'This cat can blow.' Rowles's reminiscences of her in Donald Clarke's Wishing On The Moon: The Life And Times Of Billie Holiday are priceless: 'You had to love her. Too much chick.' He worked for Benny Goodman, then Woody Herman; Jess Stacy told Whitney Balliett '75 that it still made him laugh that Goodman (who often didn't get along with people for obscure reasons) fired Rowles '42 to rehire Stacy. Rowles was drafted '43, worked with Goodman and Herman again, Tommy Dorsey, Les Brown. He did an enormous amount of studio work for film companies and NBC '50s-60s including boogie-woogie calliope on Henry Mancini's 'Elephant Walk'; his unique decorative touches can be heard on Tony Bennett's 'The Shadow Of Your Smile', and he was Marilyn Monroe's singing coach.

When studio musicians began to be replaced by synths he made a new career in NYC clubs, where the silly local cabaret rules meant that a duo could be hired with less hassle than a larger group, and Rowles became the master of the piano--bass duo: albums included Special Magic '74 on Halcyon with Rusty Gilder, Isfahan on Sonet '78-80 with George Mraz, Music's The Only Thing That's On My Mind on Progressive (with Mraz, formerly on Audiophile), As Good As It Gets '78 on Concord with Ray Brown, Red 'n Me on All Life (France) '78 with Red Mitchell. As a composer Rowles's best-known tune is 'The Peacocks', on Columbia CD Stan Getz Presents Jimmy Rowles: The Peacocks '75 (duets, quartets, two piano solos and a few vocals); the tune was also included in film soundtrack 'Round Midnight '86. 

Rowles toured with Ella Fitzgerald for two years in the early '80s. He played celeste on the album Jimmy Giuffre Clarinet; also recorded with Buddy DeFranco, Barney Kessel, Ben Webster and Benny Carter (the latter were two of his heroes: albums included BBB And Co. with Carter, live At The Renaissance with Webster), Zoot Sims (If I'm Lucky and Warm Tenor on Pablo; Zoot Sims's Party on Choice); Joe Pass (Checkmate on Pablo). Hear him on All Or Nothing At All on Verve, a two-CD Holiday set compiling her '56-7 tracks with Webster and Rowles. Among many Rowles albums, trios include We Could Make Such Beautiful Music Together on Xanadu, Special Magic '74 on Halcyon, Paws That Refresh and Grandpaws '76 on Choice. Plays Duke Ellington And Billy Strayhorn '77 on CBS was a solo album and the solo Ellington By Rowles '79 on Cymbol (in UK, cassette only) was a 64-minute bargain; also on a Cymbol LP was Duets '79 with Joe Newman. He accompanied the British singer Norma Winstone on her album Well Kept Secret '93 (see Azimuth; she said, 'He plays very little, but it's enough'). His last recording was Lilac Times '94 on Kokopelli.

His daughter Stacy (b 11 September 1955; d 30 October 2009, Burbank CA) played warm, lyrical trumpet and flugelhorn and was also a singer. She died of injuries suffered in a traffic accident on 13 October. She played professionally as a teenager at the Monterey Jazz Fesival, and subsequently played with Dizzy Gillespie, Clark Terry, Tommy Flanagan, and the Clayton-Hamilton band, among many others. She played in several all-female jazz groups, including Maiden Voyage and its spinoff quintet Jazz Birds, both with trumpeter Betty O’Hara, and the European band Witchcraft. She was better known in Europe than in the USA. She and Jimmy recorded together on albums such as I'm Glad There Is You '85 on Contemporary and Looking Back '89 on Delos. Her albums as leader were Tell It Like It Is '84 on Concord and Me And The Moon '93 on American Jazz. In the early '90s Jimmy and Stacy shared a weekly gig at the Los Angeles club Linda's.