Helen Oakley Dance

In the mid-30's, Helen Oakley wrote for the then-fledgling Down Beat, which wasn't yet a jazz mag but instead was about pop music in general. She also produced the last Okeh records in 1935, sessions by Paul Mares (of the venerable New Orleans Rhythm Kings) with Jess Stacy, Omer Simeon, etc.and Charlie LaVere (with Jabbo Smith, Preston Jackson, Joe Marsala, Boyce Brown, etc.)

As if this didn't keep her busy enough, she was also very active in the Hot Club of Chicago, probably the first American jazz-support group in the U.S., with John (Paramount) Steiner, Harry (Keynote) Lim and others. Benny Goodman was playing his ledgendary stand at the Congress Hotel so they talked Benny into doing a small group concert under HCC auspices. A trio format was decided upon and BG was persuaded to include a local African-American pianist, Teddy Wilson, and, as one wishes they didn't always say, the rest is history.

Moving to New York in 1936, Helen worked for Irving Mills who was paying session expenses at Brunswick to promote his artists and music catalog. Mills decided to start his own label, Master Records (with the Variety "(TM)" for the 35-cent trade). Helen produced many of the sessions and persuaded Mills that Ellington's fecund talent could be more widely promoted if small groups from the band recorded for the budget line. More history!

Helen is also remembered as the loving wife of esteemed mainstream jazz critic and record producer Stanley Dance. She met Stanley on one of his trips to hear jazz in its natural habitat. They were both lovable people and got married and seem to have lived happily ever after. I regret not having at hand the date of her passing but her life work needs to be remembered.


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