Jack Pettis, an early pre-swing jazz pioneer, became a mystery when he dropped out of the music world in 1940 and was not heard from again. His inevitable death went unnoticed and nothing is known about his later life despite extensive research by many curious jazz fans. Pettis was a solid if not overly distinctive player throughout his truncated career. He was self-taught on the C-melody saxophone as a teenager. He worked in Chicago with Elmer Schoebel and Paul Mares, becoming a member of the highly influential New Orleans Rhythm Kings with whom he recorded during 1922-1923. Pettis joined Ben Bernie's Orchestra in 1924 and the following year took an impressive solo on a short sound movie (included on the video At the Jazz Band Ball) of Bernie's band playing "Sweet Georgia Brown," having the distinction of being one of the first jazz soloists on film. Pettis began making recordings as a leader in 1926 and during the next two years recorded extensively with his own groups, and with Bernie, the Whoopee Makers, and Irving Mills' Hotsy Totsy Gang. Among Pettis' sidemen on various selections were Joe Venuti, Eddie Lang, Dick McDonough, Spencer Clark, Tommy Dorsey, Jack Teagarden, Glenn Miller, and Benny Goodman. He also wrote or co-wrote several catchy tunes including "St. Louis Shuffle" (later recorded by Fletcher Henderson), "Freshman Hop," "Sweetest Melody," and "A Bag O' Blues." But after 1930, Jack Pettis only made one more appearance on record (a 1937 date he headed that resulted in "Hawaiian Heat Wave" and "Swing Session in Siberia") and by the '40s, he had completely disappeared, apparently lost forever. Fortunately all of his sessions as a leader (other than the 1937 date), along with some other performances. have been reissued on a Kings Cross double CD.
by Scott Yanow