The Jesters ©2002JCMarion
The Jesters came together as students in Cooper Junior High School in Harlem in 1956. The quartet began practicing their notes and working on their "routine" in the neighborhood of 121st Street. The members of the group were Lenny McKay, Leo Vincent, Jimmy Smith, and Noel Grant. All the pieces for the group fell into place when they met a young singer from the Bronx named Adam Jackson. He had experience singing with a number of vocal groups, but other than a local television appearance had not made any inroads in the music business. Now a quintet, the group called themselves The Jesters and looked to the "mother church" of all music hopefuls in Harlem, the Apollo Theater's Wednesday Amateur Night. They successfully passed the audition and appeared on the big stage.
Not only did The Jesters win the contest, but they impressed local record man Paul Winley and soon they were set to put their efforts in the recording studio for local record buyers and fans. The first effort by the group just happened to result in an all time New York classic pairing "So Strange" and "Love No One But You" on Winley #218. Interestingly enough, the writers credits on these two tunes are shared by Adam Jackson, Paul Winley, and "Clowney" who of course was Dave "Baby" Cortez session man for Winley and soon to be number one artist with "The Happy Organ". These two ballads show the group's unique sound to its fullest advantage. Lenny McKay sings lead with Adam Jackson's falsetto echoing the lead and singing the bridge. Both sides of the record got tremendous airplay in New York at first, and then throughout the Eastern area. The success of the group right out of the gate led to many area appearances, stage shows, and dances.
In late 1957 The Jesters went into the studio to cut their second record for Winley and the result was released on #221 with the tunes "Please Let Me Love You" and "I'm Falling In Love". "Please" was another great McKay led ballad with Jackson's falsetto featured in the strong backing by the rest of the group. The flip side was an uptempo tune, but it does not have the sound of the usual "throwaway" 'B' side that was so prevalent in the fifties. It is a well thought out tune that shows the vocal talents of The Jesters to full advantage. Early in 1958 Winley #225 featured the group's take on a song recorded by The Chantells called "The Plea". The flip side was "Oh Baby". In a reversal of fortune, "The Plea" was the best seller by the group on a national basis, but did not do as well as their other sides in the New York area.
In the spring of 1958, The Jesters recorded their fourth record for Paul Winley, but this time not on his self named label, but on a new company called Cyclone Records that he operated. Cyclone #5011 featured "Now That You're Gone" and "I Laughed". The ballad side "Now" is a powerful rendering featuring all of the group's strengths - McKay's lead, Jackson's falsetto vocal on the bridge, the totally "together" harmonies, and what I call "the ferocious city combo" sound of Dave Cortez and combo behind the group. The uptempo flip side again shows that this group did not believe in throwaways. It is a fast moving song but listen to the lead vocal - this is not a really happy tune (and because of that reminds me very much of The Teenagers "Love Is A Clown"). The total result is another two sided classic New York record, the true "sound of the city".
As it turned out that was the last go-round for the original members of The Jesters. They had returned to the stage of the Apollo Theater, this time as professional recording artists. They had also made "the circuit" of Northeastern theaters and had done some club work in New York and New Jersey. Their last appearance with all the original members could very well have been a kind of "home town" affair, the WOV Rock & Roll Revue at the Cooper Community Center that spring. On stage with The Jesters were The Willows, Inspirations, Versatones, Billy Valentine, The Unique Teens, Personalities, and Sportones. Soon McKay and Grant left the group and Vincent was army bound.In 1959 "The Paragons Meet The Jesters" LP is released by Jubilee and becomes one of the top selling vocal group albums of all time.
By 1960 The Jesters consisted of Adam Jackson, Jimmy Smith, and Melvin and Donald Lewis. The recorded Winley #242 - a version of The Diabolos 1954 hit "The Wind" and "Sally Green". Surprisingly "The Wind" was a good seller and got many spins on area radio. Late in 1960 "That's How It Goes" and "Tutti Frutti" was released on Winley #248, and in early 1961 "Uncle Henry's Basement" and "Come Let Me Show You How" appeared on Winley #252, but neither record made their mark on sales or airplay. After these last sides for Winley, The Jesters drifted in and out of public recognition often appearing at Rock Revival shows in the Northeast. Their version of "The Wind" has lasted over these many years and for many people their version has supplanted the original by The Diabolos. A live recorded version of The Jesters singing "The Wind" from a 1970 revival show at the NY Academy of Music shows that Adam Jackson and the rest of the group still knew how to put over a song.
The Jesters and The Paragons whom they are so familiarly linked, were featured on a famous LP from the late 50s from Winley that was released on the Jubilee label. This LP - "The Paragons Meet The Jesters" #1098 (recorded as they claim in what they call 'superlaphonic hi fi') remains a landmark sound document of the New York sound of vocal group harmony in the late 50s. It will live forever as the soundtrack of the times.
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