luni, 14 februarie 2011

Succes 2011: Stan Tracey, jazz living legend

Stanley William Tracey is a British jazz pianist and composer, most influenced by Duke Ellington and Thelonious Monk.

The Second World War meant that Tracey had a disrupted formal education, and he became a professional musician at the age of sixteen as a member of an ENSA touring group playing the accordion, his first instrument. He joined Ralph Reader’s Gang Shows at the age of nineteen, while in the RAF and formed a brief acquaintance with the comedian Tony Hancock. Later, in the early 1950s he worked in groups on the transatlantic cruise liners Queen Mary and Cardonia and toured the UK in 1951 with Cab Calloway. By the mid-‘fifties, he had also taken up the vibraphone, but later ceased playing it. At this time he worked widely with leading British modernists including drummer Tony Crombie, clarinettist Vic Ash, the saxophonist-arranger Kenny Graham and trumpeter Dizzy Reece.

The early 1970s were a bleak time for Tracey. Around 1970, he almost chose to retrain as a postman under pressure from the Unemployment Benefits’ office – “I would have quite a good pension by now” he quips – but his wife Jackie, formerly involved in public relations, took a more direct role in the development of Tracey's career.

He began to work with musicians of a later generation, who worked in a free or avant-garde style, including Mike Osborne, Keith Tippett and John Surman. Tracey continued to work in this idiom with Evan Parker at the UK’s Appleby Jazz Festival for several years, but this has always been more of a sideline for Tracey, who said that he "took more out of free music into the mainstream than I did from mainstream into free".

In the mid-seventies he formed his own record label, Steam and through it reissued Under Milk Wood (the major label which held the rights to it had allowed it to fall out of print). Over the next decade he also used the outlet to issue recordings of a number of commissioned suites. These included The Salisbury Suite (1978), The Crompton Suite (1981) and The Poets Suite (1984).

He led his own octet from 1976-85 and formed a sextet in 1979 (later called Hexad), touring widely in the middle east and India. In this context he had a longstanding performance partnership from 1978 with saxophonist (and physician) Art Themen, and his own son, the percussionist Clark Tracey, the latter continuing until this day. He was able to share the billing with arranger Gil Evans in a 1978 concert at the Royal Festival Hall, such was Tracey’s pre-eminence in the UK. In private, he played for Evans, Ellington recordings that he had not previously heard. He continued to record with American musicians on occasion as well, with dates taking place with Sal Nistico in 1985 and Monk associate, Charlie Rouse in 1987.

The Steam label ceased trading in the early ‘nineties, reportedly because of difficulties caused by the retail trade's need for its inventory to carry the barcode. However, in 1992 he benefited from Blue Note’s brief interest in UK musicians, leading to the Portraits Plus album and the commercial issue of the BBCs recording of the concert commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of Tracey’s first professional gig, as well as Under Milk Wood’s debut on CD.

In 1995 his new quartet featuring Gerard Presencer recorded the For Heaven’s Sake album and also performed gigs together. In 2003 Tracey was the subject of a BBC Television documentary Godfather of British Jazz, a rare accolade nowadays for any jazz musician, let alone one from Britain. Tracey's catalogue from the LP era is being reissued on ReSteamed Records.

Already an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE), he was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 2008 New Year Honours.

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