Tuesday, January 1, 2013


Photo by Pino Ninfa
Two days ago I attended a performance at The Bulls Head in Barnes given by Stan Tracey to celebrated his 86th birthday.  There was absolutely no sense of it being a “noble effort for a man of that age” it was a performance by a man  still completely in charge of his considerable creative powers.

Stan Tracey has been the pivotal figure in British modern jazz for 6 decades. His dedication to making music and his total refusal to compromise his creativity in any way has been an inspiration to generations of musicians.  

 Last New Year he was here in Italy performing at The Umbria Winter Jazz Festival in Orvieto and then again in the Summer sharing a stage with Herbie Hancock.  But whether playing to large venues or a small British pub for Stan it is just another chance to create music. Which he does with own unique blending of harmony and rhythmic line that is impossible to hear for more than 3 seconds without recognising it as his. It may have  influences of Monk and Ellington but you would never mistake it for either.

I first heard heard him at Ronnie Scott's club in soho in the late sixties when he was the support act for Archie Shepp. I was then a student and completely taken in by the myth that only black Americans can play jazz, for me Shepp was where it was at,  with his black power politics and free form aggressive sounds, the white Englishman playing solo piano in between sets was largely ignored be me and many others.
Archie Shepp in Vicenza
Stan Tracey in Italy
  A few years ago at the Vicenza Jazz festival I had again the opportunity to hear both musicians at the same event, the black power activist had by now become a predictable all round entertainer and Stan was as uncompromisingly creative as ever.  The myth completely destroyed.  A myth that has blighted British jazz musicians for decades.

After my student days I rarely listened to jazz until by chance I went to a concert in Kendal, Cumbria where Stan was performing with John Surman.

 I was so impressed that subsequently whenever I was in London I sought him out and soon became hooked on the British modern jazz scene, eventually booking Stan’s quartet to play at my home in Appleby, Cumbria. An event that grew into an 18 year annual jazz festival. Stan Tracey performed at every one of those festivals.

I have always felt  his playing to be sculptural and that he uses space in a similar way to a sculptor.  Space in sculpture can become an entity itself when defined by the weight of the forms around it. Stan creates solid phrases of structured sound that weave  in, out and around solid spaces.

Photo by Pino Ninfa

 Stan is an inspiration to all creative artists, by his own admission he is a hermit, he hides away between gigs and shuns social events (though he did come out of hiding to receive both his O.B.E and his C.B.E}. He doesn’t take work as a pianist in other musicians' bands, he doesn't write or perform in advertising jingles. He has his own vision of music which he has dedicated a whole life to perfecting, without deviation.

In the words of pianist Keith Tippet “Stan Tracey  is the Master”.

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