Archive for Stan Tracey

The Jazz Legends we lost in 2013

Posted in Jazz with tags , , , , , , , on December 29, 2013 by telescoper

I’ve become rather slow to find out about things since I gave up buying  newspapers regularly. That’s why I only found out yesterday that Jazz musician Yusef Lateef had passed away on 23rd December, at the age of 93. He had a good innings, but it’s still sad to lose someone who was there at the birth of the modern era of jazz; Lateef played with Dizzy Gillespie’s band way back in the 1940s before going on to carve out his own career as a bandleader and a pioneering figure in the development of world music.

The death of Yusef Lateef got me thinking about all the other great jazz  musicians who also passed away in 2013 to whom I haven’t yet found time to pay tribute. The list I’ve selected is sadly rather long, and I could have included more. I’ve added links to examples of their playing:

  • Cedar Walton (August 19, aged 79).  Terrific piano player in the hard bop tradition, who came to prominence with Art Blakey’s band of the 1960s as pianist and arranger. Listen to him clearly enjoying himself playing Duke Ellington’s Satin Doll here.
  • Chico Hamilton (November 25, aged 92). Drummer and bandleader who, among many other things, sought to merge jazz with classical forms (e.g. by bring a flute and cello into his band). Check out Blue Sands Live , recorded at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1958.
  • Jim Hall (December 10, aged 83). Brilliant jazz guitarist, also played at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1958, with Jimmy Giuffre and Bob Brookmeyer on The Train and the River.
  • Donald Byrd (February 4, aged 80). Began his career as a bebop trumpeter, but later moved towards a more popular jazz funk/rhythm & blues/fusion style. Listen to him on his famous Blue Note recording of Cristo Redentor.
  • Marian McPartland (August 20, aged 95). British born pianist who presented a long-running radio series on piano jazz on US Radio. Here she is playing a duet with Dave Brubeck. You might just recognize the tune!
  • Stan Tracey (December 6, aged 86). Uniquely gifted British pianist with an instantly recognizable style.  House pianist at Ronnie Scott’s Club in London for many years, in which role he earned the respect and admiration of the very best musicians in the world.The one musician on this list that I’ve seen live. I’ve seen him several times, in fact, and could never take my eyes off his hands:

People such as these are irreplaceable, of course, but at least they will live on in our hearts through their music. I hope they all knew how much we loved them.

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Over the Rainbow

Posted in Jazz with tags , , , on October 15, 2011 by telescoper

No time for a proper post today, so I’ll just offer a lovely bit of jazz from the late great Ben Webster that I bookmarked for future posting some time in the past. Webster was a big boozy brutish kind of bloke, but he played ballads with a heartwarming tenderness, as you can tell from this performance which also features the vastly underrated British pianist, Stan Tracey, who is still going strong after over 60 years in the business. Enjoy!

I Mean You

Posted in Jazz with tags , , on March 8, 2011 by telescoper

Another Thelonious Monk tune, this time I Mean You, played by the superb British pianist Stan Tracey, who will be 75 later this year. He’s not very well known outside the UK, but I think he’s as good as any living jazz piano player anywhere in the world. See if you agree. This is just a fragment of a performance, recorded in London about 5 years ago, in which he demonstrates the highly unusual technique he uses to make music that’s inspired by Monk and Duke Ellington but which nevertheless manages be always uniquely Stan Tracey…


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Chelsea Bridge

Posted in Jazz with tags , , , , , , on March 29, 2009 by telescoper

When the great American songwriter Billy Strayhorn saw the beautifully evocative painting (left) by James McNeill Whistler of one of the bridges over the River Thames, it inspired him to write an equally evocative song to be performed by his longstanding musical collaborator and friend Duke Ellington. The song was written in 1941, but it was only years later that he realized that he had named it after the wrong bridge.

 

The painting was of Battersea Bridge; but he had named the song  Chelsea Bridge, a much less romantic location. Nevertheless, the tune quickly became a standard, and a feature for the band’s star saxophonist, Ben Webster who carried on playing it after he left Duke Ellington’s orchestra in 1943.

By all accounts Ben Webster was a drunken brute of a man but when he played ballads like this he produced music of great warmth and delicacy. In fact, his technique on the tenor sax would probably be called “wrong” by a teacher: he didn’t use his tongue properly on the reed so his notes had to be produced by much more lung power than “normal” players use. Instead of a clean attack, each note is wafted in on a sort of phoohing sound. The breathiness of his tone  is a consequence of this and, although he produced a huge volume which was good for playing in front of a big band like Ellington’s, it also made him unable to play well at faster tempos. His playing on slow ballads, though, was often exquisitely beautiful. Who says everyone has to be a speed merchant?

Ben Webster moved to Copenhagen in 1964 along with several other great Jazz musicians, to escape the racism and consequent lack of opportunity for black artists in  his homeland. He was buried in the part of Copenhagen called Nørrebro when he died in 1973. 

I am a fairly frequent visitor to Copenhagen – I’m going there again in June, in fact – and I did visit his grave once. There’s also a restaurant named after him in the city centre.

Anyway, here he is in in 1964 playing Chelsea Bridge with the marvellous Stan Tracey on piano who featured in a previous post of mine.

Starless and Bible Black

Posted in Jazz, Literature, Poetry with tags , , , , , on March 7, 2009 by telescoper

A few weeks ago in my bit about the great jazz composer and pianist Thelonious Monk, I mentioned another great musician, Stan Tracey. He was Ronnie Scott’s house pianist for many years, as well as being a composer and leader of his own band. It’s only the fact that he stayed all his life in England that prevented him from gaining wider recognition. No less a musician than Sonny Rollins asked (of British Jazz fans)

Does anyone here realise how good he is?

Well, I think they do but he remains relatively unknown outside these shores.

Amongst the collection of old LPs that I am gradually making into CDs using the USB turntable I got for Christmas is one of the greatest British jazz albums, Under Milk Wood, which was written by Stan Tracey and recorded by his band in 1965.

Living in Wales, I’m somewhat ashamed that I didn’t do this one before because it is of course inspired by the “play for voices” with the same name by Dylan Thomas. The music is brilliant throughout, vividly evoking the atmosphere of various episodes in the play, but my favourite track is about the very first lines. Stan Tracey’s piano and Bobby Wellins‘ saxophone hauntingly evoke the atmosphere of the opening of Under Milk Wood which, if you’ll forgive me for quoting a rather lengthy extract, shows Dylan Thomas extraordinarily imaginative use of language, superb control of rhythm even in a prose setting. His poems are wonderful to listen to as well as to read, especially when read by the poet himself with his sonorous yet lilting voice; if you want a short example try this example, steeped in a sense of nocturnal melancholy

In My Craft or Sullen Art

In my craft or sullen art
Exercised in the still night
When only the moon rages
And the lovers lie abed
With all their griefs in their arms,
I labour by singing light
Not for ambition or bread
Or the strut and trade of charms
On the ivory stages
But for the common wages
Of their most secret heart.

Not for the proud man apart
From the raging moon I write
On these spindrift pages
Nor for the towering dead
With their nightingales and psalms
But for the lovers, their arms
Round the griefs of the ages,
Who pay no praise or wages
Nor heed my craft or art.

Anyway, the play Under Milk Wood‘s famous opening goes along these lines:

It is Spring, moonless night in the small town, starless and bible-black, the cobblestreets silent and the hunched, courter’s-and-rabbits’ wood limping invisible down to the sloeblack, slow, black, crowblack, fishingboat-bobbing sea. The houses are are blind as moles (though moles see fine tonight in the snouting, velvet dingles) or blind as Captain Cat there in the muffled middle by the pump and the town clock, the shops in mourning, the Welfare Hall in widows’
weeds. And all the people of the lulled and dumbfound town are sleeping now.

Hush, the babies are sleeping, the farmers, the fishers, the tradesmen and pensioners, cobbler, schoolteacher, postman and publican, the undertaker and the fancy woman, drunkard, dressmaker, preacher, policeman, the webfoot cocklewomen and the tidy wives. Young girls lie bedded soft or glide in their dreams, with rings and trousseaux, bridesmaided by glow-worms down the aisles of the organplaying wood. The boys are dreaming wicked of the bucking ranches of the night and the jollyrodgered sea. And the anthracite statues of the horses sleep in the fields, and the cows in the byres, and the dogs in the wet-nosed yard; and the cats nap in the slant corners or lope sly, streaking and needling, on the one cloud of the roofs.

You can hear the dew falling, and the hushed town breathing.

Only your eyes are unclosed to see the black and folded town fast, and slow, asleep.

And you alone can hear the invisible starfall, the darkest-before-dawn minutely dewgrazed stir of the black, dab-filled sea where the Arethusa, the Curlew and the Skylark, Zanzibar, Rhiannon, the Rover, the Cormorant, and the Star of Wales tilt and ride.

Listen. It is night in the chill, squat chapel, hymning in bonnet and brooch and bombazine black, butterfly choker and bootlace bow, coughing like nannygoats, sucking mintoes, fortywinking hallelujah; night in the four-ale, quiet as a domino; in Ocky Milkman’s lofts like a mouse with gloves; in Dai Bread’s bakery flying like black flour. It is tonight in Donkey Street, trotting silent, with seaweed on its hooves, along the cockled cobbles, past curtained fernpot, text and trinket, harmonium, holy dresser, watercolours done by hand, china dog and rosy tin teacaddy. It is night neddying among the snuggeries of babies.

Look. It is night, dumbly, royally winding through the Coronation cherry trees; going through the graveyard of Bethesda with winds gloved and folded, and dew doffed; tumbling by the Sailors Arms.

Time passes. Listen. Time passes.

Here are Stan Tracey and Bobby Wellins with Stan Tracey’s meditation on that piece, Starless and Bible Black, played in a way that’s as moving and ethereal as the sound of time passing….