Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music



(b Stanley William Tracey, 30 December 1926, London; d 6 December 2013) Pianist, composer, leader; also played vibes, accordion. He turned pro at 16, played with many groups including Kenny Baker and Ronnie Scott; with the Ted Heath big band '57-9, became the house pianist at Scott's club '60-7, just as Britain's musicians' union began to allow foreigners in, backing and recording with Zoot Sims, Ben Webster, etc; he recorded with Sonny Rollins on his soundtrack for Alfie '66. Influenced by Duke Ellington and Thelonious Monk, he developed an idiosyncratic and challenging keyboard style and became a highly regarded composer, forming his own quartet '64 and gigging all over Europe with groups up to tentet and larger bands, as well as solo. But it was never easy. Not long after Sonny Rollins famously asked the music press if anybody in Britain knew how good Tracey really was, he was ready to pack it in and go to work for the post office.

His best-known composition was Under Milkwood, inspired by Dylan Thomas's radio play; recorded '65 by a quartet including Bobby Wellins on tenor (b 24 January 1936, Glasgow) and in '76 at Wigmore Hall, narrated by Donald Houston, with Art Themen on tenor (b 26 November 1939). Other albums included solo Alone (At Wigmore Hall 1974) and Hello, Old Adversary '79; duos T'N'T '79 (with Keith Tippett), Sonatinas (with John Surman), also quartet LPs Captain Adventure '75 (live at 100 Club), The Poet's Suite '84; octet Salisbury Suite '78 (live at Royal Festival Hall, with Don Weller, Themen, Art Daly on alto), The Bracknell Connection '76 (live at 100 Club with Weller, Themen, Peter King on alto); Live At Ronnie Scott's '86 by his Hexad, all on his own Steam label; also duos Original '74 on Cadillac, Tandem '77 on Ogun with Mike Osborne on alto. Suite for big band Genesis was on SJ Records, solo Plays Duke Ellington on Mole '87.

His son, drummer Clark Tracey (b 5 February 1961, London) worked with Stan, backed James Moody, Art Farmer, Charlie Rouse etc; formed his own quartet: Suddenly Last Tuesday '86 on Cadillac, Stiperstones '88 on SJ, sextet Full Speed Sideways '95 on 33. The Stan Tracey Quartet with Clark and guest Charlie Rouse made Playin' In The Yard on SJ; an octet made the Blue Note album Portraits Plus '92 and various groups Stan Tracey Live At The QEH '94; the New Stan Tracey Quartet (Stan, Clark, the superb young Gerard Presencer on trumpet/flugelhorn, Andrew Cleyndert on bass) made For Heaven's Sake on Cadillac '95, described by Cadence as 'an unusually happy meeting of different generations, with vigor and thought and an absence of mannerism and cliché'. Solo: Trio '98 was on Cadillac.

He had played in Charlie Watts's big band, with son Clark and John and Alec Dankworth in Fathers And Sons. Charlie Rouse had said in the 1980s that playing with Tracey was the nearest thing to playing with Monk. He had been made an OBE in 1986; he filled St Paul's Cathedral in 1990 playing Ellington's sacred music; finally, Tracey's band was the first jazz group to appear at the new Tate Modern in 2001, the year he and Clark performed an extended composition Continental Drift, and more honors started coming: a lifetime achievement prize at the BBC Jazz awards in 2002, a CBE in 2008. His low-key sense of humour endeared him to friends and audiences. It was the spontaneity in jazz that kept him interested, he said;  after all, 'I wouldn't have been in it for the money, would I?'