The jazz pianist and composer, Stan Tracey, has died at the age of 86.
I knew that he’d been cancelling gigs for a while now, had heard from someone in the jazz community that he was quite seriously ill, so when I turned the page and saw his obituary in this morning’s paper, I was not too surprised. Sad, upset, but not surprised.
When you’ve been fortunate enough to hear a musician of Stan’s individuality and imagination so many times across the decades, his playing – his presence – become part of the landscape in which you live.
I suppose it would have been with the Ted Heath big band, playing vibes as well as piano, that I saw him first, the late 50s that would have been; after that the years at the Marquee and, of course, Ronnie’s; leading his octet at Appleby, the big band at the Queen Elizabeth Hal in a celebration of his 70th birthday. In recent years, I remember an evening at Lauderdale House, when I grabbed a chair as close as I could to the piano and refused to budge; more recently, sitting in the front row alongside my friend, Jock, for a quartet session at the Bull’s Head in Barnes, Stan’s monthly home from home.
I interviewed him once for a BBC radio programme on poetry and jazz, wanting to ask him about the many sessions he’d played with New Departures. Come on out by all means, he said, but I shan’t have a lot to say. He wasn’t lying.
A man of few words, he was, according of John Fordham’s Guardian biography, tickled to have been awarded on Honorary DLitt by the University of Hertfordshire. Looking down the list of previous recipients at my own recent ceremony and finding his name there, somehow made my award mean a whole lot more. The company, one way or another, you’re fortunate enough to keep.
Time to take the Under Milk Wood suite from the shelf: ‘Starless and Bible Black’.