Friday, 29 December 2006

Happy Birthday, Godfather!

Birthday wishes to Stan Tracey, the 'Godfather of British Jazz' who turns 80 this Saturday. His piano style is heavily influenced by (Duke) Ellington and (Thelonious) Monk, but he has built his own unique voice, combining a percussive, hard-edged sound with gruff and even tender lyricism. Working mainly in a fairly straight-ahead idiom, but also moving into free improvisation with Evan Parker and others, his playing is refreshingly free of the flashy excesses so many employ to disguise their lack of ideas. ‘Under Milkwood’, his 1965 recording with Bobby Wellins, inspired by Dylan Thomas’ play, still stands as one of the classics, perhaps THE classic of British jazz, and with tracks like ‘Starless and Bible Black’, is it any wonder that he has such a reputation?

Still playing, and still in top form, he has continued to release albums at a steady rate over the past few years, though they haven’t received the public attention they deserve. A programme was devoted to him on BBC4, though, and he also appeared on the history of British jazz, ‘Jazz Britannia’, on that channel, so maybe he has gained a few new fans. Who knows? Appearing somewhat grumpy and taciturn in person, his sardonic humour livens things up between tunes (one of his records is titled 'Seventysomething', in a sly dig at Jamie Cullum's bestselling 'Twentysomething'), but it’s when he starts playing that things really get going, and you can hear an example of that on Radio 3 today. The programme Jazz Legends (which, incidentally, is being axed next year as part of a dumbing-down – sorry, I meant shake-up – of Radio 3’s jazz coverage) will feature Stan at 4:00 this afternoon, and his concert at the London Jazz Festival back in November, where he shared the bill with legendary American saxophonist Wayne Shorter, will be featured on Jazz at 3 at 11:30 PM. If you can’t get access to a radio at either of those times, then the shows will be available to ‘listen again’ to for seven days on the Radio 3 Jazz website (

Oh, and there's also an opportunity to sign a petition in honour of Stan here(http// A bit out of date now, considering he didn't makie it onto the New Years' Honours List, but maybe next year...We can but hope.

No comments: