When I went to St Albans to chat to Stan about his 70 years in the music business for Jazzwise back in the summer, he was on top form. There was no sign of the illness that was about to overtake him, and my last memories of him are literally sunny – in every respect. I can’t remember how many times I interviewed him for various publications and radio shows, but although he was always prone to play down his achievements, we always found plenty to chat about. I think the time we really broke the ice was in 1999, when we were both appearing on a fledgling BBC 4 (then called BBC Choice) TV show Backstage, to celebrate the Ellington centenary. Stan was confronted with a very ‘OK-Yah’ female presenter who didn’t listen to a word he said, and I was expected to comment on ancient films that clearly showed Barney Bigard and Juan Tizol blacked up for the camera. We both ended up in helpless giggles. Ever afterwards, a chat together was good fun, and a chance to relive that surreal experience.
Stan’s music was part of my childhood. His records played in the house and when Under Milk Wood came out in 1964 it was seldom off the turntable. I remember forays to London as a teenager to hear him at Jazz Centre Society gigs, and being blown away by his playing with Art Themen at the Seven Dials. When I co-founded the Excelsior Brass Band to play New Orleans street parade music in 1976, we appeared at South Hill Park, Bracknell as a curtain-raiser for Stan’s Bracknell Connection with Harry Beckett, Don Weller and Peter King in the line-up. Stan’s band was fabulous and played even better, in my mind’s ear, than the 100 Club version of the same music that later came out on the Steam label. It was a precursor to much later times when I had the privilege to present Stan from the Appleby Festival for Radio 3, when whichever band he was leading at the time was always at its best in that happy beer-tented atmosphere. Radio 3 was on hand too for his 70th birthday, with a special performance of his arrangement of Ellington’s Sacred Concert music from the QEH.
Catching such snapshots of Stan’s music over the years, and having the chance to hear him in every setting from solo piano, via duo and trio to Octet and big band, was an education. With the possible exception of George Shearing, Stan is the greatest jazz pianist this country has produced. As a bandleader and composer he was unparalleled, and although his writing in this year’s The Flying Pig might have been more economical than of yore, it was every bit as effective. Last year’s reunion with Bobby Wellins for Under Milk Wood at Hertford was as profound as ever, proving that Britain can inspire jazz every bit as genuine and convincing as the American model. In that piece Stan produced his one enduring masterpiece, but every stage in his career produced more contenders, from Alfie to We Love You Madly, and from Alice in Jazzland to the explosive ‘Crackers and Bangers’ of the Hong Kong Suite. Stan was a one-off, and everyone who ever came into his musical orbit will be the poorer for his passing.
It is with great sadness that we hear that legendary British pianist Stan Tracey died earlier today after a battle with cancer, he was 86 years old. One of the true giants of British jazz, the news was announced on the official Stan Tracey Appreciation Facebook Page:
“It is with deepest regret that I must announce the death of Stan Tracey OBE, CBE today, at the age of 86. After a struggle with illness, he passed away having recently celebrated his 70 year professional career as a jazz pianist/composer. He is survived by a family who love him, and will miss him profoundly. His legacy is the generations of musicians young and old, past and future who have his influential example to look to. Many thanks to all those who have shown him such love and support over these many years.”
Jazzwise was the last magazine to interview Tracey, when Alyn Shipton spoke to him for our October issue’s cover feature (pictured) celebrating his incredible 70 years as a professional musician. There will be a full appreciation of Tracey’s life posted here later today.
Imagination, enthusiasm and the carefree vibrancy of youth (and that was just the audience) were out in force last night, 4 December, as the 2013 crop of Yamaha Jazz Scholars took over London’s 606 Jazz Club for the launch of The Yamaha New Jazz Sessions CD (pictured left), covermounted to the December issue of Jazzwise magazine. Now in its sixth year, the Yamaha Jazz Scholars initiative and the resulting New Jazz Sessions CD launch have steadily become key annual events in the jazz calendar, helping to shine a light on hot young UK talent and give them the chance to record their work in a high-end studio set-up, often for the first time. Organized by Yamaha Music Europe in partnership with the All Party Parliamentary Appreciation Group, Jazzwise, PPL and the 606 Club, this important project has helped bring names such as pianist Kit Downes, saxophonist Josh Arcoleo, bassist Calum Gourlay, drummer Dave Hamblett and guitarist Alex Munk to far wider recognition amongst jazz audiences in Europe and beyond
The Jazz Scholars are each nominated by the Heads of Jazz at seven of the UK’s leading conservatoires and universities, and the 2013 musicians all displayed the high standards of musical skill, composition and creative individualism that have become a hallmark of the scheme. The CD launch presented a jammed bill of five groups, including bassist Angus Milne Trio, pianist Elliot Galvin Trio, drummer Lloyd Haines Quintet, pianist Peter Johnstone Trio and drummer David Ingamells Duo, to a highly appreciative crowd, which included big parliamentary figures such as Ken Clarke MP and Eric Pickles MP, packed in alongside APPJAG co-chair Michael Connarty MP and a host of jazz industry and Yamaha professionals.
Aside from artful drummer Lloyd Haines, a name we’ll be hearing a lot more of, who delivered a table-thumping romp through Monk’s rumbustious ‘Trinkle Tinkle’, the line-up was heavy on piano trios - perhaps not surprisingly given the ongoing trend – who all in their own ways strived to take the form in new directions. The Angus Milne Trio opened the box with space and subtle inward invention, while Elliot Galvin, a founder of the Chaos Collective, showed why he is already being touted as a major name to watch with unexpected quirky twists, riveting angular lines, strong composition and, importantly for a genre known for tight-bottomed seriousness, a wacky sense of humour. Surprise of the night however was the Peter Johnstone Trio, (pictured left) where the pianist/leader, who won Young Scottish Jazz Musician of the year 2012, moulded a robust compositional strength with the dynamic punch of EST and Phronesis and the micro-detailed labyrinthine lines of Brad Mehldau into his own muscular voice that, if there’s any justice, should be set to soar over the next few years.
– Jon Newey
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Jazz breaking news: Soweto Kinch takes the Legend of Mike Smith to Rich Mix
Wednesday, 04 December 2013 12:36
MOBO Award winning and Mercury Prize nominated altoist/MC Soweto Kinch returns to London for his final show of 2013, presented by Jazz FM Live at Rich Mix, London on Friday 13 December. A charismatic live performer, masterful alto saxophonist and dynamic MC, Kinch will be performing tracks from his expansive double album, The Legend of Mike Smith, which tells the story of an aspiring rapper possessed by each of the seven sins as he struggles to make his way in the music industry.
The sprawling project has been staged as a fully-fledged theatre production at both London’s Albany Theatre and Birmingham’s Repertory Theatre, as it features Kinch’s vivid cast of characters and choreography from hip hop dance pioneer, Jonzi D. For the Rich Mix show the music will be performed by Kinch on sax, rap plus laptop and effects alongside his core trio of bassist Karl Rasheed-Abel and drummer Graham Godfrey.
Weaving together cutting edge jazz with rap and richly-plotted drama, that extends African-American oral traditions, drawing on influences as divergent as Dante, J.S. Bach, Ornette Coleman and Madlib, Kinch singlehandedly mixes these elements with his own high energy vision of jazz, spoken word and rap.
Jazz breaking news: Cleveland Watkiss brings jazz to Cutty Sark Studio Theatre
Monday, 02 December 2013 14:41
Leading UK jazz vocalist Cleveland Watkiss will be the first jazz artist to perform as part of a brand new live events programme in the Studio Theatre on historic ship the Cutty Sark, on Thursday 12 December. This initial gig comes ahead of the Cutty Sark Studio Theatre’s official launch early next year with future plans mooted to include jazz and folk gigs as part of the core programme of this innovative space, alongside stand-up comedy, theatre and classical music. The studio theatre is located in the lower hold of the Cutty Sark (pictured below) where, a century ago, precious cargoes of tea and wool were stacked. During the daytime, the hold contains displays of tea chests and other artefacts relating to the ship’s extraordinary history. In the evening, however, the central portion can convert into an eclectic performing arts space. The ship is located in Greenwich, south east London and is part of Royal Museums Greenwich.
Cleveland Watkiss is known for his wide vocal range and genre-hopping CV that includes work with the cream of the UK and international jazz scene – including Art Blakey and Wynton Marsalis – and he appears here in his acclaimed solo setting that seamlessly links many musical styles from classical to African songs, through to bebop improvisations and choral rhapsodies. He brings all this together in his Vocal Suite performances that utilise a loop pedal and vocal effects, which allow him to create a one man orchestra of beats, basslines and many interweaving layers of harmony and rhythm to create a unique vocal soundscape.