Stan Tracey: Jazz pianist dies at the age of 86
Stan Tracey won the first Ivor Novello Award for Jazz in 2012
Celebrated British jazz pianist Stan Tracey has died aged 86, his family have confirmed. Tracey, who had a career spanning 70 years, was widely acknowledged as one of the greats in his field.
The Londoner was resident pianist at Ronnie Scott’s jazz club from 1959-66 and made numerous recordings.
He also received a host of awards during his career, including the first Ivor Novello award for jazz in 2012. Tracey was awarded an OBE in 1986. He became a CBE in the 2008 New Year Honours list.
The musician was also awarded a lifetime achievement award at the BBC Jazz Awards in 2002 and made appearances on Later… With Jools Holland.
Jazz artist Jamie Cullum said on Twitter: “He played like a demon right up until his last days on earth as an Eightysomething.”
Alyn Shipton, presenter of BBC Radio 3’s Jazz Record Requests, called Tracey “a towering figure in British jazz”.
“He showed back in the 1960s that British themes could make a great basis for improvised jazz with his Under Milk Wood Suite, inspired by Dylan Thomas,” he continued. “His very latest work, the Flying Pig was inspired by the humour of British soldiers in the trenches in World War One, and it’s a remarkable composing career, to have such acclaimed works from either end of a 50 year span. “He’ll be sorely missed,” he added.
Tracey started to play the piano at the end of World War Two, shortly before being enlisted in the Royal Air Force. He had previously played in a gypsy accordion band.
Working in London after the war, he met Ronnie Scott and was encouraged into taking up jazz music as a full-time career. He joined the Ted Heath dance orchestra before taking up residency at Ronnie Scott’s. The jazz club paid tribute to its former house pianist via Twitter, saying: “Another legend passes. RIP Stan Tracey.”
Jazz singer Clare Teal also paid her respects, calling Tracey “an incredible pianist and a great inspiration to all musicians”.
Everything But The Girl’s Ben Watt – whose father was Scottish jazz musician Tommy Watt – tweeted: “Sad news. My dad impressed his music on me. Adored this, even as a kid. Resilient & melancholy.”
Tracey was also a prolific composer during his lengthy career. His first major work was Under Milk Wood, inspired by Welsh writer Dylan Thomas’s radio play, while he penned music for big bands, eight-pieces, sextets and quartets.
In 1993, his album Portraits Plus was nominated for the Mercury Prize but lost out to Suede for their self-titled debut album. Anniversary landmarks in his career were marked with concerts at the Queen Elizabeth Hall on London’s South Bank, while his 80th birthday was celebrated at the Barbican.
Earlier this year, artists including Dame Cleo Laine and renowned drummer Ginger Baker came together to celebrate Tracey’s 70 years in the music business. Several television documentaries were made about him, including an edition of the BBC’s Omnibus in 1977, and Channel 4’s 2003 programme The Godfather of British Jazz.
On a personal note the track “Starless and Bible Black”, a quote from the opening monologue of the Dylan Thomas poem Under Milk Wood is probably the best demonstration of Bobby Wellins’ lyricism (on tenor sax) and the highlight of Tracey’s whole career……….beg, borrow or steal a copy!