Stan Tracey - Jazz Legend and Composer

On the day when Nelson Mandela's death is filling the headlines, one of Britain's greatest Jazz composers and musicians, Stan Tracey, died at the age of 86. Known as 'the Godfather of British Jazz' he was never as popular as figures like Johnny Dankworth because his music was seen as 'more difficult' - often crossing the border from Jazz into what you could call 'Contemporary Classical' music. He has left a tremendous legacy of compositions - my favourite being his Under Milkwood setting (click here for Starless and Bible Black).  I came to know Stan because my partner, Neil, ran a jazz festival in northern England for 20 years.  I was awed by his music, his kindness and generosity and I loved his dry sense of humour.  I last saw Stan when we shared his 85th birthday celebrations here in Italy at the Orvieto Jazz Festival last year and I wrote a poem for his birthday, in which I tried to put into words my admiration and respect.

A Birthday Poem

(For Stan Tracey)

Between the mind
and the hand
are the lines
where the notes
subtract and multiply
the mathematics of jazz.
Twice times five
and eighty eight
monochrome combinations
a musical alphabet
articulating narratives
of sound.

Eighty five years -
and the music still
walks the staves
of a life swung
from ‘stomach Steinway’*
to the concert grand.
A muscular attack
as rhythmic as it was
at thirty.  The history
of the genre hard-wired
between the hand
and the mind.

© Kathleen Jones

[* the stomach Steinway is musician's slang for the piano accordion which was the instrument Stan played as a boy]


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