Pianist Who Brought a British Flavour to Jazz
Stan Tracey, a pianist and composer who was one of the most highly regarded jazz musicians in Britain and a mentor to numerous younger players, has died aged 86.
His death was announced on his website. It did not say where he died or specify a cause, but he had recently been treated for cancer.
With his distinctive piano style and ambitious compositions such as his Under Milk Wood suite, Tracey demonstrated forcefully that British jazz could have a character of its own, respectful of, but not beholden to, American influences. He gained new fans worldwide in the 1980s as a member of the 33-piece jazz ensemble led by Charlie Watts, the Rolling Stones’ drummer – one of many younger British musicians he inspired.
Tracey first attracted international attention in the 1960s, when, as the resident pianist at the London jazz club Ronnie Scott’s, he accompanied visiting American musicians such as Stan Getz, Wes Montgomery and Sonny Rollins. Rollins became an enthusiastic fan, and the two worked together on the soundtrack of the 1966 film Alfie.
During his seven-year tenure at Ronnie Scott’s, Tracey also composed and recorded the eight-part Under Milk Wood suite for jazz quartet, inspired by the Dylan Thomas radio play of the same name. It became his best-known work, but it was only the first of many extended compositions he would write, including Alice in Jazzland and Seven Ages of Man.
A harmonically adventurous pianist whose primary influences were Duke Ellington and Thelonious Monk, Tracey was self-taught and began his professional career as an accordionist while still in his teens. After serving in the Royal Air Force in World War II, he played piano on cruise ships. He toured the United States and elsewhere with the popular dance band of Ted Heath, for which he also wrote arrangements, before forming his own group in 1959.
Work became scarce as jazz waned in popularity in the 1970s. But, encouraged by well-known younger British jazz musicians such as pianist Keith Tippett and saxophonist John Surman, he continued performing and soon experienced a career resurgence.
He was named an Officer of the Order of the British Empire in 1986 and a Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 2008. He was nominated for the Mercury Prize in 1993 for his album Portraits Plus.
Tracey’s final album, The Flying Pig, was released this year on his own ReSteamed label.
Stanley William Tracey was born in London on December 30, 1926. His wife, the former Jackie Buckland, died in 2009, and his daughter, Sarah, died last year. He is survived by his son, Clark, a jazz drummer and a longtime member of his band.