b. Stanley William Tracey, 30 December 1926, London, England, d. 6 December 2013. Tracey taught himself to play piano and by his early teens was performing professionally. In the 50s he was deeply involved in the British modern jazz scene, working with musicians including Kenny Baker, Tony Crombie and Ronnie Scott. For most of the 60s he was resident pianist at Scott’s club, backing numerous visiting jazzmen including Zoot Sims and Sonny Stitt. In the middle of the decade he formed a regular band, which included in its personnel at one time or another Bobby Wellins, Peter King and for many years Art Themen. Tracey made numerous albums, many of them on his own label, Steam Records, run with the help of his wife Jackie. Some of his recordings are with a quartet, others have him in duo, with the sextet Hexad, as leader of an octet, and with a powerful big band. Tracey’s collaborators on concert and record sessions included Don Weller, Keith Tippett, Tony Coe, John Surman and Mike Osborne, whose 1971 encounter with Tracey helped to revive the pianist’s flagging faith in music as a career. Later Tracey’s regular quartet included his son, drummer Clark Tracey, Themen and bass player Roy Babbington. He also taught for several years, including periods at the Guildhall School of Music.
A leading jazz composer, Tracey’s major recordings include Under Milk Wood, a suite inspired by Dylan Thomas’ play for voices. The original recording from 1965 (with Wellins, Jeff Clyne and Jackie Douglas) is a magnificent work. He was also an accomplished arranger and employed this talent to great effect, notably when acknowledging his admiration for Duke Ellington on We Love You Madly (1968) and We Still Love You Madly (1989). As a player, his early work showed the influence of Thelonious Monk (such as ‘Li’l Ol’ Pottsville’) but over the years he consistently displayed a distinctive, sometimes quirkily personal, touch. One of the outstanding figures the UK has given to the world of jazz, Stan Tracey died on 6 December 2013 at the age of 86.