Stan Tracey (1926-2013)

English jazz pianist dies, aged 86

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Stan TraceyPianist Stan Tracey, the British jazz legend who played with many of the 1960s greats as house pianist of Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club, has died.

Born in South London in 1926, Tracey began playing accordion before switching to piano, aged 13. Largely self-taught he worked as a musician in the RAF before going on a tour to the US with saxophonist Ronnie Scott in 1957. 

Tracey became a house pianist at Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club, from 1959-66, and accompanied visiting US stars, including saxophonists Zoot Sims, Sonny Rollins and Ben Webster. During this time he also appeared on BBC TV’s Jazz 625.

Under Milk WoodIn 1965, he composed his Under Milk Wood Jazz Suite, which was inspired by the radio drama of the same name by Welsh poet Dylan Thomas. He penned much of it on a night bus on the way home because he couldn’t afford a taxi after playing at Ronnie Scott’s. This album spawned the classic composition ‘Starless and Bible Black’ with its haunting piano hook and sax solo by Bobby Wellins. The disc has remained hugely collectable on vinyl. This was followed by Alice in Jazzland and work on the 1966 film soundtrack for the Michael Caine film Alfie.

In the 1970s Tracey made free jazz recordings, working with musicians such as saxophonists John Surman and Mike Osborne, and led an octet. Later he toured with his son, jazz drummer Clark Tracey.

Following a BBC Jazz Award in 2002, Tracey was the subject of a 2003 documentary entitled Stan Tracey: Godfather of British Jazz. He was awarded a CBE in 2008.

At the news of his death, Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club paid respect on Twitter saying: ‘Another legend passes. RIP Stan Tracey’.