Seven Arts, Leeds
Thursday 10 February
Originally published on Weds 16th February 2011 at http://www.digyorkshire.com/HighlightDetails.aspx?Article=1129
“It’s not very often that you get a full house at a jazz club”, remarks Steve Crocker, promoter at Seven Jazz and the man responsible for tonight’s event. “We’ve even had twelve returns, but now it’s completely full”.
There again, it’s not very often that a man known as ‘The Godfather of British Jazz’ comes to play. Seven Arts’ compact auditorium is packed to the rafters with folk clamouring to see Stan Tracey, 84 years of age and still going strong.
As resident pianist at Ronnie Scott’s in London during the early 60s, Stan’s career has involved working with some of the most famous names in jazz. His 1965 album Under Milk Wood is considered by discerning folk to be up there with the work of Miles Davis – a very unusual thing indeed for a British musician in a scene dominated by US stars.
Emerging to thunderous applause, Stan leads his band on stage, gives a brief nod to the audience and sits before the grand piano (made, incidentally, in Leeds). “A-one, two, a-one two uh uh” – the drums kick in with a crack, Stan hits the chords, the double bass booms and the sax blasts. I’m too young to have been at Ronnie Scott’s during the golden age of British jazz, but I imagine it sounded something like this.
Stan’s son Clark is a master of the drums, similar to the late Max Roach and equal to his dad in terms of skill, appearing on Stan’s records from the 70s onwards. On tenor sax is Bobby Wellins, collaborator with Stan on Under Milk Wood. He turned 75 earlier this year, but packs more energy into his performance than most musicians half his age, and is, like Stan, a legend. On double bass, Andy Cleyndert does a brilliant job of keeping the whole thing together with amazing dexterity, never once hitting a wrong note.
Among the highlights are ‘Starless and Bible Black’, Stan’s best piece from Under Milk Wood. A haunting, serene piece, Bobby’s sax lines gently float over the piano like a bird in flight. Bobby’s sax skills shine again with ‘McTaggart’, a blues number, drawn from a 1964 album. “I don’t know if I remember that one”, Bobby announces, looking slightly shocked. But he does, and it’s like listening to the record.
As Thelonious Monk’s ‘Bright Mississippi’ receives the Stan treatment, I close my eyes: I can’t tell if it’s Stan or the Monk who’s hitting the keys. I’m not sure if I’ll experience a gig quite like this again.