Tuesday, 10 November 2009

The 40's and early 1950's

The Tracey sound is unmistakable, but where did it all begin?

Stan : "yeah.. my first recollections of being anywhere was with my parents in Tooting.. hazy recollections of that. Y'know we never did have a radio and I guess the reason for that is my father out of the house about 13-14 hours a day, he used to work in a showbiz club in Orange Street called Jack's Club and he use to leave the house about 12 noon and get home about half past one next morning. So he wasn't interested in having a radio.
We used to live in house that had an upstairs flat and a down stairs flat but their stairs accessed our hallway. That sort of situation, and I use to sit on the stairs and listen to their radio.. Harry Roy, Oscar Rabin people like that... sort of kindled an interest for me".

When did you first hear jazz?

"When I was about 8 and I heard Andy Kirk 'Scratchin' In The Gravel'.
That belonged to some friends of my parents. We use to go over their on Sunday, parents would go drinking, kids would stay in.. just the two of us, just the two kids. I found this record and I played it into the ground. It was magic, shear magic. I couldn't get enough of it. I can't quite remember what it was I liked
The whole thing was magic, it was like a golden buzz listening to it".

or web link http://open.spotify.com/track/305uR7zt6b9sRTQ3PJVF3g

Was there an instrument around?

"There was an accordion shop at the top of the road. Accordions at that time were studded with shiny bits, and glitter, and it looked absolutely stunning, and I asked my parents to buy me one and they did. It was my first musical instrument.
I guess I would have been about 12 or 13 at the time.
My mother use to have a crack at the violin and I can still remember that.. and she was a black key piano player. There was a piano around. It was the one that's haunted me ever since throughout my career. That piano has spawned hundreds.. (laughs) of like instruments ever since. I did cop for a lot of those.
Anyway she use to play on the black keys and really no sense of harmony, just the melody and the left hand would be doing strange things in the bass".

Were you an innocent kid?

"Totally! I was reared on B movies because before I went on ENSA, no school just roaring around. I use to go the cinema maybe 3 or 4 times a week and see all those dreadful B movies when good always conquered evil and nice guys always came out on top. And I grew up thinking the world was like that.. and of course it patently isn't. But I believed it and that stuck with me well into my middle twenties. That life was a B movie. Then I went on ENSA and I was er.. just after 16 I think. War was still on. I toured in ENSA unitl I was 19. While I was on ENSA some of the guys use to have a wind up gramophone and they use to bring records.. people like Basie, Teddy Wilson.. they were the sort of bands that were around... Benny Goodman all those
sorts of bands. We use to get hold of the occasional 'V' disc of Art Tatum, people like that. But it wasn't until I heard boogie woogie that I decided that the piano was what I wanted to play.
Albert Ammons, Pete Johnson, Meade Lux Lewis, Sammy Price, Hazel Scott, Pinetop Smith, James P Johnson.. though he wasn't so much boogie woogie. The whole lot because suddenly at that time Boogie Woogie was the thing everywhere. There was suddenly a load of piano players playing Boogie Woogie and then I sussed out it wasn't the real Boogie Woogie it was commercial version. So that sort of lured me onto the piano".

NOTE : V-Disc ("V" for Victory) was a morale-boosting initiative involving the production of several series of recordings during the World War II.

Was it the rhythmic thing?

"Yeah and I used to like the lines that would go on in the treble. That appealed to me. People like Freddy Slack... and Will Bradley.. yeah yeah that's right 'Down The Road A Piece'"

You Tube link for 'Down The Road A Piece'

Did you decide that jazz was what you wanted to do?

"Yes I thought that I'd like to be a jazz musician without any idea what a jazz musician was or did or what it meant. My approach was 100% romantic... and totally wrong".

Attracted by the lifestyle?

"No, no it was always the music".

The influence of Art Hodes?

"No, no he was never an influence, I bought that record in desperation. My first ENSA-ing experience was to go out with a four hander concert party, touring factories playing to the workers in their lunch break and I felt pretty much cut off from everything. I mean there was an alcoholic playing the piano, a singer, and a master of ceremonies playing the guitar and god knows what else he did, but he was in charge and the whole thing was totally alien to me. The music we played, the places we were playing... and I bought this record, I knew it was a jazz record. I never got much chance to play it but I bought it because.. how can I put it.. uhm.. this was something to do with me. Not to do with what I was doing. And I was quite happy to carry the record around with me and never play it. Because I knew it was a jazz record and that was part of my life. Then when I went into the Air force I got into the RAF Gang Show
where I was playing accordion and piano and we went to Egypt, Palestine as it was then, and Cyprus playing various camps and I had one of those dreadful little pianos that looked like a Bryant and May (matches) box for the keyboard as played by Princess Ingrid of Sweden. Was it's only claim to fame. And we toured that piano around with us all through those countries. And I use to play 'Riding Along On A Crest Of The Wave' and that type of number and the various musical bits that were required. Did an accordion solo during the show and eventually when that all finished I came out and tried to form a double act with one of the guys who was in the RAF Gang Show. A guy called Barry Martin, sort of songs at the piano type of thing. Like Bob and Alf Pearson.
The world wasn't ready for that and then I found myself back on the accordion again playing for people like Eddie Thompson. We had a quintet with Vic Ashe on clarinet, myself on accordion, Eddie of course, Dicky Devere on drums and I forget who was on bass".

The RAF Gang Show (Stan 2nd from left)

That was the 'in' sound of the time.

"It surely was".

Why was that?

"I think it was to do with Joe Mooney. Remember the Joe Mooney Quartet...'Tea For Two'. I loved it to death. What a twit.
I liked the harmonies, it was slick, and it appealed to me. Although I heard it recently and I hear it with slightly different ears but I can hear what it was I was hearing and what appealed to me at the time. There were loads of bands like that and I played in quite a few of them. We use to do gigs all over London. I remember travelling from Tooting Broadway to Camden Town with an accordion to play in a pub for 6 shillings and 8 pence and then going back at night lugging the accordion back to Tooting Broadway.
I got involved with a Scottish guitar player called Tommy Middleton who taught me a hell of a lot about harmony just by working with him and him explaining things to me and we use to play pubs. There was the Queens in Brixton. This place in Camden Town and it was quite a nice little trio I guess and even though it was a pub we use to play those Joe Mooney things and we'd take it in turns to go round with the hat whenever we didn't get payed. Which is why I got 6s/8d. We'd take it in turns if Tommy did it last night it would be my turn to go round with the hat.. I mean literally a hat to all the customers in the pub. We'd get coppers and that thrown in.. (laughs). But I enjoyed it. I didn't think this was a drag. I enjoyed playing the music so much that getting a little money at the end was OK. It payed the bus fair".

After the RAF?

"I was concerned with earning a living for a while.. uhm.. I went with the Melfi Trio at a place called The Paramount in Tottenham Court Rd. It wasn't a very happy experience. First of all we had to where the enormous red jackets... I mean if you thought Dynasty had shoulders, these were the original shoulders. They were enormous. Don't know why he had these jackets made like it.. it added possibly a foot, y'know 6 inches either side of the shoulder. I'm deadly serious. It looked absurd. The bass player doubled hi-hat. He would play 1 and 3 on the bass, 2 and 4 on the hi-hat. Melfi played mandolin, guitar, sang.. he wasn't very good at it. Any of it either. And I'm just pumping away on the accordion. Playing things like my 'Grandfathers Clock' in a jazzy way and I defy anybody to play that tune in a jazzy sort of way but anyway it was done. Then they decided Monday night would be a jazz night, then they bought in people like Ronnie Scott and Harry Klein and even at one point they had Leon Roy. Leon Roy had a big band and he was playing the Gillespie big band charts which they got hold of and it was a magic night when Kenny Clarke came down and sat in with the band and played all the charts. So that was an experience.
Another guy who came in at that time was Laurie Morgan, a drummer, and he persuaded me to join his band, which at the time was called Lorrie Morgan's Elevated Music, which is a name I love.. and that was I guess when I turned to jazz full time".

Were you playing accordion with him?

"Nooo.. I was happy to lose it. No I played piano with Laurie. It was a quintet, trumpet, tenor, piano bass drums.
It was a very exciting time. Bebop had just happened and everybody was listening and writing. Taking things down off 78's to understand the music... and it was really an exciting period. We would hire a rehearsal room just to go and play. We put in how ever much each it cost to pay for the room for 2 or 3 hours and just go in there and play. Nobody does that now. Today's players of equivalent ages are really so much more advanced than we were at that time. We were scratchin' in the gravel. It was a very exciting period".

Who were you listening to?

"As many people as I could. Y'know all the bebop players".

Not just pianists?

"Oh no. Y'know, Parker Gillespie, JJ Johnson, all those people who were on the scene at that time. Then of course some time after that I went on the Queen Mary in order to get to Birdland to hear all those guys. I did about 6 months and I heard practically everybody there was to hear. I heard the original Parker Gillespie Quintet with Tommy Potter, Max Roach and I sat there all night and watched them for a dollar. That was great. Like I said I would go every night and pay my dollar entrance and sit there until it closed. Y'know I saw so many people, Miles Davis, Gene Ammons, Sonny Stitt.. there was so many of them I can't really recall off the top of my head".

Did you see Bud Powell?

"Yeah.. I saw him with that quintet. But I saw him at other times playing with other groups at Birdland. Even managed to see the Ellington band playing at the Apollo up in Harlem. That was a nice experience".

Bud was the man on piano. Were you one of his admirers?

"I admired him but I didn't try and emulate him. Not with those chops.
I know when I'm beaten".

Were you already doing chordal harmonic stuff? Did you feel that was your way already?

"It was a bit yeah.. and then I first heard Monk. What he was doing had more appeal than Powell".

Same time as those first Blue Notes and stuff?

"Yeah, I mean he really turned me round. His harmonies and his vibes. So I devoted a lot of time listening to him".

When were you in a band that recorded?

"I think the first one I did was with the band of Victor Feldman's. I did an arrangement of 'Drop Me Off At Harlem', the Ellington tune. And I did an original called Euphony.. and I think that was about the first jazz album I appeared on.
I really can't recall years but to my mind I think that was the first. That was a 78 of course. That was the first one".

Victor Feldman All Stars - Bop In Britain
Recorded London, March 3, 1952
Jummy Deuchar (t), Ken Wray (tromb), Derek Humble (as), Harry Klein (bs), Victor Feldman (vib), Stan Tracey (p), Lennie Bush (b), Martin Ashton (dr).
[1] Lullaby In Rhythm (Goodman, Sampson)
[2] Serenity (Feldman)
[3] Just Friends (Klenner, Lewis)
[4] Euphony (Tracey)

Transcript of interview by Geoffrey Smith.
BBC Maida Vale Studios.
12 January 1994