Sunday, 29 November 2009

The 60's

While you were playing so much at the Ronnie Scott's club in the sixties were you trying to somehow do your own music as well?

STAN "Well somewhere in the middle of all that, I can't remember how I did but I was getting involved with my own music. I don't know where I found the time, but I did because during that period I wrote Under Milk Wood. That was '64. If I wasn't working Sunday at Ronnies I would be working somewhere else, in somebody else's group or my own group."

Was that the quartet with Bobby Wellins?

"Yeah "

I remember you saying once you did Under Milk Wood because you had an opportunity to record.

"Yeah, also at that time having hooks was very popular.. y'know album concept. So that's why I chose Milk Wood to work on.

You new you liked the poem?

"I'd recently got hold of a double album of the first New York performance with Dylan playing the narrator and so I first heard Milk Wood played by American actors doing a sort of American Welsh accents, which didn't really work but luckily it didn't effect the words or the power of the words. So I was completely bowled over by that work.

What was the one stuck with you particularly over the years.

"Starless and Bible Black.

That's it .

"A lot of people tell me that is the piece that they really fasten on to and that was the piece that took the least.. y'know the least writing. All it is really is about 6 or so bars written and the rest is improvised on just one chord until we take it out again. Then we play the 6 bars out. That's it but I have to say that a lot of the responsibility for the popularity of that album rests with Bobby for the way he interpreted the music I'd written and particularly on Starless and Bible Black. Y'know he really captured the mood of the piece although I don't think he was familiar with the written word at the time but as sure as hell fastened on to the various moods of the pieces.. and a lot of credit goes to Bobby for that album."

The recording was a hit, I mean for jazz. It sold some records.

"Yeah, it sold records.. um when Dennis had finished with it, it went to some other company who didn't put it out, and then it came to Steam. Y'know it sold but not in vast numbers and of course Blue Note have put it out again. It's been out 30 years now and I doubt if it's sold 15,000 in that 30 years. Including Lansdowne, Steam and Blue Note. It's the album everybody knows. I think that there must have been an awful lot of one person buying the record and 4 people taping it because everybody knows it but it didn't do an enormous amount in terms of sales. "

Are you still pleased with it..?

(exhales).. "I don't think about whether I'm pleased with it or whether I'm not... it's there. I must have been pleased with at one time. I'm not displeased with it but I don't go into raptures about it. It's something I did then that a lot of people liked.

It was really the start of something.

"Yeah.. (laughs) it was the start of something.. er yeah I suppose a lot of people became aware of me as a composer through that album and I went on to do other albums.. I'm not too proud of.

But some of the things you must have liked. There's also another case of the hook because after Under Milk Wood comes Alice in Wonderland which you turned into Alice In Jazzland.

"Jackie (wife) was responsible for that one happening. There was a guy at Decca who was quite interested in jazz, and Jackie was working at Decca at around about that time and after the success of Milk Wood.. OK this what you do, find a nice book with a nice story and write a piece of music and off you go. So I chose Alice for the next concept album and it didn't have the popularity of Milk Wood but it have some success."

Would you have wanted it to be for big band, was that your idea.

"Well at that time the BBC had asked me to um.. put a big band together for one of the jazz club broadcasts. So I put about 30 minutes worth of music together for the program. Y'know, did arrangements, and unpaid I hasten to add. See.. the tradition was there even then.
I enjoyed writing for big band and playing with it, so it seemed natural that I'd do it for Alice In Jazzland album."

This was your second album in two years and still working 6 or 7 nights a week at Ronnie Scott's as well as leading your own groups. With that sort of routine I wondered how you found the time to compose.

"I use to stay up all night. I would think nothing of actually standing on my feet because I found it awkward to write onto the score seated at the keyboard. So I just stood up. I'd go an 8 hour stretch and think nothing of it. Finishing at 6 or 7 in the morning something like that. I did that for a hell of a long time. I used to take all sorts of uppers and downers and leapers to keep awake and I wish I hadn't because I wrote an awful lot of rubbish under those circumstances. I really regret that part. The thinking was stop me feeling tired and give me a clear view of what I wanted to do. OK I didn't go to sleep but like I say I wrote an awful lot of rubbish and I really regret that.

But there was lots of good stuff on the Alice album.. and you had a quartet album, With Love From Jazz

"Oh yeah.. well that was the follow up for Alice, and the same guy decided we'd do another album, and we were looking for another theme and I chose that. Heaven knows why but there you go."

So what was your slant on the theme.

"I guess I'd have to get back into my head then to fully explain anything."

The Tracey titles are terrific and there also seems to be a kind of attitude behind them.. the first track is Everywhere Derriere, and you think of mini skirts and all that stuff of swinging London.

"Yeah.. totally inspired by the mini skirt period.

Except the thing is, you'd think everywhere is undulating and suggestive but it's not. It's up and sort of hectic and frantic and you wonder..

"At that time derriere was everywhere. I assure you it was the mini skirt period was a golden period if you were a chap that was into derriere's.

When I talk about this slant it was not.. er cynical. It was wry view of all this stuff.

"Yeah you could say that.

That swinging London wasn't quite real somehow.

"Actually a lot of the sixties passed me by, I was down in that club y'know."

Transcript of interview by Geoffrey Smith.

BBC Maida Vale Studios. 12 January 1994

Year by Year
Resident house pianist at Ronnie Scotts from 1959.

1960 - Stan made an album (playing vibes) with Judy Garland in August
1960. early 60's TV show soundtrack : The Avengers (with Laurie Johnson Orchestra);
1962 - Played in the stage show 'A Thurber Carnival'. Formed his own quartet with Bobby Wellins.

1962/64 - Performed with New Departures, an innovative jazz poetry vehicle with Michael Horovitz.

1963 - On film soundtrack : Scene Nun Take One (1963 with Kenny Graham);

1964 - Recorded 'Just Friends' with Paul Gonsalvez & Tubby Hayes.

1965 - Wrote and recorded 'Under Milk Wood'. He wrote the score of his best-known and still-selling album Under Milk Wood Jazz Suite on the night bus to Streatham, after finishing work at Ronnie Scott’s.
On film soundtrack : Sounds of the Kalahari (1965 with John Dankworth). Stan worked with Sonny Rollins on the sound track of ‘Alfie’ (released 1966), which features his piano solo.
1966 - Recorded 'Alice In Jazz Land' with his first big band.
Left Ronnie Scott's due to poor health.
1967 - Toured and recorded with Ben Webster and Zoot Sims.

1968 - Recorded 3 'concept' albums for his contract with Columbia Records including his least favourite of all time - 'Latin American Caper'.

1969 - Formed new trio with Dave Green and Bryan Spring, the nucleus of most of Stan's groups over the following nine years.

International Times Archive

One of Stan's archive entries in the International Times. This infamous (although not quite as infamous as Oz magazine) underground magazine of the sixties published gig listings for many of the bands and venues of the day in and around London. Click the link to the archive above and an image of the page can be seen. The IT archive produces a fascinating insight into the cultural background of the day.