Stan Tracey albums
Laughin and ScratchinLaughin' And Scratchin'
Jazz House JHAS 608

25 August 1965: Stan Tracey (p), Rick Laird (b), Ronnie Stephenson (d)
18 October 1965: Stan Tracey (p), Rick Laird (b), Bill Eyden (d)
Notes: © Les Tomkins I can scarcely recall a time when Stan Tracey was not active, as a pianist and composer/arranger, on the British jazz scene.
His playing actually started when he took up accordion at 12; at 19 he was performing with the RAF Gang Show.
Gigging around town led to his first regular job, as a member of the Melfi Trio at the Paramount Ballroom in London's Tottenham Court Road.
Work with the bands of Roy Fox, Laurie Morgan, Kenny Baker, Ronnie Scott, Tony Crombie, culminating in his stay with the Ted Heath Orchestra from 1957 to 1959, afforded him varied opportunities both to evolve his highly idiosyncratic piano style and to develop his writing technique.
After the original Ronnie Scott Club opened in 1959, Stan became the house pianist, and for nearly seven years his trio backed a wide range of jazz artists, including all those American first-timers.
Who did he find most worthwhile and memorable to be on the bandstand with? He names Johnny Griffin, Sonny Rollins, Ben Webster and Stan Getz, but purchasers of Archive Series JHAS 604 and 606 will have heard that he struck up a pretty good rapport with Wes Montgomery and Roland Kirk too.
And just about all of them made a point of indicating how happy they were with Stan, as a person as well as an accompanist.
Towards the end of his club residence, my question: "What effect do you feel the years you've spent at Ronnie's have had on you?" brought forth that familiar grin.
"Physically or musically? Musically - yes, it's been good for me, working with all those different guys.
You find out various things as you go along.
It's interesting from the point of view of adapting, compromising and all the rest of it.
When you do that sort of thing, you learn.
I don't mean actual notes or chords or anything - it simply helps to broaden you musically.
Physically, I suppose it's been as damaging as it's been musically helpful".
When about the same length of time had elapsed from his leaving the club, his thoughts were on parallel lines: "During those years I made a lot of space for myself.
By that I mean I tried to think about it in a broad way, simply because I think the music benefits that way.
At least, I hope it does.
But I got worn out physically; so I had to leave.
I mean, I was prepared to stay on forever, but I really physically needed to leave there.
It was a conscious decision; I felt inside me that I still wanted to go on expanding".
Stan's independent musical activities started while he was still at Ronnie's.
There were his productive Trio sets - now represented by this release.
And there was "Under Milk Wood", his Dylan Thomas-inspired suite for his Quartet with the wonderful tenor of Bobby Wellins, which was recorded, re-recorded and reissued.
I claim a small hand in this, inasmuch as one of the themes, "A.M. Mayhem", was suggested to Stan by an untitled improvised blues that he heard on a private disc after I'd recorded it in the club.
It isn't on this disc, however - Stan did not consider it up to par for inclusion here.
The Stan Tracey Big Band, alive and swinging to the present day, first surfaced in 1966, on an album of his "Alice In Jazzland" suite.
Other suites have been performed by Stan's Octet, such as "The Bracknell Connection", for the festival of the same name, and "Portraits Plus", a set of sound pictures dedicated to Stan's jazz heroes - among them Sonny Rollins, Duke Ellington and Thelonious Monk.
The Monk connection? As bassist/recording engineer Malcolm Cecil once said: "Stan is supposed to play like Monk, but I don't agree.
The only basis for saying this is that they're both unconventional piano players.
And they say his style needs no technique - you certainly need a fantastic technique to do what Stan does.
It may sound to people as if you can just sit down and do it, but that's the whole art of good playing - to make it sound easy".
Stan's own telling words on this subject were: "Some people are not listening out for music - they want fireworks all the time.
But all music is an interpretation of life and life isn't very pretty.
Monk's is a very good interpretation of it, I think, and it doesn't strive for anything.
On some things you hear, they're striving for an assumed sophistication - this neat tie business and all that.
Monk's music is sophistication of a different sort; he's expressing himself and he's not concerned what anybody else thinks.
The people that are worried about what the other lot think are doing this other bit - 'I'm going to be mysterious here.
Now I'm going to be funky' - just trying to make an impression".
Although, no doubt, not trying to, Stan Tracey certainly made a powerful impression with his Trio sets at Ronnie Scott's in 1965, together with the brilliant bass of Rick Laird and the deft drumming of Ronnie Stephenson and Bill Eyden.
As for the title "Laughin' And Scratchin"', it comes from a catchphrase well remembered by Stan, that I gather has to do with survival against whatever odds.
Writing about Stan in the past, I have referred to being aware, when watching him, of a man intensely absorbed, pouring the last drain of energy into his music, and of being aware, when talking to him, of a gentle, unassuming man, with a subtle sense of humour, sometimes self-directed.
These are factors in the make-up of a vitally individual musician.


Album Review:
Laughin' And Scratchin' is of two albums which, in their different ways, are among the most valuable additions to the Archive series.
Firstly, the Stan Tracey trio on its own, whereas previously they have appeared in an accompanying role on a number of earlier Archive issues.
This CD now shows why Stan was held in high esteem by most of the American guests and continued in the demanding position as resident pianist at the Old Place, Gerrard Street, for seven years.
Second is a storming session, all from one night on November 26, 1965 by the gifted and technically brilliant tenorist, composer, arranger Benny Golson, the last US musician to appear at Gerrard Street.
(See Benny Golson - Three Little Words).

Stan Tracey's piano style is referred to in the inlay notes as highly idiosyncratic, which is indeed more accurate than the easy-come likening of him to Monk, and to a lesser extent, the Duke.
Stan is the first to acknowledge his debt to the writing style of Ellington and his deep appreciation for Monk's music which he describes as sophistication of a different kind, but is at pains to point out that Monk expressed himself at the piano with a total disregard for what others thought.
Yes, there is a similarity to Monk in Stan's actual pianistics, but the acid test is always the immediate recognition that it is Stan to whom you are listening and no other, proved here (if such were needed) in his playing Monk by slipping in Nutty!

This then is 66.31 minutes live over two nights in August and October 1965 of Stan expressing himself in a style of playing, exclusive to him, with the excellent if slightly under-recorded bass of Rick Laird and drummers Ronnie Stephenson and Bill Eyden, respectively.
The title track and Blues At Random are Tracey 12-bar lines, jostling with 11 minute highly personal statements on Sweet And Lovely, Gettin' Sentimental Over You and Darn That Dream.
Milt Jackson's forgotten up-tempo Tahiti ends this intriguing album.

© BRIAN DAVIS Review first published in JARS