Stan Tracey albums
We Still Love You MadlyWe Still Love You Madly
Stan Tracey and His Orchestra
(6 December 1988)
Notes: © Charles Fox

Jazz traditions are usually musical - King Oliver's three muted choruses popping up every time Dippermouth Blues gets played, for example, or the way no performance of Flying Home sounds really complete without at least an echoing of Illinois Jacquet's tenor solo from Lionel Hampton's 1942 recording. Yet words endure as well. Ronnie Scott's jokes have their own kind of tattered immortality. And nobody who caught the Duke Ellington Orchestra in its later years can imagine a performance without the piano player standing at the microphone and assuring the audience that he and all the kids in the band loved them madly.
Stan Tracey is one of innumerable jazz fans and performers who found that Ellington's music became part of their lives. In Stan's case it took a little while. As a teenager growing up during World War II he heard and enjoyed Ellington records. But neither then nor in his apprentice years, when he was getting to grips with what the beboppers were up to, did he listen more than casually. "it wasn't until I'd reached my early thirties," Stan says, "that I suddenly got zonked by Ellington. I just saturated myself with his music. I listened to everything all the time." Tracey showed his admiration in the most practical fashion possible, by performing Ellington themes in his own way. A prime example of this occurred when, urged on by the record producer Denis Preston, he assembled his "Big Brass" -- four trumpets, four trombones and rhythm, plus guest soloists -- and recorded his arrangements of tunes associated with Ellington. That LP, ''We Love You Madly", was released in 1969, just in time for Duke's seventieth birthday (he had been born -- in Washington, D.C. -- on April 29. 1899).
Twenty years on, with Ellington, alas, no longer alive, Stan returned to the same studio on a similar quest. The line up this time was quite different -- four trumpets, three trombones, five saxophones and rhythm -- and included only one musician, the trombonist Chris Pyne, who had taken part in the earlier recording. Once again, the tunes were drawn from all periods of Ellington's career. Creole Love Call, the earliest, originally recorded by Ellington in 1927 features clarinet playing by Jamie Talbot. Mood Indigo, from 1930, a 16-bar theme which narrowly escaped being called Dreamy Blues, was Ellington's first popular success, even inspiring a riddle (Q: "What happened to the cow that swallowed a bottle of purple ink?' A: "She mooed indigo"). Alan Skidmore plays the soprano saxophone solo. Tracey's arrangement of Blue Feeling, a composition dating from 1934, interleaves the eight-bar theme with twelve-bar solos from Jamie Talbot, alto saxophone, Stan himself on piano, Phil Todd, baritone saxophone, and Henry Lowther, trumpet. A lengthy piano sequence leads into I Let A Song Go Out Of My Heart, an Ellington instrumental number from 1938 that got turned into a pop song.
Peter King's alto saxophone comes to the fore during in A Sentimental Mood, a 1935 composition on which Ellington collaborated with his lead alto player, Otto Hardwicke. But it was for Ellington's other and better-known alto saxophonlst, Johnny Hodges, that Billy Strayhorn devised Passion Flower in 1941. Art Themen plays the soprano solo. It was also in 1941 that an Ellington small group led by Rex Stewart put on the record a tune then known as Subtle Slough. Five years later Duke changed his mind and recorded it with the full band under the title Just Squeeze Me. The tenor saxophone solo is by Alan Skidmore. Jamie Talbot's alto is featured in I'm Beginning To See The Light written in 1944 and yet another of Ellington's successful pop songs.
Stomp, Look And Listen dates from 1947. The second chorus has Henry Lowther and Guy Barker - that way round - alternating on their trumpets, while later on two of the trombonists -- Chris Pyne playing open and Malcolm Griffiths using a plunger mute -- do the same, but at greater length. Festival Junction and Lay By are both fast twelve-bar blues Festival Junction was the opening movement of a three-part suite using the same title which was first performed at the 1956 Newport Jazz Festival. After Art Themen's soprano saxophone solo the entire trumpet section -- Henry Lowther, Guy Barker, Steve Sidwell and John Barclay, in that order -- play two successive rounds of two choruses apiece. Lay By comes from "Suite Thursday", composed by Ellington and Billy Strayhorn In 1960 and loosely based on John Steinbeck's novel. "Sweet Thursday" Art Themen, on tenor saxophone is the soloist.
Stan Tracey shares a number of things with Duke Ellington. One is the practical way that both men learnt to orchestrate -- by finding out on the job. Another is, interestingly enough, how both have, in different decades, had their harmonic thinking compared with that of Delius. The theory as it concerns Ellington was originally mooted in the early 1930s by two composers, the Australian-born Percy Grainger, then lecturing at Columbia University, and Constant Lambert in articles he wrote for the "New Stateman" and in his book "Music Ho!". Thirty or so years later, in the "Sunday Times" Felix Aprahamian described Tracey as the most individual harmonist since Delius.
What is certainly true is that Stan remains very much his own man, capable of paying tribute to a musical hero without need for pastiche or imitation. What might be called playful respect underlies Tracey's approach. And of course, one tradition gets reversed, for thousands upon thousands of listeners are now eager to declare that it's they who love Duke Ellington madly.