Stan Tracey Jazz Suite (1965) Columbia

Track Selection: llareggub  (“bugger all” spelt backwards, a typically Sixties conceit – naughty words “in code”)


Stan Tracey (p) Bobby Wellins (ts) Jeff Clyne (b) Jack Dougan(d)


Time for a nice cup of tea and an excursion into British Jazz.  Context from The Guardian, a newspaper which uniquely for the British press, has taken an intelligent interest in jazz.

By the 60s, British jazz no longer sounded like an American clone. Among the works that took the genre to new heights, Stan Tracey’s Under Milk Wood still reigns supreme

As a teenager Tracey had been an accordion entertainer for the military during the second world war, then a sideman with the famous Ted Heath jazz/dance band, then a Monk-esque pianist with an increasingly quirky compositional ear. But it was his six years as house pianist at Ronnie Scott’s, backing the biggest stars in jazz from Rollins to Stan Getz, and many more, that really fired his imagination. The thrill of those encounters, and the musical ideas they sparked night after night, set him composing prolifically – often on the night bus home after the gigs

.Under Milk Wood was an evocative collection of sparky themes inspired by the Dylan Thomas radio play (it’s sometimes performed with a narrator reading the parts). And thanks to Tracey’s sparing piano and Wellins’s softly hooting sax, the rippling tone-poem Starless and Bible Black is widely acclaimed as one of the great jazz performances.”

(Unfortunately the track above-mentioned has a few vinyl issues, so I have chosen an alternative to serve up as a sample of this otherwise excellent-sounding record)

The Guardian writer overlooks the issue of Musicians Union control over international  performance of musicians, with its dictated “swaps”, and requirement to use local musicians in support roles, which lead to Stan Tracey backing so many ” visiting musical stars” and its benefit to his musical development.. The idea that the rhythm section was somehow “the backing band”?   “Tonight here at Ronnie Scotts, please welcome, all the way from the USA,  Mister Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers London Troubadors”.

Vinyl: Columbia 33SX 1774

The Matrix:

Pressed by EMI, Hayes

Collectors Corner

A few weeks previously I had passed up a near mint copy of this record, at an eye-watering price. Then I came across this one, not in as great shape, but a chance to dip my toe again into British Jazz.

It has its moments, though I have no flag to wave just because it’s British. Now Tubby Hayes is something else, world class, but Bobby Wellins sounds a little Paul Gonsalves to me, and Tracey has echoes of Monk and others. I am also less than convinced of the idea of a Dylan Thomas novel inspiring tunes, but “concept” albums were all the rage in the Sixties.  I’ve not read Under Milk Wood, but this is no better or worse a piece of music if said to be inspired by the Chronicles of Narnia or Harry Potter. If it stands on it’s own two feet as music, which I think this does, that is good enough.

On reflection, I should have gone for the near-mint copy first time around. You always regret these things afterwards.

6 thoughts on “Stan Tracey Jazz Suite (1965) Columbia

  1. I’ve seen Stan live many times inc a live performance of this LP. I also managed to find an original copy on vinyl in the lovely boot fair days of the 90’s and got him to sign it for me. A classic LP.

  2. llareggub was no 60’s conceit. the name derived from the original (1953) poem by dylan thomas. in the poem, as published, it actually appeared as llaregyb, contrary to thomas’s wishes, to which bugger all respect was paid due to 1950s sensibilities

  3. “It has its moments”? C’mon, LJC, Stan’s UMW is an iconic recording by the godfather of British piano jazz. It’s a voice from a lost world – and yet Stan is still with us and playing his heart out – in his 80s! He wrote much of the UMW material in his head, returning on the first morning bus (or the latest possible night bus – one or the other) from his resident spot at Ronnie Scott’s…

    Leave aside whether it has much to do with UMW – I personally think that may be a bit of a distraction, possibly even a bit of convenient 60s ‘packaging’ that Stan thought might move a few more LPs (no, of course he didn’t think that) – and just listen. Starless & Bible Black is unsurpassable.

    I think ST is to be cherished – and in UMW (especially in the original pressing: mine is on Stan’s Steam label) you have a very cherishable record….

  4. Goddamn, I love Thomas’s Under Milk Wood, must have read and listened to it dozens of times over the years yet I never realised that llareggub is bugger all backwards. I feel such a fool! I shall listen to some jazz to buck me up.

    I always learn something on this blog, cheers LJC.

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