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The Godfather of British Jazz

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This is the first biography of jazz pianist and composer Stan Tracey CBE (1926-2013). Drawing on personal diaries, Stan's many interviews over a career that spanned 70 years, and his own recollections of working with his father, Clark Tracey draws a picture of what made Stan Tracey a unique character in jazz music. In this very personal account, Stan's wit and wisdom come shining through in abundance.

The book begins with Stan's memories of war-torn London and his first experiences of hearing jazz. As a teenager, he joined ENSA and the RAF Gang Show. During the next three years he played at more venues than many musicians do in a lifetime, including a period in the Middle East. Once demobbed, Stan befriended pianist Eddie Thompson, vibraphonist and drummer Victor Feldman and clarinettist Vic Ash and began his professional career. He toured with Kenny Baker's band and the Kirchin Band before joining the Ted Heath Orchestra, after which he began recording under his own name. He was invited by Ronnie Scott to be the house pianist at Scott's new club, where his legendary status grew in the next six years. He accompanied giants of American jazz such as Stan Getz, Sonny Rollins, Roland Kirk, Dexter Gordon, Freddie Hubbard and many others. During this period he wrote and recorded the seminal album Under Milk Wood, which to this day remains his best-selling work. Stan left Ronnie's club during a period of drug addiction and in the 1970s found himself penniless. His wife Jackie employed her skill in the music business and began presenting concerts to keep Stan afloat, while he found new musical friends in the free/improvised idiom of the time, such as Mike Osborne and Keith Tippett. Commissions for suites emerged and Stan's writing skills found an outlet through the formation of his various groups that were to last for nearly thirty years. Stan's achievements and awards are numerous and in many cases unique. As well as an OBE and a CBE, he received several lifetime achievement awards and in his last year was the first recipient of the Ivor Novello Jazz Award.

The book includes a complete discography of all commercial recordings featuring Stan Tracey, compiled by Stephen Didymus.

Published: Nov 20, 2017

Book Contributors


Section Chapter Authors
Preface Clark Tracey
Acknowledgements Clark Tracey
Chapter 1
Early Inspiration Clark Tracey
Chapter 2
A Wing and a Prayer Clark Tracey
Chapter 3
Champing at the Jazz Bit Clark Tracey
Chapter 4
Soho Nights Clark Tracey
Chapter 5
Late Set Clark Tracey
Chapter 6
Grass Roots Clark Tracey
Chapter 7
Time and Changes Clark Tracey
Chapter 8
Nepotism Begins at Home Clark Tracey
Chapter 9
Onwards and Sideways Clark Tracey
Chapter 10
The Jazz Marie Celeste Clark Tracey
Chapter 11
'Twas Ever Thus Clark Tracey
Chapter 12
The Godfather of British Jazz Clark Tracey
Notes Clark Tracey
Discography Clark Tracey
End Matter
Index Clark Tracey


Awarded Certificate of Merit in the category of Best Historical Research in Recorded Jazz, 2018 Association for Recorded Sound Collections Awards for Excellence in Historical Recorded Sound Research

Like the music (and life) of its subject, Clark’s biography, which is supplemented by an admirably thorough discography, is single-minded, almost dogged, in its purpose: unsentimentally and dispassionately to document the career, in all its sometimes uncomfortable detail, of one of this country’s greatest musicians. It’s a considerable (and valuable) achievement.
London Jazz News

The pianist and composer had carved an indelible place for himself at UK jazz's top table, and this illuminating biography by his son Clark - a neat and attractively presented hardback - presents an unfailingly absorbing narrative recounting remarkable times.
The Beat

Clark's clear-eyed account of his father's life is a triumph, as is Stephen P. Didymus' splendidly comprehensive discography.

Listen to his record as you read, they are the best accompaniment to this fine book.
Chris Searle, Morning Star

The Godfather of British Jazz is a book that will fascinate jazz fans.
The Northern Review of Books

As this very personal account confirms, Tracey was an extraordinarily dedicated jazz musician who has earned a place in a wider jazz pantheon than the British scene within which he predominantly worked. As John McLaughlin later remarked about Under Milk Wood, “This was not ‘British Jazz’ – this was world-class music” (p 68). Tracey not only spent a lifetime doing what he loved; he did it exceptionally well, creating an enduring body of work that deserves serious consideration. This book is a valuable addition to jazz literature.
Professor Ted Nettelbeck, Eric Myers Jazz