Last Wednesday I got on the Internet and the first thing I noticed was a headline in my email that said "STAN TRACEY TRIO". I thought it was a notice about some concert in New York or Philadelphia that I had no shot of getting to but I clicked on the headline anyway and learned that British jazz pianist Stan Tracey was playing at the United Methodist Church in Baltimore that coming Sunday, the 13th, at 4:30. I spent the next day studying subway and train schedules to see if I could make the trip. Yesterday I was in a sweltering church in Baltimore mesmerized by a concert I never dreamed I'd see.
At 4:30 sharp he slowly came out from the back, a small man with a mane of grey hair touching his shirt collar, along with the other members of his trio, bassist Andrew Cleyndert and drummer Clark Tracey, Stan's son and frequent collaborator. He briefly announced that they were starting with an obscure Ellington-Strayhorn piece, "Great Times" and they were off. Tracey's playing still contains recognizable pieces of Ellington and Monk with crashing block chords and twisted, broken rhythms but those elements are woven into his own unique driving style. He didn't play any of his own innumerable compositions. Outside of the Ellington and two closing Monk tunes, everything he played for 90 minutes was a standard which was fine by me. At his age he's earned the right to play whatever the hell he wants to and like other senior jazz masters Sonny Rollins and Lee Konitz, any tune Tracey plays becomes fodder for his stabbing and driving style whether the original melody is adhered to or just used as a signpost.
After three numbers, the trio was joined by local saxophonist Ron Holloway whose exuberant r'n'b tinged playing put a nice edge on the trio's brisk interplay. There were only about 30 people in the audience but looking around they all seemed to really enjoy the performance. For me it was more than worth the all day and night trek from Annandale, VA and back. Records are great but when you get a chance to see a living legend in person you should always take it.