Tuesday, 23 July 2013

(Almost) Saw Legendary Pianist Stan Tracey in Concert

Brian Kellock (piano), Bobby Wellins (tenor sax), Clark Tracey (drums) in Edinburgh
I am currently in Glasgow, Scotland for a couple of weeks. Last Wednesday I brought my ailing Mark VI to nearby Edinburgh for overhaul by Bryce Ferguson, Scotland’s top woodwind tech. It has had a spring broken off in the Eb post since last September and was in general need of maintenance attention. Hope to have it back later this week. Bryce promises it will play amazing. If I thought it played well before...

Edinburgh positions itself as the world’s festival city and luckily this week is the Edinburgh Jazz and Blues Festival. As such festivals go these days, it is large, well-produced, and well-marketed – but hardly any of the acts suit my taste in music. Wacka wacka.

Of all the acts on the bill over ten days, my choice was to see pianist Stan Tracey, legendary leader of the house rhythm section at Ronnie Scott’s club in London during the halcyon days of the 1960's. Stan has backed a virtual pantheon of saxophonists: Sonny Rollins, Ben Webster, Roland Kirk, Dexter Gordon, Zoot Sims, Al Cohn, Stan Getz, Don Byas, Lucky Thompson, and Ronnie Scott himself (quite a mean tenor player). Stan is 86 now and I figured I’d better see him now while I can. His regular quartet features tenor saxophonist Bobby Wellins, one of Britain’s finest and up in years himself.

I took the 50-minute train ride from Glasgow to Edinburgh after my business was done for the day and went straight to the venue at 3 Bristo Place, a church converted to performance space. When I arrived, the doorman informed me that Stan had cancelled due to illness and pianist Brian Kellock would substitute, leading Stan’s quartet for the evening’s show. Hmph. Not my day. I heard that the organizers actually knew Stan has been ill for the last month and were hoping he would get well in time for the festival gig. Not to put Brian down, since he is a fine musician, but I stayed anyway, having travelled to Edinburgh specifically for the gig. Unfortunately the box office sold me a ticket for the same £17.50 that I would have paid to see Stan himself.
Age Mates:
Bobby Wellins and his BA

The show started and ended with Monk – Monk’s Mood was the opener and Blue Monk the encore. The highlight of the first set was Lover Man done as a fast samba. Bobby Wellins sounded his best and got the best audience response when he played a couple of straight-ahead blues shuffles. Bobby and his Selmer Balanced Action look to be about the same age.

The music was nice but frankly a bit too conservatory-perfect for me – well done, professional, enjoyable, musically correct, but it didn't get me up out of my seat despite the fact that I have been starved for good live jazz for ages. Maybe a bit too perfect. 8 out of 10. Bobby didn't even break a sweat, perhaps a function of playing for such a sedate and well-mannered audience. I was one of the youngest people in the crowd. Kudos to the sound engineers – the sound was finely balanced and crystal clear. Bassist Andrew Cleyndert was a standout. Well done.