I've just noticed that it's been nearly two months since I posted a blog and that seems such a long time ago but in fact wasn't much before Christmas. I have to admit that I've been busy like everyone else I know and I also haven't been inspired to write about anything 'arty' .
That changed just last week when we went to a Stan Tracey concert at the Barbican. Stan is a famous jazz pianist. He was born in Denmark Hill in London in 1926 and raised in Tooting in south London. My Dad also lived in Tooting in the dying days of WWII and it was where I lived when I first moved to London in 1979 so I feel Stan is a kindred spirit for that reason alone. By the way, Tooting has nothing whatsoever to recommend it. It is part of the sprawling mass which is south London but does boast a good selection of south Indian restaurants so if you find yourself in the vicinity enjoy a meal at one of them.
My husband sold the idea to me of going to a Stan Tracey concert a few years ago saying 'He's ever so good and we don't know how much longer he'll be with us' meaning he might peg out at any moment. So we went to see him perform and I became a Stan Tracey fan. Just like that. When he's playing the piano he looks to me like an old fashioned journalist thumping a news story out on an old manual typewriter but the sounds you hear are magical - it's quite amazing. Fortunately Stan's health has remained vibrant enough for him to keep performing so we've been able to see him twice at The Bull's Head in Barnes which is a great old pub right near the Thames but a pain to get home from once the trains have stopped running in the evening, and once at the Vortex jazz club in Dalston which I prefer because we can get there on the bus and it's small so you're practically sitting in the musicians' laps. The sketch shown above clearly is not of Stan, because I find he plays too quickly for me to draw him in action, but one of his fellow musicians playing the sax at The Bull's Head and is dated 28 February 2004.
The setting at the Barbican was a complete contrast to the intimate venues we've been to before. The Barbican is a rather grand concert hall with large, comfortable leather seats where people speak in hushed voices and, from where we were in the circle, the stage looked to be a long way away. It crossed my mind that this might be detrimental to the experience of listening to the music but the acoustics were so good the distance didn't matter. The evening began briskly with Stan playing with an octet of musicians. What I like about jazz is that every musician gets a chance to do a solo and at the end of their set they all took their bows, bobbing up and down to the audience, while Stan read out their names.
This was followed by a two-piano duet with Keith Tippett which was completely improvised and this was the first time they had performed together for 15 years. They didn't do any preparation for it and the result was remarkable. Here we had to have a break because I for one was emotionally drained and we came back refreshed for the second half. This was Stan with his Big Band and it was the first time I've seen a big band live and it was a complete contrast to the first half of the evening. It was big, noisy and vibrant. Stan closed the evening by playing a solo on the piano after everyone else had left the stage; just him and us - it was great.