Ken: ‘You never got into drugs, did you?’ Stan: ‘Of course I did!’: Jazz-lover and Conservative MP Ken Clarke talks to his hero Stan Tracey about playing – and partying – with the greats (Ken Clarke, November 13, 2006, The Guardian)
KC: How did you get into music?
ST: I used to listen to radio broadcasts from British dance bands. There was a guy called Harry Roy, the king of a dance craze called ha cha cha. Not cha cha cha. Then I saw an accordion in the local music shop, a beautiful, big shiny thing. It was the glitter that did it for me. So I started learning that. But it put you in arsehole-land as soon as you strapped it on, it was such a ridiculous thing. I played with the forces entertainment service, in a Gypsy accordion band with no Gypsies. We toured factories and played to people during their lunch hour, to encourage the war effort. I think they had us to make sure the workers didn’t take too long over their lunch. They couldn’t wait to get out.
KC: And was that when you first heard jazz?
ST: Yeah. I heard the American records – Basie, Duke Ellington, Art Tatum. I thought it was all wonderful, but I thought boogie-woogie was the ultimate. A bit later on, British musicians playing on the transatlantic liners started visiting New York. I could sit in [New York jazz club] Birdland all night for a dollar and listen to Charlie Parker, the original quartet with Dizzy Gillespie in it. A very young Miles Davis, too.
KC: Then you found yourself the house pianist at Ronnie Scott’s in London, playing behind all these godlike figures like Sonny Rollins and Dexter Gordon and Stan Getz.
ST: Yes. I did that for six years, and though it wasn’t always pleasant, it taught me an amazing amount.
KC: Some of them could be difficult to deal with because of drug problems, I heard.
ST: That, and some of them wanted to make it clear they were used to much better than British rhythm sections. But Sonny Rollins wasn’t like that. He’d always converse with you musically, and he’s a great guy. Getz was a great tenor saxophonist, but not a nice guy. One night my wife Jackie was in, I was playing a solo, and he crept over to her and told her which hotel he was in and his room number, then he went back on the stand. I thought that was thoughtful of him.