Stan Tracey at Trinity
One purpose of being a student is to show what a particular student cannot do.
One of many things that, in Oxford in the seventies, I found that I could not do was to be a jazz promoter.
The death tonight of Stan Tracey reminds me of that inadequacy - as well of some leaping, bubbling music, some of which I am playing on Spotify now.
In 1970 I could claim, with only mild exaggeration, to be a young jazz critic. I had won a competition in the Daily Telegraph to write a short piece every month. Stan Tracey was one of my subjects. I wish I could rediscover now the album that I had at that time but Spotify is not as helpful as I need it to be.
But back then, at Trinity College Oxford, we had space, a hall, the money to pay for Stan Tracey. Why should we not offer the greatest British jazz musician to our fellow students?
No reason, I thought.
The first problem came when the maestro came to check the piano.
I was not sure at first that it was Tracey himself. Surely I thought (far too much thinking here) he would have someone else to test his pedals.
But Tracey - then and, it seems, for most of his life - lived and played without the 'people' that is genius merited. In 1970, I discover now from his obituaries, he was close to giving up and becoming a postman.
Our piano, expensively hired and carried into our dining hall though it had been, was no good. The wouldn't-be postman made that very clear, like one of our tutors rejecting the scansion of a Latin line.
A retuning was required - and in those generous financial days was ordered and quickly achieved, albeit at some significant cost to to our margins for profit.
All that remained was to wait for the band to return before the announced time - and for the paying audience to follow.
Tracey was in place precisely as paid for. So were the three other players for the night. The oil-painted college founders beamed down benignly upon the scene.
A band of my closest friends was there too, but only my closest friends, encouraged by the Trinity College Arts Committee's commitment to interval drinks.
At the moment when the music was about to begin a bustle of bearded men (and one woman) arrived, probably not students but who cared or could tell?
They seemed prepared to pay but they needed some questions answered.
Were we offering the Stan Tracey Septet, which seemed to be what they wanted?
Or the Quintet which seemed to be what they were expecting?
Or the Quartet which was going to send them instead to an evening at the White Horse?
The White Horse had a good night.
Mr Tracey played for the agreed time, precisely for the agreed time, took his money and left.
After that I never rediscovered my fiercest enthusiasm for the man who made jazz a British art like no other ever had or has.
An early lesson for me about critics and money-makers and how the two may be resistant to mixture.
RIP to Stan Tracey.