It’s difficult to believe that it has been twenty five years since a fresh faced Clark Tracey took over the drum chair in his father’s quartet (and various other Stan Tracey led ensembles). The intervening years have seem him develop into one of the countries finest drummers, at home in any company and setting, and one of the busiest; constantly in demand as first call drummer for many visiting musicians.
With the release of 'Stability' on Linn Records, Tracey showed to hither to hidden depth to his considerable talents as a drummer with some imaginative arrangements for varying size groups and instrumentations. It was therefore a pleasure to catch up with Clark and get the lowdown on some of his current activities, and future plans.
JAZZ VIEWS: As one of the busiest drummers on the UK scene, you also devote much energy to writing and arranging; a skill that has perhaps been overshadowed by your playing, but ably demonstrated on your 'Stability' album released on Linn Records. How do you manage to find the time to fit both into such a demanding schedule?
CLARK TRACEY: Any tasks like recording and producing an album such as 'Stability' or recently composing for an 11 piece band with my father are more often than not reliant on a deadline. I have an unfortunate built in laziness that takes a kick start and finish line to make me produce something. Finding the time to write isn't so much of a problem once I get started. I find I can write fairly quickly and don't get too bogged down with 'what ifs'. Those special moments happen in their own time in my experience and I like to get a piece written soon after I've begun to maintain the mood of the tune. With regard to "a demanding schedule", if I have a job to do by a certain date, I find the time from somewhere, whether I've got two days off or if I've just finished a gig and driven 3 hours. You have to.
JV: It has been a couple of years since ‘Stability’ hit the record shops, do you have plans for a follow up?
CT: I intend to make another recording for Linn at some point in the near future. June 2nd I'm recording my new quintet on my own label. This will be released as soon as possible after and definitely in time for our week at Ronnie Scott's Club at the end of August. My Art Blakey Tribute has also had interest from from 2 sources and will have its debut release next year.
JV: A recent project that I know has been important to you has been your ‘New Quintet’, which you formed to bring in some new young talents. Tell us more about the concept behind this band.
CT: I formed the band three years ago at a time that I became aware that a large number of younger players who had something to say were evolving. All my life I'd almost always been the youngest in the band and remembered what an opportunity at that age a chance of playing in a name band felt like. I looked around the scene for a while to choose the right musicians and then asked them all one day if they wanted to be a member of the group. I have always given free rein to their compositional contributions because I believe it's important to express yourself in writing as well as on your instrument. Fortunately, they are all good composers too.
JV: As well as the New Quintet, you also have a group celebrating the musical legacy of Art Blakey, which you are also touring and hoping to record?
CT: I just answered that inadvertantly- sorry! However, we are about to join forces with an agency that can guarantee us a regular look-in on the jazz circuit again after a two year absence! The line up is Alan Barnes, tenor sax; Peter King, alto sax; Guy Barker, trumpet; Steve Melling, piano; Dave Green, bass. A wonderful array of hopefuls!
JV: You have been associated with bands led by your father for some twenty five years, and a joint commission between you, 'Continental Drift' has been well received by critics and gig goers alike, and I understand that there is possibility of a further tour later this year?
CT: At this stage there are no plans for any further dates. This, like so many projects, grew from an idea that entailed a group of dates to perform a new suite and then went on an agent's books for any possible future dates. Any gigs from now on are therefore in the hands of Stan's agent, Jack Higgins.
JV: Stan, has throughout his career, repeatedly shown his love and admiration for the music of Duke Ellington, and this trend is set to continue with a new seven piece collaborative outfit called 'Ellingtonia'. Who is the band, and how did the idea for this come about?
CT: This group was formed a few years ago in Ellington's centenary year. The idea was plotted by promoter extraordinaire, Alec Sykes in Wakefield. He originally approached me with the idea, yet again for a one off gig that grew into a regular working band. Stan was happy to take part as long as I did the arrangements and he didn't have to make any announce ments (he's very shy you know!). My choice of musicians was Mark Nightingale, trombone; Mornington Lockett, tenor sax; Dick Pearce, trumpet and flugel; Andy Panayi, flute, alto & baritone saxes and clarinet; Andrew Cleyndert, bass: Myself and Stan. Luckily, the band is still being offered gigs now and again. I really enjoy this group because it gave me the opportunity to arrange some lesser known tunes of the great man, tunes that were my favourites as I grew up listening to his recordings.
JV: You have been playing professionally since 1978 with Stan’s various band’s, you own quintets, and countless dates and sessions as sideman. How do you keep the momentum, and what do you do to unwind?
CT: The momentum is unavoidable when work really picks up. I think it's like any other job really, except more tiring and not as well paid. A kind of automatic pilot sets in that keeps you going until your next day off. By then I'm ready to take care of some business and relax on my own.
JV: And what about listening pleasures. After a busy night 'at the office', what do you like to listen to at home?
CT: I don't often listen as much to music these days, oddly enough . Most of my vinyl collection is still in storage and hasn't been heard by these ears for a number of years. I'm looking forward to putting them back on the player soon. I don't really like filling my head with mine or somebody else's music straight after a gig. It's more of a 'night off' moment that I might put something on. My tastes are varied, so it might not be a jazz recording that find's its way onto the hi-fi.
JV: One last question…what about the future, have you got a particular game plan of specific projects planned that you would like to bring to fruition?
CT: I have very few "ambitions" as such. I would like to continue my writing for strings in some format or other. I would also like to put some kind of big band together one day. Long term plans are to keep travelling and playing with the eternal hope that one day the fees might go up! Ultimately, I'd like to be a good performer of my chosen art-form.