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A truly family affair in ‘Milk Wood’

06 December, 2019 — By Michael White

Clark Tracey performs music composed by his father, Stan Tracey, below (photo: William Ellis)

Dylan Thomas’s Under Milk Wood has lived on in many guises since it first appeared as a radio play in the 1950s – not least as one of the set texts I recall making the slog of A-level English almost joyous.

But one of its best reincarnations was as a classic jazz suite issued on disc in 1965 by the pianist-composer Stan Tracey. And in what promises to be the event of the season at Lauderdale House, Highgate, next Thursday (December 12), Tracey’s son Clark will perform the music live, with readings by his grandson Ben. A truly family affair.

For anybody with an interest in British jazz, Stan Tracey has iconic status. Born in 1926, he had a middling career for decades, touring with the Ted Heath orchestra and playing Ronnie Scott’s for next to nothing. By the 1970s he almost gave up and became a postman. But along the way he developed an English jazz idiom of his own – influenced by Thelonius Monk and Duke Elling­ton but turning into something else that was distinctive.

You can hear him playing on the soundtrack to the 1966 film Alfie.And the year before that came the Milk Wood suite – which took a while to register in general consciousness but was ultimately recognised as a landmark of its era.

The Guardian listed it among the 50 greatest moments of jazz history. And since Tracey death in 2013, it’s become one of those pieces people talk about in hushed tones. With the reverence due to a collector’s item of supreme worth.

The performance next week marks the end of Lauderdale’s jazz season (it resumes in May). And along­side Milk Wood, the Clark Tracey band will play another of Stan’s Dylan Thomas suites – A Child’s Christmas in Wales – again, with readings by grandson Ben.

It runs 8.30pm, Thursday December 12, Lauderdale House, Highgate Hill N6. – be quick as this one is selling fast.

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