The story behind a favourite portrait: Stan Tracey by William Ellis

Stan Tracey©William Ellis

One of my favourite portraits of the jazz legend Stan Tracey is that by William Ellis.

So I was very pleased to come across this New Statesman piece where Ellis discusses some of his portraits, starting with the one of Stan.

This photograph of Stan Tracey, sometimes called the “Godfather of British Jazz”, was taken in 2003 at the Guildhall in Bath and captures a true jazz legend in a relaxed, intimate atmosphere. “I’ve got to know Stan since then and I’ve often photographed him on stage. This was taken at the sound check for the concert to be given by him and his long-time collaborator Bobby Wellins.

“Stan is one of those guys who came through, even when, as he dryly puts it, ‘The phone never started ringing.'”

Even for someone as experienced as Ellis, nerves still take hold before a shoot. “I couldn’t sleep the night before thinking about how I would arrange this sitting. But when I meet the sitter I feel so relaxed, almost like we’ve already done the session.

Ellis sums up what he thinks the essence of portraiture is:-

A portrait can be more than memorable, it can be definitive. The face is a theatre — drama, emotion and expression happening right there. A good portrait gets inside, behind the safety curtain. All the planning and the thought about how a portrait should be set up just provides a framework, but that’s all it is. It’s the intimacy and intensity during the shoot that makes it work.

For me his image of Tracey captures both the modesty, and self-deprecating nature of the man, and also his quiet determination, his refusal to compromise. It is certainly a fitting portrait of one of our greatest musicians.


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