Clark Tracey has been leading his own small groups for forty years, and from the outset they have been fertile learning platforms for some of the UKs most talented young musicians.

Almost as if reinventing himself in the process, every few years Clark takes stock and appears to discover the latest promising new young musicians and a new quintet is born.

Once again this process has brought together one of the finest rhythm sections in the country along with two outstanding young soloists in saxophonist Alex Clarke and vocalist Emily Masser.

As the Quintet are poised to release their debut album, I took the opportunity to catch up with Clark to talk about the new Quintet and album, and his new record label.

Firstly, congratulations on an excellent album in The Clark Tracey Quintet Introducing Emily Masser. A splendid set with some wonderful arrangements and playing by all. This must be one that you’re proud of?

Absolutely. This band feels very special, and I’ve put a lot into this recording and our follow up tour. I believe it has a unique quality to it, for sure.

There appears to be a bit of a mix up with the release date for the album. Jazz Views had been advised the release date was the 15th of March, and other sources including your social media posts indicate the release date is a couple of weeks away. Just to make sure no one misses out on their chance to secure a copy, where is the best place to order the album?

My own record company website, strayhornrecords.com is the place to buy it immediately. At the end of this month, it’s released in all the major outlets like Amazon etc.

Returning to matters of the quintet, what a find in Emily Masser! This is the first time you’ve featured a vocalist in your Quintet, how did you discover her and what prompted you to bring her into the new group?

After initially meeting her at festivals with her dad, Dean Masser, as a kid, I noticed a couple of years ago that as a teenager she had begun posting scat duets and solos on Instagram that simply blew me away. Whenever I decide to begin a new band there is always a catalyst for that decision, so this time it was Emily. She has a real and honest talent and is without doubt headed for the top really soon.

Another great talent is saxophonist and flautist Alex Clarke. You have been working with Alex for a while now, and of course played on her album Only A Year. How did you first meet Alex and start playing together?

Alex spent a year at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire, where I teach. I was impressed with her then but later decided to book her at my jazz club in St Albans and later at my festival. Following those occasions, she invited me to play with her at Swanage Jazz Festival and that band became her new line up. I formed a new label to release her first official CD as a result.

And not forgetting the engine that makes any band run smoothly, the rhythm section! How long have you all been playing together as a unit, and are their plans to tour and keep the quintet working?

I had hardly played much with pianist Graham Harvey but have always been hugely impressed by his wide ranging knowledge of the music – he is so adaptable; he can play in most styles credibly and swings like mad. My bassist for the last seven years has been James Owston, who is fast becoming the finest bassist in this country. We’ve locked in with various line ups, including three of my own bands. As I mentioned before, the band has a 22 date tour around England throughout April and May. I am already looking into the future with a view to a follow up tour in late November/December and then back into the studio for our second release. Thanks to some forward planning promoters, we even have dates into 2026! I haven’t excluded Scotland and Wales in my tour, I’ve just found it impossible to find work there in the last few years. I live in hope!

I feel like we’ve had this conversation before, but when we first met when you were playing with your first quintet with Guy Barker and Jamie Talbot there seemed to be plenty of chances to play and keep a band together with stable personnel. It appears that these opportunities no longer exist to develop a group sound in this way?

I think that band in particular, and maybe it was partly the 1980s jazz scene, mustered a lot of attention. We were all smartly dressed, played tight arrangements, had no fear and received several tours here and abroad. I’ve never had that much attention since, and I miss it. Maybe this time? I have to say, in the last 8 months we’ve been together, I have a very loyal bunch of musicians and it feels a lot like a family.

What advice would you give to aspiring jazz musicians starting their career such as Alex and Emily for example?

The best advice I can give is that which my dad passed on to me: be true to yourself, don’t let people drag you down, music is everything. I would also add, practise hard because there’s a lot of competitors in this business suddenly. While it’s true to say many musicians survive without trying too hard, we need to keep the motivation and retain the passion that brought us here. Never rest on your laurels. And, of course, be nice to people on the way up because you might meet them on the way down! I won’t take credit for that adage.

Another prickly subject also seems to be the sale of albums and the challenges presented by streaming services. In the past, dare I say good old days, the sales of an album would be used to promote gigs and often fund the next release. As the owner of your own record label TenToTen Records and the curator of Resteamed Records, which releases recordings by Stan Tracey, just how healthy is the market for physical products such as CDs and of course vinyl?

In fact, I’ve closed the door on Tentoten Records and started this new label Stray Horn Records. However, I discovered there’s little point in manufacturing more than 500 copies of any new release. It’s really hard to sell them, but the best place is always on gigs. Especially if it’s with the band you’re playing in. This is what has made so many of Resteamed Records unsaleable. I’ve had to massively drop the prices at gigs and online in an effort to sell old stock. We had too many made, imagining there would always be a market for them. We reissued Under Milk Wood on vinyl last year and had 1000 pressed, which sold out in 3 months. That’s a fairly clear indication of the vinyl market. It paid for my latest CD. I have more than 30 albums available on Bandcamp now for downloading and that’s starting to take off. It’s still a case of paying off the last album to pay for the next one though and it can be a slow process. I want to make our next quintet album, I want to reissue so much of Stan Tracey (as well as new unissued tracks), and it’s almost time for Alex’s follow up recording.

On a more positive note, I belief that you have recently had the chance to perform Stan’s Genesis Suite with the RBC Big Band? Will there be more opportunities to perform this and other works by Stan in the future?

Next year is the 60th anniversary of the release of Under Milk Wood so we’ll be hitting the theatres up and down the land with that production. As for Genesis, it was suggested after the performance by the head of jazz studies that we should perform it more often and elsewhere. Also, I am in the process of rehousing Stan’s hand written suites into the library at the Conservatoire and we plan to play many of those charts, involving sextet and octet.

And going forward are their plans to release some more of Stan’s music?

As you can imagine, I’m overwhelmed with unreleased projects, including a great album called Spectrum, also a double CD of his two sextet recordings. There are more octet pieces and I have many unreleased tapes of various ensembles going back years that I would dearly love to release. A benefactor wouldn’t go amiss at this stage!

For more information visit Clark’s website and Stray Horn Records.

To fond about the music of Stan Tracey visit Resteamed Records.