The pianist Stan Greig, who has died at the age of 82 following a long illness, was a stalwart of the British jazz scene for 60 years and was known for his boogie-woogie prowess, and his convivial nature. As pianist or drummer (he took up drums, he said, because he was so often confronted by duff pianos on gigs), he played in key bands in the British trad jazz revival movement, among them the groups led by Ken Colyer, Acker Bilk and Humphrey Lyttelton before embarking on a fruitful freelance career in middle age.
Born in Joppa, Edinburgh in 1930, Stanley Mackay Greig was the son of a piano tuner and repairer. At Edinburgh’s Royal High School in the mid-1940s, he formed a band with fellow pupils who, like him, were mad for 1920s jazz. The Royal High School Gang’s front line featured the now-legendary duo of clarinettist Sandy Brown and trumpeter Al Fairweather. It rehearsed in Greig’s living room, and almost immediately began playing gigs. Greig continued to play with Brown and Fairweather after they had all moved to London; their fantastically distinctive album Doctor McJazz is one of the all-time greats.
On leaving school, Greig took up his father’s trade and worked with him until the age of 24 when, as a drummer, he signed up to Ken Colyer’s London-based band. He joined Humphrey Lyttelton just in time to play drums on the 1956 recording session that produced the Top Twenty hit, Bad Penny Blues, but his tenure with Lyttelton was interrupted by the Suez Crisis – he was called up as a reservist – and when he returned, he had to share the drummer role with Eddie Taylor, who had been brought in as his replacement. Greig soon quit to go on tour, as a pianist, with the American gospel singer Brother John Sellers.
Greig spent much of the 1960s on the road as pianist with Acker Bilk’s Paramount Jazz Band which was riding high on the success of their hit Stranger on the Shore. After eight years, he left and spent a year running a coffee shop before emerging as a freelance juggling all sorts of gigs with piano tuning jobs (Mick Jagger was one of his regular clients). In 1975, he formed the London Jazz Big Band, a 16-piece outfit which featured many big names on the London scene, had a devoted following for ten years, and was very much a labour of Greig’s love. (He even built the music stands.)
Multi-instrumentalist Alan Barnes, who worked regularly with Greig when both were in Humphrey Lyttelton’s band in the 1980s, describes the London Jazz Big Band as “one of the most joyous big bands ever”.
Barnes adds: “He was a great spirit to be around and a real driving force in Humph’s band. One of his original boogie compositions had a break in which he would shout out the song title. I can remember his sudden appearance in the pulpit above the band in Peterborough Cathedral yelling ‘Beano Boogie!’ at an amazed congregation.”
The clarinettist Forrie Cairns, who played duo gigs with Greig in the 1970s, recalls: “Stan was a musician totally absorbed in the music all his life, and a pianist who differed from almost all the other good British pianists in his amazing feel for blues and gospel music. He played that style like the black American musicians did.” Which is no doubt why, in the 1980s, he toured Europe with the Harlem Jazz & Blues Band, an otherwise all Afro-American line-up of veterans from the golden era of jazz.
By 2002, the onset of Parkinson’s Disease had begun to hamper Greig’s ability to play. At a benefit concert in his honour that year, he was assisted by Jools Holland, and at a wonderful tribute concert to Sandy Brown at the 2002 Edinburgh Jazz Festival he shared piano duties with his old friend Ralph Laing.
Twice divorced, Greig is survived by his first wife and by their three children.
* Stan Greig, pianist, born August 12, 1930; died November 18, 2012.
First published in The Herald, Saturday December 1