Composer, performer, and recording artist Stanley Clarke was the guest speaker at the May 27, 2009 ASMAC luncheon at Catalina’s Jazz Club. He was introduced by ASMAC Board member Ira Hearshen with whom Clarke has worked on a number of projects over the years.
Clarke’s creativity has been recognized with gold and platinum records, GRAMMY Awards, Emmy Awards, virtually every readers and critics’ poll in existence, and more. He was “Rolling Stone’s” very first Jazzman of the Year, and bassist winner of Playboy’s Music Award for ten straight years.
Born in Philadelphia in 1951, he studied bass with Alessio Rossi at the Settlement Music School and helped him develop technique and confidence on acoustic bass. Clarke had dreamed of being the first Afro-American bass player in the Philadelphia Orchestra, but then met Chick Corea. Clarke’s mother was an opera singer and painter and his father was a mechanic.
Clarke arrived in New York at age 20 and immediately landed jobs with famous bandleaders such as Horace Silver, Art Blakey, Dexter Gordon, Joe Henderson, Gil Evans, Stan Getz and a young pianist-composer named Chick Corea. Clarke and Corea formed the seminal electric jazz/fusion band Return To Forever. RTF recorded eight albums, won a GRAMMY, and two albums went gold (“Return To Forever” and “Romantic Warrior”).
In 1974, he released his Stanley Clarke album, which featured the hit single, “Lopsy Lu.” Clarke said this first solo album, at age 22, was an accident. He met Charlie Mingus in 1972 who encouraged Clarke to do “his own thing” and to make his own records. Two years later, he released “School Days,” an album whose title track is now a bona fide bass anthem, a must-learn for nearly every up-and-coming bassist.
Chick Corea encouraged Clarke to write something for a new album, resulting in “Light as a Feather,” which also became the album title. Clarke said, “He gave me the spark and started my career as a composer.”
Clarke became the first bassist to headline tours, sell out shows worldwide, and craft albums that achieved gold status. He teamed up with keyboardist George Duke in 1981 to form the Clarke/Duke Project. Together they scored a top 20 pop hit with “Sweet Baby,” recorded three albums and continue to tour together to this day. Clarke’s involvement in additional projects as leader or active member include: Jeff Beck (world tours, 1979), Keith Richards’ New Barbarians (world tour, 1980), the “Superband” (with Larry Carlton, Billy Cobham, Najee and Deron Johnson, 1993-1994), “The Rite of Strings” (with Jean-Luc Ponty and Al Di Meola, 1995) and Vertu (with Lenny White, 1999).
Clarke turned to film and television scoring in the mid-1980s. Starting on the small screen with an Emmy-nominated score for “Pee Wee’s Playhouse,” he transitioned to the silver screen as composer, orchestrator, conductor and performer of scores for such blockbuster films as “Boyz ‘N the Hood,” “What’s Love Got To Do With It?”, “Little Big League,” “Passenger 57,” “Poetic Justice” “The Five Heartbeats,” “Romeo Must Die,” “The Transporter” and “Roll Bounce.” His latest TV project was recently scoring and writing the theme for the ABC Family Network series “Lincoln Heights.”
Aside from his various pursuits as a composer, performer and recording artist, Clarke also heads Roxboro Entertainment Group, a business venture that includes music publishing for his own and other musicians’ work, as well as the development of various projects aimed at music education.
In 2008, Clarke reunited with pianist Chick Corea, drummer Lenny White and guitarist Al Dimeola for the highly-anticipated Return To Forever world tour. In August of that year, Clarke teamed up with fellow bass titans Marcus Miller and Victor Wooten – collectively known as S.M.V. – and released “Thunder,” on Heads Up Records. Guests on the project included pianist Chick Corea, keyboardist George Duke and Butterscotch.
With his wife, Clarke has raised money for ten years to help young people go to the Musicians Institute in Hollywood. He gives at least four cash scholarships a year because he remembers “spending money on rosin when I didn’t have money to eat.”
Clarke’s latest recording, “Jazz in the Garden” is the bassist’s first acoustic jazz trio album, and features Japanese pianist Hiromi Uehara and drummer Lenny White. Clarke will appear at the Hollywood Bowl on September 2.