Stanley Clarke: ‘I’m not sure how much jazz exists as a pure form today’

Samedi 1 Novembre 2014

Interview with jazz fusion bass player Stanley Clarke for the release of his album Up! The Stanley Clarke Band will play in Cenon on 2 November 2014 and in La Cigale in Paris on 5 November.

© Toshi Sakurai
© Toshi Sakurai
What are you early musical memories and your first favorite artists?

I have always listened to all types of music, new and old. Early on I loved Jimi Hendrix, R&B and I was entranced by John Coultrane, Miles Davis, Stan Getz and Charlie Parker. My parents introduced me to different music. My mother was an amateur opera singer, so sang opera around the house. Much of the newest music, I’m exposed to by my children.

What was different from nowadays in the jazz world when you began your career in the early 70’s?

Jazz is jazz. To me the term Jazz is an undefined term. One man's jazz is another man's something else. It’s a perfect combination of improvisation and technical skill at it’s best.

When I first started out, fusion bassists were sort of the underdogs in a group. Now, since the bass revolution in the 1970s, it’s totally liberated. Bassists are bandleaders, solo recording artists, leading tours, etc. I believe it’s considered the fastest expanding instrument in the past 10 – 20 years. I’m honored that I was able to be one of the forerunners in this movement.

Of course, there have also been great advances in the technology of instruments, amps, as well as recording methods. I enjoy the technology and pretty much embrace progress in these areas.

The music industry as a business has dramatically changed over the last forty years. With the integration of music and technology, it’s a whole new game as far as the business is concerned. I’m enjoying the ride and seeing where it’s going.

There are an incredible number of great musicians in the Up album. What memories do you have of the recording sessions?

I had a wonderful time making this CD and I think it shows in the results! This is the most energetic, fun, rhythmic and upbeat album that I have ever done. My goal with this CD was to make a record with my friends. I wanted the creative process to be as effortless as possible. I wanted to eliminate the outside distractions that sometimes influence sessions, so I only invited my musician friends to perform on the CD. I chose engineers I had worked and felt comfortable with and I recorded the tracks at some of my favorite studios.

Everyone came prepared and ready to play. All are fantastic musicians and there was an ease and naturalness to our sessions, especially considering the various genres everyone came from. The talent ranged from the great Michael Jackson session rhythm section of John Robinson, Paul Jackson, Jr. and Greg Phillinganes to my friends from rock like Stewart Copeland and Joe Walsh to my newer friends from the more classical Harlem String Quartet as well as so many more. They came to the studio to give everything they had and it was a creative process that I am grateful to have experienced.

You appear in the Al Jarreau’s tribute album to George Duke and you also cover Duke’s Brazilan Love Affair in the Up album. Could you tell me about George Duke and your experience with him?

“Brazilian Love Affair” is one of my favorite George Duke compositions. In the song George does an amazing job of expressing his love of Brazil with its gorgeous beaches, beautiful people, good food and openness of heart. I’m not surprised he was so successful in this composition, as George was a master!

I cherish my memories of George and I’m grateful he played such a large part in my life and career. I loved him as a brother and had the highest respect for him as a man and a musician. In my eyes George was brilliant and epitomized a great combination of science and soul. His accomplishments are astounding and there is no doubt that he left a huge footprint in the music industry.

In homage to George, I made a conscious decision to include his music in every show and project this year. We were both in the movement that spearheaded jazz-fusion in the early 70’s and were gratified that 40 years later there was longevity to that movement.

I feel so fortunate to have had him as a friend for more than forty years.

You play jazz but you have always played diverse musical styles too. Do you consider yourself as a jazz musician? And do you think that the musical boundaries exist?

Good question! Actually I think of myself as a bass player first before being bound to a particular music style. The bass instrument is such an integral part of all types of all rhythmic music…jazz, R&B, rock, pop, etc. If you deny that the bass repertoire has some sensibilities of all those types of music, you are taking half of your arsenal away.

I think it’s interesting that jazz-fusion has been assimilated into so many genres of music now. I hear it in Gospel, Rock, Pop, Country and more. I’m not sure how much jazz exists as a pure form today.

You have composed and performed scored for the movies. What did you like best in this experience?

I very much like scoring for film and TV. This part of my career sort of started by accident. I was asked to score a little Saturday morning kids show called PeeWee’s Playhouse. The score got nominated for an Emmy Award. People in the industry were noticing, so I continued scoring and never looked back.

I think composing scores it has made me a better musician. Certain types of projects bring out everything you have. They bring out all your skills in composing, conducting, arranging, technology, and of course social skills like talking with the director. Through film composing I’m able to express emotions that I can’t always do on an album.

The music is so essential to conveying the mood of a film as well as specific scenes that it is a big responsibility.

Which of your albums are you particularly proud of?

I don’t know if I have “one” favorite album or project. Usually whatever I’m working on at the time is my favorite project. Right now my newest CD UP! is at the top of my list.

I’m pretty much an in-the-moment type of guy. It’s like asking parents, which of their children is their favorite. Unfair! I really care about what I put out there on tour or on record, so each project and release is unique and special to me.

I guess my first three albums on Nemperor Records - Journey to Love, Stanley Clarke and School Days – are special because they really defined me as an individual artist and initiated my crusade to bring the bass to the front of the stage as a melodic instrument.

You will two concerts in France in November. Could you tell me more about the gigs?

I’m very excited to come back to France. Audiences are the best!

This tour I’m going to be bringing along Beka Gochiashvili on acoustic piano, Mike Mitchell on drums and Cameron Graves on keyboards. Beka and Mike are in their teens and are already award-winning, extraordinary musicians. They are about the same age I was when I first started playing with Horace Silver, Art Blakey, Dexter Gordon, Joe Henderson and others. Cameron Graves is a bit older and brings with him a variety of keyboard experience. Together, they energize me and will be a treat for the audience!

There will be more electric bass on this tour than the last few years when I’ve been concentrating more on acoustic. I think of myself as primarily an acoustic bassist, but I still have a great passion for the electric bass and of course one of the main advantages of it is the physical freedom of expression that one has on stage.

Expect some “School Days!”

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