In 1971 a lanky teenager fresh out of the Philadelphia Academy of Music arrived in New York, and it wasn’t long before his ferocious dexterity on upright bass and incredible musicality landed him gigs with jazz luminaries such as drummer Art Blakey, saxophonist Dexter Gordon and a young pianist by the name of Chick Corea.
The bass player in question was none other than the legendary Stanley Clarke (interviewed in our Winter Special 2007 issue). Born in Philadelphia on 3 June, 1951, Clarke played accordion, violin and cello before settling on upright bass. When Chick Corea formed Return To Forever in 1972, Clarke landed the pivotal gig of his career. By the time the trimmed-down quartet of Clarke, Corea, drummer Lenny White and guitarist Al Di Meola released their fourth album, Where Have I Known You Before in 1974, the bassist was in possession of his first Alembic (an association that continues to this day) whose powerful active electronics boosted Clarke’s development of new techniques and propelled his development of the bass as a bona fide lead instrument.
By the time Corea disbanded RTF in 1977 (although the reformed quartet are touring this year) Clarke had become the first bass player to release solo albums as a leader, commencing with the little-known Children Of Forever in 1973. His 1976 release School Days and its iconic title track grabbed worldwide attention, cementing his position as one of the greats. Clarke’s solo career has continued to this day but he’s managed to fit in more eclectic work on the way, including playing alongside Ronnie Wood and Keith Richards in The New Barbarians, Paul McCartney’s album The Pipes Of Peace (1983), Animal Logic with The Police’s Stewart Copeland, as well as numerous film scores, including Passenger 57.
Through all this he has been an innovator, grabbing hold of Larry Graham’s fledgling slap technique and developing it into the monster it is today. Clarke had an idea for a bass tuned one octave higher and in 1974 commissioned luthier Carl Thompson to build what became known as the piccolo bass (first used on School Days) and a few years later he added the tenor bass to his arsenal, tuned ADGC low to high.
Clarke describes himself as ‘an acoustic bass player that has a hobby of playing electric bass’. Regardless of his own modesty, he remains a relevant and revered musician.