Stanley Clarke was born June 30, 1951 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He was introduced to the bass as a schoolboy when he arrived late on the day instruments were distributed to students and acoustic bass was one of the few remaining selections. He is a graduate of Roxborough High School in Philadelphia. Having graduated from the Philadelphia Musical Academy, (which was absorbed into the University of the Arts in 1985), Stanley Clarke was barely out of his teens when he exploded into the jazz world in 1971. He arrived in New York City and immediately landed jobs with famous bandleaders such as Horace Silver, Art Blakey, Dexter Gordon, Joe Henderson, Pharaoh Saunders, Gil Evans and Stan Getz among others. As a young prodigy he was immediately recognized for his sense of lyricism and melody, which he had distilled from his bass heroes Charles Mingus, Scott LaFaro and others, as well as non-bass players like John Coltrane.
Clarke fired the bass “shot heard round the world” that started the ‘70s bass revolution and paved the way for all bassists/soloists/bandleaders to follow. In 1974, he released his eponymous Stanley Clarke album, which featured the hit single, “Lopsy Lu.” Two years later, he released School Days, an album whose title track is now a bona fide bass anthem. The song, “School Days,” has since become a must-learn for nearly every up-and-coming bassist, regardless of genre.
Leading the bass liberation movement, Clarke envisioned the bass as a viable, melodic solo instrument positioned at the front of the stage rather than in a background role and he was uniquely qualified to take it there. A pioneer at 25, he became the first jazz-fusion bassist in history to headline tours, sell out shows worldwide and craft albums that achieved gold status. He was also the first bassist in history to double on acoustic and electric bass with equal virtuosity, power and fire. In his ongoing efforts to push the bass to new limits, he invented two new instruments, the piccolo bass and the tenor bass. The piccolo bass is tuned one octave higher than the traditional electric bass. The tenor bass is tuned one fourth higher than standard. Both of these instruments have enabled Clarke to extend his melodic range to higher and more expressive registers.
One of Clarke’s musical visions became a reality in the early 1970’s when he met Chick Corea and eventually formed the seminal electric jazz/fusion band Return to Forever. RTF was a showcase for each of the quartet’s strong musical personalities, composing prowess and instrumental voices. In additions to their recent Grammy Award winning Forever CD, the band recorded eight albums, two of which were certified gold (Return to Forever and the classic Romantic Warrior). They also won a Grammy Award (No Mystery) and received numerous nominations while touring incessantly. In 2011 Clarke reunited with founding members, Chick Corea and Lenny White, for the highly anticipated and extremely successful Return To Forever 2-year, 90-city world tour.
Always in search of new challenges, Clarke turned his boundless creative energy to film and television scoring in the mid-1980s. He has become one of the elite in-demand composers in Hollywood. Starting on the small screen with an Emmy-nominated score for Pee Wee’s Playhouse, he transitioned to the silver screen and now has well over 65 film and television credits to his name. As composer, orchestrator, conductor and performer he has scored such blockbuster films as Boyz ‘N the Hood, What’s Love Got To Do With It?, The Transporter, Romeo Must Die, Passenger 57, Poetic Justice and The Five Heartbeats just to name a few. He even scored the Michael Jackson video Remember the Time, directed by John Singleton. Most recently he scored the 2013 box office buster, Best Man Holiday. Clarke has been nominated for three Emmys and won a BMI Award for Boyz ‘N the Hood. In 2014 he accepted an invitation to become a member of the exclusive Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences.
“Film has given me the opportunity to write large orchestral scores and to compose music not normally associated with myself,” says Clarke. “It’s given me the chance to conduct orchestras and arrange music for various types of ensembles. It’s been a diverse experience for me musically, made me a more complete musician, and focused my skills completely.” His 1995 release, Stanley Clarke at the Movies, is a testament to this heightened level of musicianship.
In addition to touring with his own band, Clarke has always enjoyed the challenge of collaborating with other artists on tour. Clarke 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. Over the last decade he toured with George Duke in 2006 and the Clarke/Duke 4: Bring It Tour in 2012 and 2013, until Duke’s untimely death. Clarke’s involvement in additional projects as leader or active member include: Jeff Beck (world tours, 1979), Keith Richards’ New Barbarians (world tour, 1980), Animal Logic (with Stuart Copeland, two albums and tours, 1989), 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 2004) Vertu’ (with Lenny White, 1999) and “Trio!” (With Bela Fleck and Jean Luc Ponty, 2005.) In 2008 Clarke teamed up with fellow bass titans Marcus Miller and Victor Wooten – collectively known as S.M.V. – and released Thunder, their earth shaking debut collaboration. In 2012 he toured jazz festivals with Stewart Copeland (Police drummer) in Europe in addition trio dates with Chick Corea and legendary drummer Jack DeJohnette.
Not one to rest on the laurels from his various pursuits as a composer, performer and recording artist of more than 40 albums and 60 film scores, the Fall of 2010 marked Clarke’s launch of his own record label, Roxboro Entertainment Group. This business venture includes music publishing for his own and other musicians’ work, as well as the development of various projects aimed at music education. So far Roxboro Entertainment has released CDs from guitarist Lloyd Gregory, multi-instrumentalist Kennard Ramsey. Keyboardist Sunnie Paxson, Ukrainian-born pianist, arranger and keyboardist Ruslan Sirota and 16-year-old jazz piano prodigy Beka Gochiashvili from Tbilisi, Republic of Georgia. It will soon be releasing singer Natasha Agrama’s CD, The Heart of Infinite Change.
Clarke passionately believes in giving back to help young musicians hone their skills. He and his wife Sofia established The Stanley Clarke Foundation thirteen years ago as a charitable organization, which offers scholarships to talented young musicians each year. Clarke strongly feels that those who have had success in realizing their own vision have a duty to help others in their struggle to emerge. Early in 2007 Clarke released a DVD entitled Night School: An Evening with Stanley Clarke and Friends chronicling the third annual Stanley Clarke Scholarship Concert with proceeds going to the fund. The concert features diverse group of musicians that include Stevie Wonder, Wallace Roney, Bela Fleck, Sheila E., Stewart Copeland, Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Flea, Wayman Tisdale, Marcus Miller and so many more. The DVD has garnered outstanding reviews since its release.
Stanley Clarke, to this day, remains as passionate about music as that young teen prodigy from Philly with big dreams. Like the man himself, his biography is a continuous work in progress. Legend is a word that has been associated with Stanley since he was 25, yet he remains unpretentious, preferring simple pleasures in the peaceful canyons where he resides in Los Angeles.
Clay Corley Sr.
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