Stanley Clarke Returns to Yoshi’s

by E. "Doc" Smith on March 25, 2011

Bassist Stanley Clarke was barely out of his teens when he exploded into the jazz world in 1971. Fresh out of the Philadelphia Academy of Music, 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, Stan Getz and a budding young pianist-composer named Chick Corea. With Corea, Clarke would take the music world by storm alongside Lenny White and Al DiMeola in Return to Forever. Now some 40 years later, Clarke returns to Yoshi’s in April, bringing with him his prodigious and unparalleled talents.

All of these musicians immediately recognized Clarke’s ferocious dexterity and complete musicality on the acoustic bass. Not only was he an expert at crafting bass lines and functioning as a timekeeper – in keeping with his instrument’s traditional role – but the young prodigy also possessed a sense of lyricism and melody distilled from his bass heroes Charles Mingus, Scott LaFaro and others, as well as non-bass players like John Coltrane. 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.
The vision became a reality when Clarke and Corea 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. “We really didn’t realize how much of an impact we were having on people at the time,” Clarke recalls. “We were touring so much then, we would just make a record and then go back on the road.” The band recorded eight albums, two of which were certified gold (Return To Forever and the classic Romantic Warrior). They also won a GRAMMY (No Mystery) and received numerous nominations while touring incessantly.
Then Clarke fired the “shot heard round the world,” the one 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.
“School Days” has since become a must-learn for nearly every up-and-coming bassist, regardless of genre. Aspiring bassists must also master the percussive slap funk technique that Clarke pioneered as well. While Sly and the Family Stone’s Larry Graham had already developed a rudimentary slap technique, Clarke took the idea and ran with it, adapting the technique to complex jazz harmonies. “Larry started it, but he had only one lick,” says Clarke. “I took it from there. A lot of guys could jam all day in E, but couldn’t play it over changes.”
Clarke became the first bassist in history to headline tours, sell out shows worldwide, and craft albums that achieved gold status. At 25, he was already regarded as a pioneer in the jazz fusion movement. 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.
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 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), 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.) Clarke’s creativity has been recognized and rewarded in every way imaginable: 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.
Always in search of new challenges, Clarke turned his boundless creative energy 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 and The Transporter. He even scored the Michael Jackson video Remember the Time, directed by Jon Singleton. His latest TV project was recently scoring and writing the theme for the ABC Family Network series Lincoln Heights.  
“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 October 2007, Clarke released The Toys of Men, a 13-track CD that featured the rising jazz star, vocalist/bassist Esperanza Spalding, who was awarded the 2011 Grammy for Best New Artist. The Toys of Men also included acoustic bass interludes that provide a stirring counterpoint to Clarke’s more well known fiery electric bass attack.
In the summer of 2008, Clarke reunited with pianist Chick Corea, drummer Lenny White and guitarist Al Di Meola for the highly-anticipated and extremely successful Return To Forever world tour. February 2011 Return to Forever tours Australia and New Zealond. In August 2008 Clarke then 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. The impact of both supergroups has resonated throughout every corner of the jazz world. In 2009 Clarke released, Jazz in the Garden, is the bassist’s first acoustic jazz trio album, and features Japanese pianist Hiromi Uehara and drummer Lenny White.
Clarke’s newest release (June 2010) is The Stanley Clarke Band with Ruslan Sirota and Ronald Bruner, Jr., featuring pianist Hiromi. The album was awarded a 2011 Grammy for Best Contemporary Jazz Album.  He was also nominated for the “No Return” cut on the CD as Best Pop Instrumental Performance. Clarke feels that this album’s music is new and different from just about anything he’s done before. The range of collaborative material here has allowed him to venture to new levels of experimentation utilizing his arsenal of bass instruments. He compares this new CD to the first three albums of his solo career on Nemperor Records, Journey to Love, Stanley Clarke and School Days, with long extended electric pieces – a kind of journey.
Not one to rest on the laurels from his various pursuits as a composer, performer and recording artist of 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. “When you are starting a record company, diversity plays a major role,” says Clarke. “All of Roxboro’s artists come from different locations in the world and offer remarkable cultural differences.” The first two CD releases in January 2011 are from guitarist Lloyd Gregory and multi-instrumentalist Kennard Ramsey. The next two albums on the Roxboro Entertainment Group label will be later in the year. They will be keyboardist Sunnie Paxson and Ukrainian-born Ruslan Sirota, pianist, arranger and keyboardist, who collaborated on The Stanley Clarke Band.

Stanley Clarke with “The Stanley Clarke Band”
Yoshi’s in Oakland, Friday April 1st through Sunday, April 3rd
Friday, Saturday 8pm & 10pm $30

Sunday 2pm Kids Matinee $5 Kids, $22 Adults (with kids), $30 Adults (general)
Sunday 7pm $30

E. “Doc” Smith is a musician and recording artist with Edgetone Records and has worked with the likes of Brian Eno, Madonna, Warren Zevon and Mickey Hart among others. He is also the inventor of the musical instrument, the Drummstick. He can be reached at

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