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Concert Preview - Stanley Clarke

By Mark Towns
Published: May 15 1997, Houston Press

There have been plenty of bass-playing stars in pop music history -- all you have to do is think of Paul McCartney and his upside-down Hofner, Brian Wilson, Jack Bruce, John Entwhistle -- but none of them has had quite the influence on his bass-playing peers that Stanley Clarke has. For most of its history, the bass played a supporting role to other instruments. Clarke, though, was one of the first to bring the bass to the forefront of the music and, more important, to sell large numbers of CDs filled with songs built around bass solos.

After first trying the accordion, violin and cello as a kid in Philadelphia, Clarke switched to acoustic bass and began studying classical music. Following four years at the Philadelphia Academy of Music, he played in a few small rock groups before getting his first big jazz break by joining Horace Silver's band in 1970 at age 19. That led to a year-long stay with Joe Henderson, followed by stints with Pharoah Sanders, Dexter Gordon and Stan Getz, in whose band Clarke met ano-ther young up-and-comer by the name of Chick Corea.

Clarke and Corea soon formed the seminal fusion band Return to Forever; the jazz world would never be the same. Each member of Return to Forever went on to become a star in his own right, with Clarke's solo debut being 1973's Children of Forever. That led to 1974's Stanley Clarke and 1976's School Days, two of the most definitive jazz bass recordings of all time. Both releases featured Clarke's signature bass sound as the lead instrument playing jazz with rock beats and melodic pop hooks. Another bass innovator, Jaco Pastorius, appeared on the scene around this time, but while Pastorius's genius lay in his harmonic and melodic linear exploits, Clarke's approach was based mostly on expansions of the thumb thumping and slapping method of bass playing pioneered by Larry Graham and Louis Johnson. Graham and Johnson built the house of thumb-slapping bass, but it was Clarke who broke down the door and said, "It's party time!"

Clarke went on to hook up with some of the biggest names in not just jazz, but rock as well. In 1981, he had a top ten pop hit with the song "Sweet Baby," recorded with George Duke. Later, he joined the touring band of Jeff Beck; he played with Keith Richards and Ron Wood's New Barbarians; and more recently, he worked with ex-Police drummer Stewart Copeland as part of Animal Logic. But of late, most of Clarke's time has been spent as a composer of film soundtracks. He's done scores for Passenger 57, Poetic Justice, Higher Learning, The Five Heartbeats, Panther and Boyz N the Hood, among others. His latest CD, At the Movies, features the theme songs from some of these films, as well as other Clarke originals that weren't issued on the soundtrack CD?s.

Although he's touring to promote the Movies CD, Clarke's live act usually draws on material from throughout his career. So audiences can expect to hear a lot more than just what they've heard in the theaters. Clarke prides himself on being an artist who never puts on a predictable show.

Stanley Clarke performs at 7 and 9:30 p.m. Wednesday, May 21, at Rockefeller's, 3620 Washington Avenue. Tickets are $17 to $32. For info, call 869-TICS.

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