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- Posted on Jun 29th 2010 4:30PM by Mark Wigmore
"I know there are certain fans that come to see me because of the access to check me out in cyberspace," Clarke tells Spinner as he prepares for several months of live performances. A quick search on YouTube will turn up hours of footage from concerts that feature his funk-tinged electro jazz, as well as his wildly artistic and percussive solo work on upright acoustic bass.
While he enjoys a legendary status among jazz lovers, he sees a change in his audience make-up. "A person might not of come if they didn't check it out online, so for me it's good, it's great to disseminate when you are trying to promote music."
This attitude is perhaps surprising when looking a little more closely at the man's career. Clarke's musical footprints can be spotted across pop culture's vast landscape. One of the most important musicians to come out of the early '70s 'fusion' era of jazz, a term he has always been uncomfortable with, he and his fellow players introduced the sounds of rock and roll's electric instruments into the genre. Clarke has worked in front of and behind the cameras in TV and film, creating scores that vary from the kooky introduction to 'Pee Wee's Playhouse' to the high-impact action of 'The Transporter.' He has produced and performed on dozens of major label albums and has toured over five separate decades.
With the unprecedented access to free content in the digital era, it would be easy to assume the industry's business state might leave something to be desired for this God of the groovy low-end. But his education on the subject comes from his own family.
"I learn a lot of things from my kids about technology," Clarke admits. "In order to really live effectively in the entertainment business you have to really have your computer chops together."
Of course, having some of the world's most recognizable and ingenious bass chops help as well. Clarke's quintessential material includes his work with pianist Chick Corea in the groundbreaking act Return to Forever, and his widely studied and influential solo recording, 'School Days.' His body of work stands alongside other bass greats of the 1970s like Jaco Pastorius of Weather Report and Percy Jones from the British act Brand X. He has influenced younger superstars like Victor Wooten of Bela Fleck and the Flecktones and the Red Hot Chili Peppers' Flea. While the lucrative days of record releases are a thing of the past to many working musicians, Clarke has his reasons for recording in 2010.
"For me making records now is more about documentation," he says. "There's always commerce -- help you make some money and all that. If you don't document it, there's really no way to guage evolution and progression. Basically when the record is over, it's like, 'Yeah, this is where we were at that day, that place and at that time.' It gives you an opportunity to go from that point."
His latest release, 'The Stanley Clarke Band,' continues his tradition of high-end musicianship, putting the bass in both lead and rhythm positions. The recording and the accompanying tour features Ruslan Sirota on keyboards, Ronald Bruner Jr. on drums, and in particular a piano giant in the form of a 31-year-old Hirumi. The Berkeley-schooled performer is lauded as one of the genre's most exciting talents, and a sure indication, both in talent and physical appearance, of the evolution of jazz on the world stage.
"It's certainly not something that would have necessarily been thought of 20 or 30 years ago," Clarke says. "She's a power house, a great player and we all love her in the band."
The record's opening track, 'Soldier,' is a lesson in dynamics that takes the listener from a bright and relaxed introduction, eventually ramping up to a driving pace with a blistering lead bass part that screams with the scent of arena rock. Placing themselves upfront in the ensemble's mix isn't a route many bassists take, but Clarke enjoys the endless avenues available to modern players.
"I think I have had the bass in pretty much every possible position it could be in," he says. "It's been fun. The bass has surely been liberated in music -- if you're a bass player and you have the ability to do all those things, you can pretty much do whatever you want. It's a nice time to be a bass player."
Picking up the acoustic bass at 13 through his school band program in Philadelphia, Clarke put in the long hours of practice needed to be the proficient and stylized player he would become. By the age of 20, he was in New York working out electric jazz sci-fi hits like 'Vulcan Worlds' and 'Beyond the 7th Galaxy.' When pressed on the debate over practice-versus-talent, Clarke preaches no contest.
"As a bass player, I can't see how anyone could have had a better opportunity to be at the right place at the right time with the right teachers and the right musicians. I think to become good, or considered the best at anything, a large part of that is the ability to shut everything else out. When I got my bass at 13, that's all I did. I used to think of ways -- and this is going to sound terrible for young people to hear -- if I could only just get rid of this school business. That's all I wanted to do: practice, practice, practice. I was driven.
"You will see something is different from the guy who didn't put in 85,000 hours, maybe he put in 20,000 hours. There will be a difference. Some guys have 'natural ability', but you will still hear the difference."