Stanley Clarke reflects on early workWritten by Vicki L. Kroll | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Bass players are known for keeping time in songs, but tardiness is what set Stanley Clarke on the path to becoming a jazz superstar.
“I was probably 12 and there was an announcement made: If you want to join the band or orchestra, come to the music room to pick out an instrument,” he recalled. “I got there late, and the only thing that was left was an acoustic bass in the corner that nobody would touch, and there was a sousaphone that nobody would dare look at, so I chose the acoustic bass, and I’ve been with it ever since.”
And man, has he been with it.
“I recognized at a young age that if you spent some time practicing, you actually get better and it actually sounds better. So that’s what I’ve done from the very start, is just really try to make the instrument sound as beautiful as possible,” Clarke said.
“[The bass is] a little more cumbersome and more difficult to play physically than some other instruments, but when it’s in the right hands, it has things that it does that other instruments can’t do. I personally think it’s probably the most important instrument in a rhythm section because it bridges rhythm and harmony together.”
Naturally, the Philadelphia native also strapped on the electric bass.
“When I was younger, I was surprised there weren’t many things written especially for the electric bass, and there were hardly any books,” he said during a call from Los Angeles. “So I just started writing songs for the bass, songs that you could play on the bass and you didn’t need any other instrument. And ‘Lopsy Lu’ was one of those because it had melody, rhythm, form — everything was in one.”
“Lopsy Lu” became a hit when it was released in 1974. It was from the bass player’s first solo album, “Stanley Clarke.”
That funky, fun song features what became Clarke’s trademark on electric bass: taking Sly & the Family Stone bassist Larry Graham’s percussive slap technique to a new level and playing it over chord changes.
Thus began Clarke’s bass revolution. As a bandleader, he brought that thumping groove to the forefront.
“It’s funny in a lot of ways. I didn’t have T-shirts or banners, you know, going around, ‘The bass must be liberated! Free the bass player!’ But I do think there was an undertone of moving the bass forward,” he said. “I just did things and didn’t really pay any mind to tradition or what was fashionable; I just did things that I thought were creatively right for the instrument, and it turned out to be a good thing.”
In 1976, he released the album “School Days,” and the title track became an anthem for the bass.
A new box set, “Stanley Clarke — The Complete 1970s Epic Albums Collection,” showcases the groundbreaking early works by the master on double bass and electric bass. Released in January, the seven-disc collection includes “Modern Man” and is available at Sony Music’s PopMarket.com.
“It’s a cool package and I’m actually looking forward to sitting down and listening to [the box set] myself because I haven’t heard those records in a long time,” the 60-year-old said. “Maybe [fans] can just get a little peek and glimpse into what happened with the electric bass through the eyes of this artist, Stanley Clarke. I think you can really hear the evolution.”
In addition to his solo work, Clarke helped move jazz fusion forward as a 1972 founding member of the group Return to Forever with pianist Chick Corea. In February, Clarke, Corea and drummer Lenny White won a Grammy for Best Jazz Instrumental Album for “Forever.”