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Clarke, Kenny

Kenny Clarke

Kenny Clarke (1914–1985) produced experimental musical ideas that transformed the art of jazz drumming. The founder of the bebop drum style, Clarke took part in several major movements in modern American music.

Aversatile studio musician, Clarke became an integral member of Dizzy Gillespie's big band, took part in Miles Davis' Birth of the Cool sessions, and emerged as a founding member of the Modern Jazz Quartet. "Kenny Clarke was drummer for all seasons," commented Mike Hennessey in Klook: The Story of Kenny Clarke. "He played everything from military music to musette, from dixieland to avant-garde jazz, passing through gospel, blues, swing, mainstream, pre-bop, bebop, cool." Apart from drums, Clarke played piano, trombone, and vibraphone, and cowrote Gillespie's "Salt Peanuts" and Thelonious Monk's "Epistrophy."

Clarke's drum innovations helped define modern jazz. In his classic work, Inside Jazz, Leonard Feather related how "Kenny originally played Jo Jones sock cymbal style; later, gradually developed the idea that by using the top cymbal for steady rhythm, he could work out punctuation figures with his foot for bass drum effects, integrating drums with the arrangement and soloists, making drums sound like another instrument instead of just background." His abandonment of the steady four-four bass pedal figure dominant in swing music, as Thomas Owens explains in Bebop the Music and Its Players, allowed for "a variety of on-and-off beat punctuation on the bass drum and snare," often referred to in the jazz vernacular as "dropping bombs." As Owens added in Bebop, "Moving his right hand from the high hat (situated on the left) to his ride cymbal (on his right) gave him more room to maneuver his left hand on the snare drum (directly front)."

Kenneth Spearman Clarke was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on January 9, 1914. Clarke's father, Charles Spearman, played trombone and his mother, Martha Grace Scott, gave him piano from age four until her death in the late 1920s. After his mother's death, young Kenneth and his older brother lived in a home for abandoned black children, the Coleman Industrial Home For Negro Boys. The home's teacher, an accomplished musician, encouraged Clarke's playing of the trumpet, baritone horn, and trombone. Brass instruments, however, did not hold Kenny's interest and he concentrated instead on learning the snare drum. He played the drum in the home's marching band until leaving the institution at age 12. He lived with foster parents until age 16, after which he earned a living working menial jobs.

At age 18, Kenny began his first job as a professional musician when he was hired as a substitute drummer with a local band led by Leory Bradley. After performing steadily with a trio led by saxophonist Gene Jenkins, he also played with George Hornsby's band before becoming a regular member of Bradley's ensemble. In his recollection of Bradley's band, he told Art Taylor, in Notes and Tones, "It was an exceptionally good band for the time. We went to Cincinnati and became the house band at the Cotton Club, which was sort-of a supper-show club."

New York City, America's Musical Capital

In the winter of 1935, Kenny Spearman took the professional name Clarke, and arrived in New York City. One of the youngest jazz drummers on the scene, he primarily played with older musicians. Along with his older brother, Frank, he formed a trio in which he played drums and vibraphone. Around this time, Clarke recounted in Swing to Bop, he and his brother started rethinking "how the rhythm men should play together." Because most drummers repeatedly beat the snare drum, termed "digging for coal," and rarely made use of the cymbals, Clarke further explained in Swing to Bop, he broke from this tradition by "experimenting with a continuous cymbal line." This was only the first of Clarke's many musical innovations.

Clarke joined pianist Edgar Hayes' band in April of 1937. In Talking Jazz, An Oral History, drummer Art Blakey recalled Clarke's equipment when he played for Edgar Hayes. "All [Clarke] had was a snare drum, a bass drum, and one cymbal," recounted Blakey. "The high hat hadn't been invented." During the spring of 1938, Clarke toured Scandinavia with Hayes's band. That same year, he returned to America and played with Claude Hopkins before joining Teddy Hill's band. During his stint with Hill, Clarke refrained from standard steady four-four bass pedal pattern, emphasized intricate cymbal work, and played syncopated fills. As fellow band member Dizzy Gillespie, recounted in his memoir To Be, or Not to Bop, "We started to get into a new style of playing when Kenny Clarke came into Teddy Hill's band. Kenny really got a different sound outta those drums." Clarke's new rhythmic approach, however, did not impress Hill, who likened its sound to "klook-mop, klook-mop." Hill's description of Clarke's playing led to his nickname, "Klook-Mop," or "Klook." Clarke's unorthodox style also brought complaints from the band's veteran trombonist, under whose influence Hill fired Clarke in 1940.

Founded Minton's House Band

Clarke's style flourished in the more experimental setting at Minton's Playhouse, a Harlem nightclub that became one the premiere birthplaces of bebop. In 1940 Minton's owner, Henry Minton, hired Teddy Hill as manager. Hill in turn gave Clarke the job of assembling a house band. Clarke hired trumpeter Joe Guy, bassist Nick Fenton, and Thelonious Monk for the club's Monday night jam sessions. As Clarke explained in Hear Me Talkin' to Ya, "Teddy [Hill] never tried to tell us what to play. We just played what we felt." Musicians flocked to Minton's. Visitors included Benny Goodman, Lester Young, and alto saxophonist Charlie Parker. Gary Giddins writes in Celebrating Bird: The Triumph of Charlie Parker that "Clarke, Monk, Gillespie, and others shared and elaborated their musical discoveries, often conspiring to scare musicians outside the clique by inserting passing chords, or stomping off hair raisingly-fast tempos." In his book, Bebop: A Social and Musical History, Scott Deveaux emphasized that Minton's jam sessions, "provided Clarke with the space to refine new and unusual techniques and the opportunity to parade his skills before has peers nightly."

During the early 1940s, Clarke balanced nightclub work and recording sessions. After his stint at Minton's, Clarke and his Kansas City Six—comprised of Monk, Fenton, trumpeter Roy Nelson, and saxophonist Ike Quebec—played at Kelly's Stables on 52nd Street. In 1941 he recorded several tracks with Count Basie. Late in the same year, he toured with Ella Fitzgerald for five weeks, and subsequently performed with saxophonist Benny Carter. Beginning in 1942 Clarke spent more than a year with Henry "Red" Allen's sextet in Chicago and Boston.

Wartime Military Service

Induction into the army in mid-1943 cut short Clarke's stint with Allen. While stationed in Alabama for basic training, he married Carman McRea in 1944. Clarke went AWOL for one hundred and seven days, during which time, he played with Cootie Williams and Dinah Washington. When he returned to the Army, Clarke was shipped overseas to Europe. In 1944, he became a regimental trombonist. After the war, Clarke returned to New York and, in 1946, he converted to Islam and took the name Liaquat Al Salaam. "Unlike some of his peers," explained Clarke's biographer Mike Hennessey, in Klook, Clarke refused "to wear his religion as badge. He kept relatively quiet about his conversion—possibly because his was rather a personalized version of the Muslim faith."

Clarke joined Gillespie's band in 1946 and took part in small group and big band recordings. "I'd been away three years . . . Such a lot was happening in music in New York, when I got back I didn't think I was up to it," confessed Clarke, as quoted in Groovin' High: The Life of Dizzy Gillespie. "But he encouraged me. He said, 'I don't care how you play. We want your spirit."' Participating in Gillespie's Savoy sessions, recorded in May 1946, Clarke appeared in small group which cut such sides "Oop Bop Sh'Bam" and "That's Earl Brother." As a member of Gillespie's big band, he performed on the Savoy releases "Our Delight" and "One Bass Hit." In 1947, his drum work, along with Chano Pozo's congas, provided the percussive drive for Gillespie's big band RCA/Bluebird recordings such as "Cubana Be," "Cubana Bop," "Manteca" and "Good Bait." Clarke toured Europe with Dizzy's big band in 1948, and then stayed behind in Paris five months freelancing and recording with various musicians.

Not long after Clarke returned to New York in August 1948, he joined pianist Tadd Dameron's Septet. During the following year, he appeared with Miles Davis and Dameron at the Paris Jazz Festival. A Columbia recording of the festival performance, held on May 8, 1949, proved the group, which included saxophonist James Moody, a bebop tour de force. In the album's liner notes to The Miles Davis Tadd Dameron Quintet in Paris Festival International De Jazz, French jazz writer Henri Renuad stressed that Clarke "who made every beat swing like Harlem's Savoy in its heyday," gave a "stupendous exhibition of that bebop polyrhythmic drumming to which his name is forever linked. 'Klook,' then 35 was one of the major attractions of the Festival." After the festival Clarke stayed in France where he spent the next two years performing and recording. In 1949, Clarke recorded with New Orleans alto saxophonist Sidney Bechet. On the album, Bechet included "Klook's Blues" dedicated to Clarke. The number, as John Chilton wrote in Sidney Bechet: The Wizard of Jazz, moves from a slow introduction into "a fascinating series of four-bar chases" between Bechet and Clarke "that are full of life and ingenuity." While in Paris, Clarke, through the intercession of trumpeter Dick Collins, visited famed French composer Darius Milhaud. At Milhaud's home, Clarke and Collins played while the composer took notes. "He seemed to know quite a bit about jazz," related Clarke in Hear Me Talkin' To Ya. "We stayed there about three hours. He was in his wheel chair, and he'd roll around the room, very enthusiastic."

Member Of The Modern Jazz Quartet

Beginning in the late 1940s, Clarke found himself in much demand as a studio drummer, and, in the next decade, made hundreds of sides with the best jazzmen of the period. In April of 1949, he took part in Miles Davis' Birth of the Cool sessions, performing on the numbers "Venus De Milo," "Boplicity," "Israel," and "Rouge." He recorded with Charlie Parkers' quintet in 1951 and cut the Verve sides "Si Si," "Lover Man," and "Swedish Schnapps." In 1952, Clarke joined John Lewis, Milt Jackson, and Ray Brown—the former nucleus of Gillespie's big band rhythm section—in founding the Modern Jazz Quartet. A musicians' cooperative, the MJQ began as a studio group did not perform as a regular unit until 1954. The MJQ, asserts Whitney Balliett in American Musicians II, "invented a semi-improvised collective approach that defied the banality of the endless solo and the rigidity of conventional arrangements. It developed the heart-to-heart and head-to-head musical interplay and sensitivity of a string quartet."

While a member of the MJQ, Clarke still attended various studio dates, including his own Savoy label session which produced the LP Bohemia After Dark. Recorded in June and July 1955, the album emerged as a significant effort and featured the debut of alto saxophonist Cannonball Adderly. In sessions held in 1953 and 1954, Clarke backed Miles Davis for several of his Prestige recording dates. In tribute to the one of these dates, Davis, in his memoir Miles the Autobiography, related "When it came to playing soft with brushes on the drums nobody could do it better than Klook." In 1954 and 1955, Clarke attended sessions led by trombonist Jay Johnson which made up the Blue Note albums The Eminent Jay Johnson Vol. I and Vol. II. Throughout 1956, he appeared on guitarist Kenny Burrell's LPS Jazzmen Detroit (Savoy) and Introducing Kenny Burrell (Blue Note).

Parisian Expatriation

In 1956, Clarke quit the MJQ and several months later, upon the invitation to join Jacques Helian's big band, moved to Paris. Between 1959 and 1962, Clarke worked steadily in Paris with pianist Bud Powell and other visiting Americans. During the late 1950s, Clarke became the house drummer at a newly opened Parisian jazz club, the Blue Note—an establishment he would play intermittently throughout the 1960s. At the Blue Note, Clarke, along with Powell and French bassist Pierre Michelot, formed a trio known as "The Three Bosses." Francis Puadras recalled listening to the Three Bosses during the early 1960s. "Their playing," Paudras wrote, in Dance of the Infidels: A Portrait of Bud Powell, "came together into a perfect whole, flowing and powerful. . . . There's no doubt about it, [Clarke's] drum style best suited Bud and all the great players of the bop era." In 1963, Clarke led a quintet that worked six nights a week at the Club St. Germain. That same year, he appeared on Dexter Gordon's Blue Note LP Our Man in Paris. In the album's liner notes Nat Hentoff described Clarke's accompaniment as "superbly lithe" and "crisply alive."

From 1961 until it disbanded in 1972, Clarke coled the Clarke-Boland Big Band with Fancois "Francy" Boland. The band toured extensively and featured such talents as saxophonist Johnny Griffin and trumpeters Art Farmer and Benny Bailey, as well as a second drummer, Kenny Clare. Throughout the 1970s, Clarke also taught drumming in clinics and private institutions In October of 1972, he visited America to accept the Duke Ellington Fellowship from Yale University. Back in Paris, he played the 1973 Montruex Jazz festival with Dexter Gordon. Clarke suffered a heart attack in 1975, and, after a period of convalescence, performed in Chicago in September of 1976. Though he attended only a dozen recordings sessions between 1974 and 1984, Clarke still performed at festivals and nightclubs. In December of 1984, he played an exhausting five-night-a-week engagement. As Hennessey contended in Klook, "There is no doubt that Kenny had been overtaxing himself in order to maintain his connection and commitment to the music that was in his lifeblood." After years of a demanding work schedule, Clarke died of a heart attack at his home in the Parisian suburb of Montreuil-sous-Bois, on January 26, 1985.

In Jazz Masters of the Forties, Ira Gitler observed, Clarke "was a pioneer. His experimentation began much earlier than most jazz fans realize, and by the time all the tributaries of modern jazz ready to join forces in the early forties, he was there to contribute the very important stream of his drumming." Never concerned with stardom, Clarke, emphasized musical integrity above all else. He despised showy and extended drum solos, and, in his last years, taught the younger musicians the values of playing tastefully and improvisatorially within a group context. As Clarke related in a Down Beat interview, "It's the music that's important. That's the legacy we leave behind."

Books

Balliett, Whitney, American Musicians II: Seventy-One Portraits in Jazz, sec. ed., Oxford University Press, 1996.

Chilton, John, Sidney Bechet: The Wizard of Jazz. McMillan Press, 1987.

Davis, Miles, with Quincy Troupe, Miles: The Autobiography, Simon & Schuster, 1990.

DeVeaux, Scott, Bebop: A Social and Musical History.

Giddins, Gary, Celebrating Bird: The Triumph of Charlie Parker, Beech Tree Books, 1987.

Gillespie, Dizzy, To Be, or not to Bop, with Al Fraser, Doubleday & Company, 1979.

Gitler, Ira, Jazz Masters of the Forties, Collier Books, 1966.

Gitler, Ira, Swing to Bop: An Oral History of the Transition in Jazz in the 1940s, Oxford University Press, 1985.

Feather, Leonard, Inside Jazz, Da Capo, 1977.

Hear Me Talkin' to Ya: 43 Jazz Conversations, edited by Ben Sidran, Da Capo, 1995.

Hennessey, Mike, Klook: The Story of Kenny Clarke, University of Pittsburgh Press, 1990.

Owens, Thomas, Bebop: The Music and Its Players, Oxford University Press, 1995.

Paudras, Francis, Dance of the Infidels: A Portrait of Bud Powell, Da Capo, 1986.

Shipton, Alyn, Groovin' High: The Life and Music of Dizzy Gillespie, Oxford University Press, 1999.

Sidran, Ben, Talking Jazz: 43 Jazz Conversations, Da Capo, 1995.

Taylor, Art, Notes and Tones: Musician to Musician Interviews, expanded edition, Da Capo, 1993.

Periodicals

Down Beat, December 1963.

Other

Additional information for this profile was obtained from the liner notes to The Miles Davis/Tadd Dameron Quintet: In Paris Festival International De Jazz, Columbia, 1977, and Our Man in Paris, Blue Note, 1962.

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Clarke, Kenny

Kenny Clarke

Drummer

For the Record

Selected discography

Sources

In The Jazz Exiles, Bill Moody called Kenny Clarke the man who changed the course of jazz drumming. In MusicHound Jazz, Clarke is described as probably the most important figure in the transition from swing to early bebop drumming. In any survey of jazz from the 1940s through the 1960s, Clarke is omnipresent: he is at New Yorks legendary Mintons Playhouse, fomenting bebop alongside Thelonious Monk, Dizzy Gillespie, and Charlie Parker; he is present ten years later at the Birth of the Cool recording sessions, shifting bebop into more formal structures alongside Miles Davis and the Modern Jazz Quartet. In the late 1950s he joined the mass emigration of jazz musicians to Paris, joining such luminaries as Bud Powell and Dexter Gordon. Clarkes name appears as composer on two of the most famous tunes in jazz: Monks Epistrophy and Gillespies Salt Peanuts.

Kenny Clarke is probably the most famous jazzman the public has never heard of. Unlike his friend and rival Max Roach, Clarke cultivated anonymity. As quoted in Scott DeVeauxs Birth of Bebop, Clarke once told an interviewer: I always concentrated on accompaniment. I thought that was the most important thing, my basic function as a drummer, and so I always stuck with

For the Record

Born on January 9, 1914, in Pittsburgh, PA; died on January 26, 1985, in Paris, France.

Played drums in touring big bands as a teen; played with Thelonious Monk, Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Christian as bandleader at Mintons Playhouse, beginning 1940; played on classic Birth of the Cool sessions with the Miles Davis Nonet, 1949; founded Modern Jazz Quartet with John Lewis and Milt Jackson, 1951; emigrated to Paris, formed Three Bosses with American pianist Bud Powell and French bassist Pierre Michelot, 1955; Three Bosses recorded classic Our Man in Paris behind Dexter Gordon, 1963; co-founded Clarke-Boland Big Band with Belgian arranger Francy Boland, 1960.

that. And I think thats why a lot of the musicians likedme so much, because I never show off and always think about them first. While Clarkes drumming made him a perfect accompanist to the likes of Gillespie and Parker, it stood out like a sore thumb in the swing bands he played with early on in his career. A widely circulated story told in DeVeauxs book has a trumpeter for Teddy Hills big band complaining to the bandleader, Man, we cant use [Clarke] because he breaks up the time too much. Clarke was fired shortly thereafter.

It wasnt that Clarke couldnt keep time; indeed, he had been a reliable swing drummer all his life. Clarke was born on January 9, 1914, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. While details of his early life are scarce, it is known that he studied all manner of instruments in high school, from the vibraphone to the piano. He got his start playing drums in local big bands as a teenager, eventually graduating to the touring bands of Roy Eldridge and Lonnie Simmons, both 1935, Claude Hopkins, and the Edgar Hayes Big Band, which gave Clarke his first recording session and the first of many trips to Europe. But swing drumming consisted mainly of pounding out a 4/4 beat on the bass drum, adding the occasional accent on the cymbals. Clarke was searching for something new and was constantly engaged in behind-the-scenes experimentation. He told Nat Hentoff, editor of Hear Me Talkin to Ya: I was trying to make the drums more musical instead of just a dead beat with the drums as a real participating instrument with its own voice.

When Clarke joined Hills band in 1939, he encountered a kindred spirit in fellow bandmate Dizzy Gillespie: [Gillespie] got into everything! Clarke told Down Beat. He couldnt stay still; the man always was reaching out. Id write out little things and hand them back to my manDiz always sat right behind the drums. He would play them; then wed play them together. We had the fire. There was an excitement inside us; we knew we were moving into something. One day, the dam finally burst, and Clarke inadvertently arrived at a rhythmic innovation, as quoted in The Birth of Bebop: It just happened sort of accidentally.We were playing a real fast tune once with Teddy HillOld Man River, I thinkand the tempo was too fast to play four beats to the measure, so I began to cut the time up. But to keep the same rhythm going, I had to do it with my hand, because my foot just wouldnt do it So then I began to think, and say, Well, you know, it worked. It worked and nobody said anything, so it came out right. So that must be the way to do it.

In other words, Clarke began keeping time on the ride cymbal and using the bass drum to provide accents, a practice that became known as dropping bombs. Keeping time on the cymbal gave the music a much brighter, lighter, more propulsive feel. But Clarkes use of the bass drum was equally revolutionary. It wasnt just that he was using it for accents, it was where he was placing those accents. He dropped bombs to fill in gaps in the brass phrasing and to spur on soloistsnothing could have been further from the staid rhythmic style of big band swing. It was those accents, which Hill called kloop-mop, that earned Clarke the nickname Klook.

Although Hill fired Clarke, he respected him, and when his own big band failed in 1940, Hill hired Clarke to lead the band at the down-and-out Harlem nightclub called Mintons Playhouse. According to DeVeaux, Hill told Clarke: Now Kenny, Im managing this place. I want you to be the bandleader. You can drop all the bombs, all the re-bop and the boom-bams you want to play, you can do it here. The first musician Clarke hired was a then-unknown pianist named Thelonious Monk, and thus the bebop movement was born.

The jazz scene in New York in the early 1940s was studded with after-hours clubs, mostly in Harlem, where big-band musicians would go after gigs. At the clubs they would engage in jam sessions or cutting contests, seeking both to prove and improve their instrumental skills. Given Monk and Clarkes peculiar rhythmic and harmonic predilections, the scene at Mintons rapidly became a laboratory for the new style. In Geoffrey C. Ward and Ken Burnss Jazz. A History of Americas Music, guitarist Danny Barker describes the first time he heard Clarke and Monk playing together: Monk started. Klook fell in, dropped in, dived in, sneaked in; by hook or by crook, he was in. You would look, hear the off-, off-, off-beat explosion and think fireworks, and then the color patterns formed in the high sky of your mind.

But the new musicians had no name for what they were doing; they simply called it playing modern. As the movement began to build, audiences became more and more familiar with the opening count. In Jazz Gillespie is quoted as saying that for most tunes, we just wrote an intro and a first chorus. Id say Dee-da-pa-da-n-de-bop. And wed go into it. People, when theyd want to ask for one of those numbers and didnt know the name, would ask for bebop. As bebop caught on, Clarkes looser, more modern style began to affect drumming as a whole. Suddenly more conventional gigs were opening up, and Clarke played with Louis Armstrong and His Big Band and behind such luminaries as Ella Fitzgerald, Benny Carter, and Coleman Hawkins.

In 1943 Clarke was drafted into the Army, which brought him back to Europe, where he met future collaborator John Lewis. By the time he returned to New York in 1946, bop and its self-appointed spokesperson Dizzy Gillespie were famous; the music had become a national movement, and change was once again afoot. In a midtown basement, Gil Evans was conducting a jazz laboratory of his own, one that attempted to harness the harmonic and rhythmic energy of bebop to more formal, classical structures. In Jazz, Miles Davis, a regular at Evanss sessions, is quoted as saying Bird [Charlie Parker] and Diz were great, [but] if you werent a fast listener you couldnt catch the humor or feeling of their music. Their music wasnt sweet and it didnt have harmonic lines that you could easily hum with your girlfriend trying to get over with a kiss. Evans and Davis and saxophonist Gerry Mulligan were striving for a more balanced feel, where the soloists would somehow be integrated with the ensemble, and the ensemble playing would have the freedom and eloquence of soloing. The outcome of these sessions was the Miles Davis Nonet, which in 1949 recorded the classic Birth of the Cool, with Kenny Clarke playing drums. Cool Jazz, a bebop movement characterized above all by its restraint and formal sophistication, had been born; once again, Kenny Clarke was there.

He was there, too, at the birth of another exemplar of Cool Jazz, the Modern Jazz Quartet. In 1948 Clarke had gone on tour with Gillespies big band, which, like Evanss, was struggling to find a way to integrate formal ensemble structures with the vibrancy of bebop. The effort left Gillespies trumpeters so exhausted that halfway through the set, drummer Clarke, vibraphonist Milt Jackson, bassist Ray Brown, and pianist John Lewis would play together for 15 minutes as a sort of intermission. After leaving the big band, the four stayed together as the Milt Jackson Quartet, playing Lewiss careful, contrapuntal arrangements. The four decided early on to abandon the concept of a bandleader, and they changed their name to the Modern Jazz Quartet. They were as far as could be from the hepcat, bohe-mian image of the jazz musician: they played sober, they wore tuxedos onstage. While musicians like Parker were giving their compositions primitivist titles like KoKo or Ri-Bop, Lewis wrote tunes with arty, European-sounding titles like Vendome. Ted Gioia has noted in his History of Jazz that the Modern Jazz Quartet is the quintessential cool band remarkable for its longevity and popularity, as well as its consistently high musical standards, but by 1955, Clarke had had enough.

Indeed, he had had enough of life in the States, period. He told Mike Zwerin of the Culturekiosque website, Economically everything was all right, but there was something I had to clear up in my mind. You know people look for different things in life, but all I wanted was peace and quietand money. He told Zwerin that he began turning down gigs: Miles [Davis] knocked on my door, so I told the little girl I was with to tell him Im out. He just kept knocking, said Klook, Klook, I know youre in there. I just didnt feel like going on that gig. Id been recording for Savoy Records almost every day. I was tired, man. Unsure of what to do, Clarke moved to Paris, the city he had fallen in love with in 1939 while touring with the Edgar Hayes Big Band. He was not alone. Dexter Gordon had already moved there, Stan Getz and Bud Powell would do so shortly. Paris was a city legendary for its love of American jazz.

When Down Beats Burt Korall travelled to Paris to interview Clarke in 1963, the drummer had only good things to say about his adoptive country. Clarkes exile did not separate him from other American jazz musicians, who traveled through Paris frequently. With pianist Powell and French bassist Pierre Michelot, Clarke founded the Three Bosses, who backed legendary saxophonist Dexter Gordon on his classic Blue Note recording Our Man in Paris. The Down Beat interview, however, also revealed a deepening conservatism, expressed in criticism of such next-generation jazzmen as John Coltrane and Eric Dolphy. This conservatism was perhaps also expressed by Clarkes return to the music he grew up on: swing. In 1960 he co-founded the Clarke-Boland Big Band with arranger Francy Boland. Conservative though it may have been, according to Zwerin, they created some of the fattest, most swinging big band sounds ever, and almost single-handedly kept the genre in the publics earsat least the European public. Clarke died on January 26, 1985, in Paris, France; as Moody puts it in Jazz Exiles, Clarke had become an elder statesman for the jazz exiles.

Selected discography

Solo

Klooks Clique, Savoy, 1955; reissued, 1988.

Telefunken Blues, Savoy, 1955; reissued, 1993.

Bohemia after Dark, Savoy, 1956; reissued, 1996.

Clarke-Boland Big Band, Atlantic, 1963; reissued, Koch International, 2000.

With the Modern Jazz Quartet

The Artistry of the Modern Jazz Quartet, Prestige, 195255; reissued, 1986.

With others

(Miles Davis) Birth of the Cool, Capitol, 194950; reissued, 2001.

(Dexter Gordon) Our Man in Paris, Blue Note, 1963; reissued, 1987.

Sources

Books

DeVeaux, Scott, The Birth of Bebop: A Social and Musical History, University of California Press, 1997.

Gioia, Ted, The History of Jazz, University of Oxford Press, 1997.

Holtje, Steve, and Nancy Ann Lee, editors, MusicHound Jazz: The Essential Album Guide, Visible Ink Press, 1998.

Moody, Bill, The Jazz Exiles, University of Nevada Press, 1993.

Shapiro, Nat, and Nat Hentoff, editors, Hear Me Talkinto Ya, Rinehart & Co., 1955.

Ward, Geoffrey C. and Ken Burns, Jazz: A History of Americas Music, Knopf, 2000.

Online

Down Beat.com, http://www.downbeat.com (November 5, 2001).

Kenny Clarke, Jazz, http://www.pbs.org/jazz/biography/artist_id_clarke_kenny.htm (November 20, 2001).

Kenny Clarke, Sonicnet, http://www.sonicnet.com/artists/biography/504796.jhtml (November 20, 2001).

Kenny Clarke: Dropping Bombs on Paris, Culturekiosque, http://www.culturekiosque.com/jazz/miles/rhemile14.htm (November 20, 2001).

David Levine

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Clarke, Kenny 1914–1985

Kenny Clarke 19141985

Jazz drummer

At a Glance

New York City, Americas Musical Capital

Founded Mintons House Band

Wartime Military Service

Member Of The Modern Jazz Quartet

Parisian Expatriation

Selected discography

Sources

Kenny Clarke produced experimental musical ideas that transformed the art of jazz drumming. The founder of the bebop drum style, Clarke took part in several major movements in modern American music. A versatile studio musician, he also became an integral member of Dizzy Gillespies big band, took part in Miles Davis Birth of the Cool sessions, and emerged as a founding member of the Modern Jazz Quartet. Kenny Clarke was drummer for all seasons, commented Mike Hennessey in Klook: The Story of Kenny Clarke. He played everything from military music to musette, from dixieland to avant-garde jazz, passing through gospel, blues, swing, mainstream, pre-bop, bebop, cool. Apart from drums, Clarke played piano, trombone, and vibraphone, and co-wrote Gillespies Salt Peanuts and Thelonious Monks Epistrophy.

Clarkes drum innovations helped define modern jazz. In his classic work, Inside Jazz, Leonard Feather related how Kenny originally played Jo Jones sock cymbal style; later, gradually developed the idea that by using the top cymbal for steady rhythm, he could work out punctuation figures with his foot for bass drum effects, integrating drums with the arrangement and soloists, making drums sound like another instrument instead of just background. His abandonment of the steady four-four bass pedal figure dominant in swing music, as Thomas Owens explains in Bebop the Music and Its Players, allowed for a variety of on-and-off beat punctuation on the bass drum and snare, often referred to in the jazz vernacular as dropping bombs. As Owens added in Bebop, Moving his right hand from the high hat (situated on the left) to his ride cymbal (on his right) gave him more room to maneuver his left hand on the snare drum (directly front).

Kenneth Spearman Clarke was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on January 9, 1914. Clarkes father, Charles Spearman, played trombone and his mother, Martha Grace Scott, gave him piano from age four until her death in the late 1920s. After his mothers death, young Kenneth and his older brother lived in a home for abandoned black children, the Coleman Industrial Home For Negro Boys. The homes teacher, an accomplished musician, encouraged Clarkes playing of the trumpet, baritone horn, and trombone. Brass instruments, however, did not hold Kennys interest and he concentrated instead on learning the snare drum. He played the drum in the homes marching band until leaving the institution at age 12. He lived with foster

At a Glance

Born Kenneth Spearman Clarke, January 9, 1914, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; died in Montreuilsous-Bois, France, January 26, 1985; son of Charles Spearman and Martha Grace Scott; married jazz singer, Carmen McRae, 1944; divorced, 1956; had one son, Kenny Clarke Jr., with jazz singer, Annie Ross; married Daisy Dina Wallbach, 1962.

Career: Substitute drummer in Leroy Bradleys band; played in the trio of Leroy Jenkins; joined George Hornsbys band; moved to New York City and played drums and vibraphone in a trio with older brother, Frank, 1935; joined the Lonnie Simmons Sextet; Edgar Hayes Orchestra; 1937; played with Claude Hopkins, 1938; joined Teddy Hills band; Mintons Playhouse in Harlem, 1941; led the Kansas City Six at Kellys Stables; toured with Ella Fitzgerald and worked with Benny Carter, 1941; performed with Henry Red Allens Sextet, 1942; served in US. Army 1943-46; joined Dizzy Gillespies band, 1946; performed with Tadd Damerons band 1948-49; recorded solo releases and appeared on numerous other recordings; performed in Modern Jazz Quartet 1952-56; moved to Paris, 1956; played clubs and recorded; co-led the Clarke-Boland Big Band, 1961-71; opened the Kenny Clarke Drum school in Paris, 1967; performed at festivals throughout Europe, 1970s-80s.

Awards: Duke Ellington Fellowship from Yale University, 1972; National Endowment for the Arts Award, 1983.

parents until age 16, after which he earned a living working menial jobs.

At age 18, Kenny began his first job as a professional musician when he was hired as a substitute drummer with a local band led by Leory Bradley. After performing steadily with a trio led by saxophonist Gene Jenkins, he also played with George Hornsbys band before becoming a regular member of Bradleys ensemble. In his recollection of Bradleys band, he told Art Taylor, in Notes and Tones, It was an exceptionally good band for the time. We went to Cincinnati and became the house band at the Cotton Club, which was sort-of a supper-show club.

New York City, Americas Musical Capital

In the winter of 1935, Kenny Spearman took the professional name Clarke, and arrived in New York City. One of the youngest jazz drummers on the scene, he primarily played with older musicians. Along with his older brother, Frank, he formed a trio in which he played drums and vibraphone. Around this time, Clarke recounted in Swing to Bop, he and his brother started rethinking how the rhythm men should play together. Because most drummers repeatedly beat the snare drum, termed digging for coal, and rarely made use of the cymbals, Clarke further explained in Swing to Bop, he broke from this tradition by experimenting with a continuous cymbal line. This was only the first of Clarkes many musical innovations.

Clarke joined pianist Edgar Hayes band in April of 1937. In Talking Jazz, An Oral History, drummer Art Blakey recalled Clarkes equipment when he played for Edgar Hayes. All [Clarke] had was a snare drum, a bass drum, and one cymbal, recounted Blakey. The high hat hadnt been invented. During the spring of 1938, Clarke toured Scandinavia with Hayess band. That same year, he returned to America and played with Claude Hopkins before joining Teddy Hills band. During his stint with Hill, Clarke refrained from standard steady four-four bass pedal pattern, emphasized intricate cymbal work, and played syncopated fills. As fellow band member Dizzy Gillespie, recounted in his memoir To Be, or Not to Bop, We started to get into a new style of playing when Kenny Clarke came into Teddy Hills band. Kenny really got a different sound outta those drums. Clarkes new rhythmic approach, however, did not impress Hill, who likened its sound to klook-mop, klook-mop. Hills description of Clarkes playing led to his nickname, Klook-Mop, or Klook. Clarkes unorthodox style also brought complaints from the bands veteran trombonist, under whose influence Hill fired Clarke in 1940.

Founded Mintons House Band

Clarkes style flourished in the more experimental setting at Mintons Playhouse, a Harlem nightclub that became one the premiere birthplaces of bebop. In 1940 Mintons owner, Henry Minton, hired Teddy Hill as manager. Hill in turn gave Clarke the job of assembling a house band. Clarke hired trumpeter Joe Guy, bassist Nick Fenton, and Thelonious Monk for the clubs Monday night jam sessions. As Clarke explained in Hear Me Talkin to Ya, Teddy [Hill] never tried to tell us what to play. We just played what we felt. Musicians flocked to Mintons. Visitors included Benny Goodman, Lester Young, and alto saxophonist Charlie Parker. Gary Giddins writes in Celebrating Bird: The Triumph of Charlie Parker that Clarke, Monk, Gillespie, and others shared and elaborated their musical discoveries, often conspiring to scare musicians outside the clique by inserting passing chords, or stomping off hair raisingly-fast tempos. In his book, Bebop: A Social and Musical History, Scott Deveaux emphasized that Mintons jam sessions, provided Clarke with the space to refine new and unusual techniques and the opportunity to parade his skills before has peers nightly.

During the early 1940s, Clarke balanced nightclub work and recording sessions. After his stint at Mintons, Clarke and his Kansas City Sixcomprised of Monk, Fenton, trumpeter Roy Nelson, and saxophonist Ike Quebecplayed at Kellys Stables on 52nd Street. In 1941 he recorded several tracks with Count Basie. Late in the same year, he toured with Ella Fitzgerald for five weeks, and subsequently performed with saxophonist Benny Carter. Beginning in 1942 Clarke spent more than a year with Henry Red Allens sextet in Chicago and Boston.

Wartime Military Service

Induction into the army in mid-1943 cut short Clarkes stint with Allen. While stationed in Alabama for basic training, he married Carman McRea in 1944. Clarke went AWOL for one hundred and seven days, during which time, he played with Cootie Williams and Dinah Washington. When he returned to the Army, Clarke was shipped overseas to Europe. In 1944 he became a regimental trombonist. After the war, Clarke returned to New York and, in 1946, he converted to Islam and took the name Liaquat Al Salaam. Unlike some of his peers, explained Clarkes biographer Mike Hennessey, in Klook, Clarke refused to wear his religion as badge. He kept relatively quiet about his conversionpossibly because his was rather a personalized version of the Muslim faith.

Clarke joined Gillespies band in 1946 and took part in small group and big band recordings. Id been away three yearsSuch a lot was happening in music in New York, when I got back I didnt think I was up to it, confessed Clarke, as quoted in Groovin High: The Life of Dizzy Gillespie. But he encouraged me. He said, I dont care how you play. We want your spirit. Participating in Gillespies Savoy sessions, recorded in May of 1946, Clarke appeared in small group which cut such sides Oop Bop ShBam and Thats Earl Brother. As a member of Gillespies big band, he performed on the Savoy releases Our Delight and One Bass Hit. In 1947 his drum work, along with Chano Pozos congas, provided the percussive drive for Gillespies big band RCA/Bluebird recordings such as Cubana Be, Cubana Bop, Manteca and Good Bait. Clarke toured Europe with Dizzys big band in 1948, and then stayed behind in Paris five months free-lancing and recording with various musicians.

Not long after Clarke returned to New York in August of 1948, he joined pianist Tadd Damerons Septet. During the following year, he appeared with Miles Davis and Dameron at the Paris Jazz Festival. A Columbia recording of the festival performance, held on May 8, 1949, proved the group, which included saxophonist James Moody, a bebop tour de force. In the albums liner notes to The Miles Davis Tadd Dameron Quintet in Paris Festival International De Jazz, French jazz writer Henri Renuad stressed that Clarke who made every beat swing like Harlems Savoy in its heyday, gave a stupendous exhibition of that bebop polyrhythmic drumming to which his name is forever linked. Klook, then 35 was one of the major attractions of the Festival. After the festival Clarke stayed in France where he spent the next two years performing and recording. In 1949 Clarke recorded with New Orleans alto saxophonist Sidney Bechet. On the album, Bechet included Klooks Blues dedicated to Clarke. The number, as John Chilton wrote in Sidney Bechet: The Wizard of Jazz, moves from a slow introduction into a fascinating series of four-bar chases between Bechet and Clarke that are full of life and ingenuity. While in Paris, Clarke, through the intercession of trumpeter Dick Collins, visited famed French composer Darius Milhaud. At Milhauds home, Clarke and Collins played while the composer took notes. He seemed to know quite a bit about jazz, related Clarke in Hear Me Talkin To Ya. We stayed there about three hours. He was in his wheel chair, and hed roll around the room, very enthusiastic.

Member Of The Modern Jazz Quartet

Beginning in the late 1940s, Clarke found himself in much demand as a studio drummer, and, in the next decade, made hundreds of sides with the best jazzmen of the period. In April of 1949 he took part in Miles Davis Birth of the Cool sessions, performing on the numbers Venus De Milo, Boplicity, Israel, and Rouge. He recorded with Charlie Parkers quintet in 1951 and cut the Verve sides Si Si, Lover Man, and Swedish Schnapps. In 1952 Clarke joined John Lewis, Milt Jackson, and Ray Brownthe former nucleus of Gillespies big band rhythm sectionin founding the Modern Jazz Quartet. A musicians cooperative, the MJQ began as a studio group did not perform as a regular unit until 1954. The MJQ, asserts Whitney Balliett in American Musicians II, invented a semi-improvised collective approach that defied the banality of the endless solo and the rigidity of conventional arrangements. It developed the heart-to-heart and head-to-head musical interplay and sensitivity of a string quartet.

While a member of the MJQ, Clarke still attended various studio dates, including his own Savoy label session which produced the LP Bohemia After Dark. Recorded in June and July of 1955, the album emerged as a significant effort and featured the debut of alto saxophonist Cannonball Adderly. In sessions held in 1953 and 1954, Clarke backed Miles Davis for several of his Prestige recording dates. In tribute to the one of these dates, Davis, in his memoir Miles the Autobiography, related When it came to playing soft with brushes on the drums nobody could do it better than Klook. In 1954 and 1955 Clarke attended sessions led by trombonist Jay Johnson which made up the Blue Note albums The Eminent Jay Johnson Vol. I and Vol. II. Throughout 1956 he appeared on guitarist Kenny Burrells LPS Jazzmen Detroit (Savoy) and Introducing Kenny Burrell (Blue Note).

Parisian Expatriation

In 1956 Clarke quit the MJQ and several months later, upon the invitation to join Jacques Helians big band, moved to Paris. Between 1959 and 1962, Clarke worked steadily in Paris with pianist Bud Powell and other visiting Americans. During the late 1950s, Clarke became the house drummer at a newly opened Parisian jazz club, the Blue Notean establishment he would play intermittently throughout the 1960s. At the Blue Note, Clarke, along with Powell and French bassist Pierre Michelot, formed a trio known as The Three Bosses. Francis Puadras recalled listening to the Three Bosses during the early 1960s. Their playing, Paudras wrote, in Dance of the Infidels: A Portrait of Bud Powell, came together into a perfect whole, flowing and powerful.Theres no doubt about it, [Clarkes] drum style best suited Bud and all the great players of the bop era. In 1963 Clarke led a quintet that worked six nights a week at the Club St. Germain. That same year, he appeared on Dexter Gordons Blue Note LP Our Man in Paris. In the albums liner notes Nat Hentoff described Clarkes accompaniment as superbly lithe and crisply alive.

From 1961 until it disbanded in 1972, Clarke co-led the Clarke-Boland Big Band with Fancois Francy Boland. The band toured extensively and featured such talents as saxophonist Johnny Griffin and trumpeters Art Farmer and Benny Bailey, as well as a second drummer, Kenny Clare. Throughout the 1970s Clarke also taught drumming in clinics and private institutions In October of 1972 he visited America to accept the Duke Ellington Fellowship from Yale University. Back in Paris, he played the 1973 Montruex Jazz festival with Dexter Gordon. Clarke suffered a heart attack in 1975, and after a period of convalescence, performed in Chicago in September of 1976. Though he attended only a dozen recordings sessions between 1974 and 1984, Clarke still performed at festivals and nightclubs. In December of 1984 he played an exhausting five-night-a-week engagement. As Hennessey contended in Klook, There is no doubt that Kenny had been overtaxing himself in order to maintain his connection and commitment to the music that was in his lifeblood. After years of a demanding work schedule, Clarke died of a heart attack at his home in the Parisian suburb of Montreuil-sous-Bois, on January 26, 1985.

In Jazz Masters of the Forties, Ira Gitler observed, Clarke was a pioneer. His experimentation began much earlier than most jazz fans realize, and by the time all the tributaries of modern jazz ready to join forces in the early forties, he was there to contribute the very important stream of his drumming. Never concerned with stardom, Clarke, emphasized musical integrity above all else. He despised showy and extended drum solos, and in his last years taught the younger musicians the values of playing tastefully and improvisatorially within a group context. As Clarke related in a Down Beat interview, Its the music thats important. Thats the legacy we leave behind.

Selected discography

Kenny Clarke, Bohemia After Dark, Savoy.
Kenny Clarke, Telefunken Blues, Savoy.
The Modern Jazz Quartet, Django, Prestige, 1987.
Clarke Boland Big Band, RTE, 1992.
Kenny Clarke/Francy Boland, Blowing the Cobwebs Out, Emanon.
Kenny Clarke/Francy Boland Big Band, Calypso Blues, Ubiquity Recordings.

With Miles Davis

Miles Davis, Birth of the Cool, Capitol, 1989.

The Miles Davis/Tadd Dameron Quintet: In Paris

Festival International De Jazz, Columbia, 1977.

Miles Davis and the Modern Jazz Giants, Prestige, 1987.

Miles Davis All Stars, Prestige, 1987.

Miles Davis Blue Haze, Prestige, 1988.

Miles Davis and the Modern Giants, Prestige, 1989.

With Milt Jackson

Milt Jackson, Blue Note, 1989.

Opus de Jazz, Savoy, 1955.

In the Beginning, Original Jazz Classics.

With Others

(With Sidney Bechet) Sidney Bechet, His Best Recordings 1923-1941, Best of Jazz, 1994.

(With Charlie Christian) The Immortal Charlie Christian, Laser Light, 1993.

(With Dizzy Gillespie) Groovin High, Savoy, C-D reissue 1992.

(With Dizzy Gillespie) The Complete Victor Recordings, RCA, 1995.

(With Thelonious Monk) Thelonious Monk Plays Duke Ellington, Original Jazz Classics.

(With Jay Jay Johnson) The Eminent Jay Jay Johnson Vol.I, Vol II, Blue Note, 1989.

(With Kenny Burrell) Jazzmen Detroit, Savoy, reissued by Nippon Columbia,1992.

(With Kenny Burrell), Introducing Kenny Burrell, Blue Note, 1995.

(With Charlie Parker) Charlie Parker Swedish Schnapps, Verve, 1991.

(Dexter Gordon) Our Man in Paris, Blue Note, 1987.

(With Cannonball Adderly) Cannonball Adderly Verve Master 31, 1994.

Film Soundtracks (French Films)

Elevator to the Gallows, (with Miles Davis) 1958.

Two Are Guilty, 1962.

The Only Game in Town, 1969.

Sources

Books

Balliett, Whitney, American Musicians II: Seventy-One Portraits in Jazz, sec. ed., Oxford University Press, 1996, p. 303.

Chilton, John, Sidney Bechet: The Wizard of Jazz. McMillan Press, 1987, p. 222.

Davis, Miles, with Quincy Troupe, Miles: The Autobiography,

Simon & Schuster, 1990, p. 177.

DeVeaux, Scott, Bebop: A Social and Musical History, p. 220.

Giddins, Gary, Celebrating Bird: The Triumph of Charlie Parker, Beech Tree Books, 1987, p. 66.

Gillespie, Dizzy, To Be, or not to Bop, with Al Fraser, Doubleday & Company, 1979, p. 87.

Gitler, Ira, Jazz Masters of the Forties, Collier Books, 1966, p. 175.

Gitler, Ira, Swing to Bop: An Oral History of the Transition in Jazz in the 1940s, Oxford University Press, 1985, p. 52-53.

Feather, Leonard, Inside Jazz, Da Capo, 1977, p. 80.

Sidran, Da Capo, 1995, p. 391-392, 339.

Owens, Thomas, Bebop: The Music and Its Players, Oxford University Press, 1995, p. 10.

Paudras, Francis, Dance of the Infidels: A Portrait of Bud Powell, Da Capo, 1986, p. 148.

Shipton, Alyn, Groovin High: The Life and Music of Dizzy Gillespie, Oxford University Press, 1999, p. 182.

Sidran, Ben, Talking Jazz: 43 Jazz Conversations, Da Capo 1995, p. 109.

Taylor, Art, Notes and Tones: Musician to Musician Interviews, expanded edition, Da Capo, 1993, p. 189.

Periodicals

Down Beat, December 1963.

Other

Additional information for this profile was obtained from the liner notes to The Miles Davis/Tadd Dameron Quintet: In Paris Festival International De Jazz, Columbia, 1977, and Our Manin Paris, Blue Note, 1962.

John Cohassey

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