Clarke, Kenny (actually, Kenneth Spearman; aka “Klook”; “Klook-mop”; Salaam,Liaquat Ali)

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Clarke, Kenny (actually, Kenneth Spearman; aka “Klook”; “Klook-mop”; Salaam,Liaquat Ali)

Clarke, Kenny (actually, Kenneth Spearman; aka “Klook”; “Klook-mop”; Salaam,Liaquat Ali),influential bebop drummer, leader; b. Pittsburgh, Pa., Jan. 9, 1914; d. Paris, France, Jan. 26, 1985. His brother and father were musicians. While in school, he played piano, trombone, drums, and vibes. Clarke worked with Leroy Bradley’s Band in the early 1930s, had a brief spell with Roy Eldridge, then worked in St. Louis with Jeter- Pillars Band. Towards the end of 1935, he relocated to N.Y. He joined Edgar Hayes in 1937, and toured Europe with in spring 1938. After briefly working with Claude Hopkins in late 1939, he was with Teddy Hill’s Band (1940–41); Dizzy Gillespie was one of his bandmates. Hill gave him his nickname “Klook,” complaining about his “klook-mop” sound. Clarke then became house-musician at Minton’s Club in N.Y., along with pianist Thelonious Monk, and bassist Nick Fenton, where Hill was the manager. During famous afterhours sessions at Minton’s, several N.Y.-based musicians developed a new musical style that would become known as bebop. Clarke worked briefly with Louis Armstrong and with Ella Fitzgerald in early 1941 before spending a year with Benny Carter 1941–42. He was with the Henry Allen Sextet in Chicago, then led his own band in N.Y. before serving in the U.S. Army (1943–46). He was with Gillespie 1946, and again in 1948; after a European tour he remained in France for some months. He joined Tadd Dameron in 1948, returning to Paris with him in 1949. He toured the U.S. with Billy Eckstine in 1951. Clarke was a founding member of the Milt Jackson Quartet in early 1952. That August, the group became the Modern Jazz Quartet. Clarke remained with them until 1955, then went on to extensive freelance work before moving to Paris in summer 1956. He played extensively with visiting American jazzmen, as well as leading his own octet and co-leading a big band with pianist François “Francy” Boland from 1960–73. Based in Cologne, Germany, the big band performed frequently and made many recordings. It received considerable critical acclaim, and included numerous musicians of many nationalities, notably Benny Bailey, Dusko Goykovich, ldrees Sulieman, Ake Persson, Nat Peck, Johnny Griffin, Ronnie Scott, Karl Drewo, and Sahib Shihab. After the big band folded, Clarke continued to work actively in Europe as a freelancer. He revisited the U.S. on occasion to play festivals in 1972, 1979, and 1984.

Clarke was probably the most important figure in the transition from swing to early bebop drumming. His most notable innovation was shifting the basic timekeeping role from the bass drum to the ride cymbal, and then using the bass and snare drums to interject accents (“bombs”) against the beat. He was there “at the founding” of the style, and contributed to many historic recordings of Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, and other boppers. He also co-composed several early bop standards, including “Epistrophy” with Monk and the ever-popular “Salt Peanuts” with Gillespie.


Paris Bebop Sessions (1950); Telefunken Blues (1954); Kenny Clarke, Vol. 1 (1954); Kenny Clarke All- Stars (1954); Trio(1955); Septet (1955); Plenty for Kenny (1955); Kenny Clarke, Vol. 2 (1955); Bohemia After Dark (1955); Klook’s Clique (1956); Plays Andre Hodeir (1957); Kenny Clarke in Paris, Vol. 1 (1957); Pieces of Time (1983). Charlie Christian: C.C.with Dizzy (1941). Miles Davis: M.D. Vol. 1 (1952); Walkin’ (1954); Ascenser Pour L’Echafaud (1957). Clarke-Boland Big Band: Jazz Is Universal (1961); Golden Eight (1961); Now Hear Our Meanin’ (1965); Open Door (1967); Sax No End (1967); All Smiles (1968); Volcano (1969); Rue Chaptal (1969); Af Her Majesty’s Pleasure (1969); Live at Ronnie Scott’s (1969); Off Limits (1970); Lafm Kaleidoscope (1973).


M. Hennessey, Klook: The Kenny Clarke Story (Pittsburgh, 1994).

—John Chilton, Who’s Who of Jazz/Lewis Porter/Dan Keener

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Clarke, Kenny (actually, Kenneth Spearman; aka “Klook”; “Klook-mop”; Salaam,Liaquat Ali)

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