EXCLUSIVE: Blogarrhea Q&A with Bass Legend Stanley Clarke
Join Classicalite's Mike Greenblatt as he chats with bass legend, Stanley Clark, in this exclusive Blogarrhea Q&A.
Montreal--He sits in his dressing room, a lone solitary figure, head down, seemingly lost in thought. The tumultuous reception to his all-too-short set at the Montreal International Jazz Festival must still be ringing in his ears. Bassist Stanley Clarke--along with Return To Forever bandmates Chick Corea, Lenny White and Al Di Meola--might have cemented the foundation of 1970s jazz-rock fusion after Miles Davis laid the voodoo down with Bitches Brew, but that's old news. Today he's known as the "Liberator Of The Electric And Acoustic Basses," and a father figure to pianist Beka Gochiashvili, 19, organist Cameron Graces, 21, and drummer Mike Mitchell, 18, in The Stanley Clarke Band, a band that takes RTF to the nth degree. Hey, when you're 64 and you've been called a genius since 25, it doesn't faze you anymore.
The man is an educator, and in realizing what it's going to take to move the music forward, he presents in his own band these three young musicians who, virtuosi all, will be future stars in their own right. Still touring in support of Up, last year's adventurous CD, Clarke let the young'uns have their way. Of course, that still didn't stop him from plunking out the most amazing bass runs you're ever likely to witness on a stage. All four musicians made the audience ooh and ahh in rapture at their chops, savvy, professionalism and theatrical flair. Beka pounded the piano like a lunatic Jerry Lee Lewis, standing up, swaying and rocking on the balls of his feet while playing as if he had 10 hands. It was almost physically impossible to do what I witnessed first-hand. He didn't kick the piano stool over like Jerry Lee, but his unerring sense of theater, bravery, dynamics and drama lent a kick to the proceedings that transcended genre.
Drummer Mitchell went furthest out on a limb but damn if he didn't come back by the end of each measure every time. His was a flurry of arm and leg action, a one-man army of propulsive energy. As Clarke smiled and nodded towards him, he gave the crowd the kind of visceral thrill that only the greats can. I'm talkin' Buddy Rich, Gene Krupa, Tony Williams kind of great. Sure, go ahead, scoff, but I swear this kid put on an exhibition that I haven't seen since Bonzo tore up stages with Led Zeppelin or Carl Palmer made mincemeat out of "Pictures At An Exhibition" with ELP. When it was over, the audience rose as one and gushed their love and loudness in the kind of response reserved for those one-time-only nights of such specialness that the set will stay with each and every person's gut who witnessed it. I'm rather jaded, I admit, but I can still see and hear Mike Mitchell's arms flailing about in a cosmic percussive tsunami. I stood dazed, I looked at the person on my right. She was dazed too. As folks started to file out, she noticed the laminate around my neck and suggested we go backstage to talk to Clarke. I told her that would be impossible but she persisted.
"Fine," I acquiesced, "when they stop us, let's go get a drink."
As fate would have it, we walked right to Clarke's dressing room, paused when we saw him in deep contemplation, and that's when security finally did their job.
"You're not supposed to be here."
"We were hoping to get a few quotes from Mr. Clarke."
"How did you get here?"
"We walked in like we own the place," I offered.
"Stay here. I'll ask."
My partner-in-crime was Levita Mondie, a blogger who also happens to be a vegan chef, school teacher, single mom and UBER driver. We were ushered into Clarke's inner sanctum and the man greeted us like old friends. He was in an expansive mood and soon he was talking about the future as personified by his young bandmates.
"I'm just doing what guys did for me back in the day," he explained. "I wasn't any older than Beka, Mike and Cameron when I came out of Philly after graduating college. I went straight to New York City and if it weren't for guys like Horace Silver, Art Blakey, Dexter Gordon, Joe Henderson, Pharaoh Saunders, Gil Evans and Stan Getz who all put me in their bands, I don't know what would have happened."
"Who'd you look up to at the time for bass inspiration?"
"Charles Mingus, Scott LeFaro and, although he was no bassist, John Coltrane. I think everybody looked to 'Trane."
"Wasn't that sort of young for you take off and expect work?"
"Nah, Tony Williams [1945-1997] joined Miles [Davis] when he was 15."
"You recorded eight albums with Return To Forever. I see you have no guitarist in The Stanley Clarke Band yet it's so RTF-inspired. Did you feel you didn't want to-or couldn't-replace Al Di Meola?"
"That wasn't it. I just wanted a sound with two keyboards. I like that. Beka plays piano like no one and Cameron can provide those esoteric fills on organ."
"I was looking around for what I thought was a flute."
"I know, right? He gets a whole host of sounds out of that thing."
"You're doing so much for the music by educating youngsters. The foundation you started with your wife Sofia 13 years ago offers scholarships to young musicians. The proof of the pudding was tonight's amazing set. You were content to let the three youngsters shine. Just like my man Wynton [Marsalis] who..."
[laughing] "Wynton's a hoot. He wants everybody to think he only listens to the masters like Armstrong, Gillespie and Ellington. I know, though, for a fact, he gets down with Sly & The Family Stone on a regular basis!"
"What do you think of pop artists today?"
"Funny you should ask that. We were talking earlier about how Jay Z and Britney Spears just do not have a clue, man."
"In what way?"
"They don't know what to say! Hey, go make your music, that's fine, but at least try to be the slightest bit knowledgeable about the world around you! My generation seems to have some sort of social and political consciousness. Not those two." [laughs]
And with that, as fast as we were ushered in, we were ushered out.