Bass legend Stanley Clarke visits the Alamo City and revisits his career
Published: May 30, 2012
World renowned bassist and composer Stanley Clarke is about as wide reaching a musician as they come: a jazz bassist by pedigree who's also made time to jam with Carlos Santana and compose the score for Pee Wee's Playhouse. Now coming off a recent reunion with Return to Forever and the release of a six-disc box set compiling his complete '70s solo work, Clarke spoke on the phone with the Current days before his June 2 show at the Carver Community Cultural Center.
Is pushing the limitations of the bass part of what attracts you to the instrument?
I've always been one to say that an instrument shouldn't define a person. I don't think that anything should define what anybody does. A person has to find what he wants to do, and what that instrument has to say. Early on, I was in a lot of bands where I was just a traditional bassist. But at the same time, I was a composer, and I remember thinking very clearly, "You know what? I should write bass music." So I wrote these songs that actually came out sounding very unique. I mean, now it's commonplace, but back when I started the solo records, there were maybe four or five bassists who had record deals. Now, of course, there are thousands. I was very happy later when a bunch of other bass players like Jaco Pastorius and Victor Wooten came on the scene and I didn't feel so alone.
You started out playing solid hard-bop with guys like Horace Silver, Art Blakey, and Joe Henderson. What pushed you towards an electric sound?
It was always there. When I played with Horace Silver and Dexter Gordon, I was still listening to Jimi Hendrix. I was still listening to James Brown. The guys that created the [jazz-rock] fusion, bands like Mahavishnu Orchestra, Return To Forever, all these guys who came out of the Miles Davis band, we listened to all kinds of music. You know, when I played with Horace Silver, I wanted to play with Horace because of who Horace was. But it didn't define who I was. I played with him, and I understood that language, but I was always into all the things that I was into. So what happened was that, when the time came for me and Chick [Corea] to put our own groups together, it was only natural that we did what we liked. And the music came out to be a collection of all the music that we listened to growing up, and so there was jazz there, there was rock, there was funk.
Understandable. But why not another band with a more rock or funk edge?
Well, you know I was once called to play for the Doors for some occasion, and had a few other opportunities like that. I wanted to play with those jazz musicians because the music was a bit more challenging, and when you're a player and you've studied a lot, you want to show what you can do. But I did record with lots of different people: Carlos Santana, Stewart Copeland [of the Police], so I was pretty well rounded.
Why did guys like Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, and [Miles Davis', Weather Report's] Joe Zawinul achieve crossover success in a way that few other jazz musicians were to do before or after?