Stanley Clarke: Path Maker
AAJ: The New York days, with Horace Silver, Art Blakey, Dexter Gordon, Joe Henderson, Pharaoh Saunders, Gil Evans, Stan Getz, and a young Chick Corea. Were you aware of the importance of those days? I remember interviewing Chick Corea when I was too young to appreciate that moment completely, and today, looking back, I know I was a lucky person.
SC: Ah, not really. I think, and maybe this is one of the reasons that will explain to you why, when you interviewed Chick Corea years ago, and you were like eighteen years old, you were not really aware of the magnitude of that moment; jazz musicians, traditionallyand I hate to use this word because it has been so overusedthey kinda have this "underdog" mentality. But it's just kinda like you don't have an over reaching, flamboyant kind of thing, like a rock musician. If you remember Prince, when he first came on the scene, you never had a perception of Prince being anything other than what he is now. As a matter of fact he couldn't get any bigger; he was just big, even when he didn't sell a lot of records. A lot of musicians are like that. He came out, and part of the presentation was this "I am a rock star," and everything, down to what was said, done, and, of course, playedwhich can be the least thing on the listis part of the package.
With jazz musicians, it's the opposite. I can actually say, and I know Chick never did, that I have never said or even thought "Wow, I'm a legend." I'm not even going to try to like that word. When people say "Oh, Stanley, you are a living legend," I go, "Really?..well..." [laughs]. The big thing that jazz musicians do, it's kinda like the guy that's in the back room and is really struggling to get this picture-perfect. He is not out there in the world letting it see what kind of pants he is wearing that day, and definitely is not letting the world know what he thinks about anything. You will never see anybody on TV ask a jazz musician, "What do you think of President Obama?."
I remember something this one time, I got a big laugh out of it, but I felt sorry for the artist. One time they had this interview, I think it was Britney Spears, and they asked her what she thought of George Bush, or something to do with George Bush, and you could see that she was totally unequipped, and didn't know what to answer, and had no clue what they had asked her. So she replied something, and the next day everybody was on it. I don't think it was her fault, I mean, that wasn't her job: she is a singer. I felt bad for her. But because those kinds of audiences are out there, humans tend to think that you know something they don't know. And it's not true.
The way this world is set up, it's just a business and it is for certain individuals to do this or that and to be presented a certain way. It has nothing to do with your intelligence. There are a few guys I know that nobody knows, and I may think they are incredible, and maybe they made one or two records, and they can have great conversations. I was very happy when Frank Zappa was getting interviewed a lot, because people started to see that he was a really articulate man, but because of his persona, no one would even think of asking him anything. They thought he was always on drugs or something, and I think he might have never done drugs in his life.
So, getting back to your question: as a musician, I was only interested in sounding good. It didn't matter, even in some cases, how much we were getting paid. We were just out there really trying to sound good and living up to the tradition of jazz music, and the guys that came before us. Like for instance, I didn't really realize how big Return to Forever was until the last reunion that we did a couple of years ago. It was huge; we could have played any of those places two or three times, and we didn't, because we said we couldn't do it. But that was a pretty important band, and all those individuals have their own history.
The great thing about Chick Corea, myself and [drummer] Lenny White, and not so much with [guitarist] Al Di Meola, is that we can go back to those guys. Chick and I played with Art Blakey; I played with Dexter Gordon, and we both played with Stan Getz; Lenny White played with Jackie McLean and a lot of older jazz musicians, so we had that in common. So whether we knew that was big, it's not something you thought about; if I would have thought about it at the time, I wouldn't have been with those people, I wouldn't have played the way I did. It's kinda like an oxymoron in concept, to have those two things together; a guy that thinks he is so big and there he is, playing at nineteen with Dexter Gordon. You're so scared you can't think of anything [laughs].