Stanley Clarke: Path Maker
AAJ: And how do you think something like Return to Forever happened, musically? You said that you guys were not really aware of the magnitude of the band at the time, but were you musically aware of the newness of what you were doing?
SC: We were aware that we were different, in just sort of a simplistic way. We didn't sound like Weather Report, we didn't sound like Miles Davis, we didn't sound like anybody else. And I think it was more fashionable back then to have some distinction in your art; no one asked us to copy someone. Nowadays it's more and more like that. Now, in instrumental jazz music, you have smooth jazz; some of those artists are friends of mine and I like those guys, and I have done my share of smooth jazz music. The only problem with smooth jazz is that the power of radio has forced a lot of musicians to copy each other, and that is never good for an art form, and I will leave it at that. But we had a lot of fun back then. I always like to say that it takes a lot of courage to be yourself; sometimes, in certain environments, it's easier to copy somebody else. Like all guys wearing green sweaters and playing the baritone saxophone, because some guy that plays the baritone saxophone is selling thirty million records and he wears green sweaters, you know what I mean? They do it because they think it's the easier road, and maybe it is. But in the long run it's not good for the art form.
The reason why I think our time, with the bands that came up when we came up, was important is because it was a very rich period, where all the bands were different. We really had nothing to do with Weather Report, even though all those bands came from the Miles Davis tree, because all those guys that had played with Miles had put their bands together. But all the bands were different and had different reasons to play the music they played. Some were spiritual-based guru, we had a Scientology thing going on, Weather Report was probably the first world music band out there, and others had other motivations. It was okay; there was a lot of freedom back then. It was a nice time.
AAJ: Do you think that that underdog attitude has to do with the musicians or with the media? There was this interview with John Coltrane, once, where the interviewer was very cocky and trying to push his buttons. There was no appreciation or respect towards Coltrane, and there have been many others interviews like that in the past and the present with jazz musicians.
SC: I think you nailed it. The media goes towards the obvious, because it's easy. Like for instance, jazz is more appreciated in places like Europe. When you are there, it's appreciated a little more. You almost get the feeling, here in the States, that there is an almost aggressive attempt to stop the music of jazz, as opposed to just being dismissed, "Well, we are just not going to hear it here!" This country is kinda like, "Whatever settles and makes something more interesting, we'll go for that." For instance, I don't know if you remember when Jay Leno first came on, and had Branford Marsalis basically run the band. And at that time jazz was fashionable, because of the Marsalis brothers. And you could see jazz artists on Jay Leno. I remember Roy Hargrove sitting on the couch talking with Leno. And eventually that stopped.
Probably what happened, was that ratings went down and they kinda said "Well, maybe it's because we had the jazz musicians there." It's kind of hard to pinpoint. There isn't like a lot of money made when you play jazz, compared to Dave Matthews or The Police or The Rolling Stones, or something like that. So obviously, the media is going to look at that because there is more of it. I, myself, like to look at it like cars. When you look at Chevys, they sell more Chevys than Rolls Royce. When I was young I think it was my aunt that told me, "The music that you play is like Rolls Royce hard; you're not gonna sell as many as Chevys, but Rolls Royce is a better car," and I still have that in my head. When I was younger I still wondered.
But I was fortunate, compared to other jazz musicians. We sold lots of records, especially with Return to Forever, I have a couple of records that did very well. So there were some time periods where things were pretty cool for jazz musicians. And even when smooth jazz things started, Kenny G and all those guys, people were out there buying stuff. That is a good thing, even though some people may put down Kenny G or those types of artists. I kinda look at those guys like "pseudo play artists."
Somebody told me "Man, I am listening to a lot of jazz, it's incredible, I am feeling full," and I am thinking this guys is listening to some deep music, so I asked him what he was listening to, and I was waiting to hear that he had every Coltrane record, some Miles... and he says "I got two Kenny G records" [laughs]. And I was like "Yeah man, you're really listening to it!" But four years later, he turned me on to an obscure Charles Mingus record. And he was like, "I'm going to see Wayne Shorter." So how do you get to it? I mean, how far you get into it? The human being is an adventure for all of us, so even if a guy starts off with someone that you may think it's not the best saxophonist, or writer, or painter, the guy that likes it and embraces it can be like the guy that ends up checking some other stuff out.
Of course, it is not like that all the time, and some people may follow whoever the new Kenny G is and that's it, that is jazz and that is what I am listening to. There's all kinds of listeners out there, At this point in my life I don't think too much about the newcomers and how it affects the music; I used to, but not so much anymore, because I understand it much better. You can't control it. How come you don't see a jazz musician on CNN more than a couple times a years? You can't control it. The agent that books those kinds of people is not necessarily connected to jazz or even likes it, or what's around it. Well, me neither. I like jazz music, but I sure don't like the lack of interest. And as a matter of fact it's even deeper than that; it doesn't even get up to the plate to possibly have interest in some cases. Many records have come out. You can go to many neighborhoods in America, and listen to artists nobody else knows about. There's nothing you can do about it, and I think it's dangerous for an artist to even think about it.
Now you have that going, and that, along with the difficulty of selling CDs, that has more to do with the technology, and a lot of young people think they should get it for free. Personally it doesn't really bother me so much, I have had my share of gold records, selling tons of records, and I just don't really think of making a record to make money or take care of my family. That is the furthest thing from my mind. I make records now just to document what I do; it's kinda like a calling card, a document of where am at as an artist, and that is it, totally.