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Interviews

Stanley Clarke: Path Maker

By Published: February 22, 2011
AAJ: What would you like for people to walk away with after listening to this album?

SC: Just have a good feeling, guys playing, nothing really special. I'm not the kind of person that you have to feel some kind of profound feeling or something. Just that it is a good record and it is a good bass album, an album that presents the bass in a good way, keeps moving it forward, and everyone else sounds good as well. It's a really fun record, so that's it.

AAJ: How would you describe the sound of an electric bass, as opposed to the upright bass?

SC: The electric bass, if it's recorded well, it kinda hits you in the head like a hammer. If you take a towel and put it around the hammer, a really good material towel, and get that same strike in the head, that is the acoustic bass. The acoustic bass has many more dynamic qualities than the electric bass, just natural dynamic qualities. Yes, with the electric bass and all the new changes and electronics you can move notes and get it to sound like a lot of things. But the acoustic bass, the beauty of it, if you have a good one, when you hear a note, within that note you hear many, many different sounds. It's a beautiful sounding instrument. The electric bass is beautiful too, is just less dynamic.

The acoustic bass probably feels more like home, because that's where I started out with. When I play it I feel safe; when I'm holding the acoustic bass, I feel invincible. Even though I made a lot of records, and played a lot of stuff on the electric bass, and a lot of people just know me from my electric bass work, the acoustic bass is where I cut my teeth with after playing many years. I think I wanted to be the first African American in the Philadelphia Orchestra, but then I think Chick Corea came to Philadelphia, and we talked, and that changed that [laughs].

AAJ: Do you ever get a competitive feeling off of other bass players, musically?

SC: No, I don't think the playing field is that big; to compete for what? It's not the kind of playing field to compete for something. What do you end up with? What determents who won? When you are a musician, and I think this is true for whatever kind of musician you are I think, of course you want fame and fortune, or you want great art and then the byproducts are fame and fortune. The problem is that if you are a jazz musician, yeah, you could go, "This guy made more money than the other guy," but it is miniscule [laughs]. I don't really sense that too much, at least with the people I know, I don't really sense that competitive thing too much. I will say that back in the seventies, possibly with the managers of the groups there was probably something like that going on, but we all played in the same circles, we were all in the same shows. I don't really feel it so much. It's probably there, but I don't think it's a factor, it's insignificant.

AAJ: have you ever felt musically misunderstood?

SC: Not really. I think that people, very early in my career, got the idea that I was trying to be unorthodox on the bass and get people to see other things about the instrument, I think that's the thing that I brought to the game. Hey, you can make this with the bass. Hey, you can make a record as a bassist, you can be a leader. You can take your band and travel as a leader. Even though that's not specifically a musical thing, it's kind of a concept; I still think people saw that a lot with me.

AAJ: Do you think the concept of jazz fusion might be a step down sometimes, when it comes to jazz? You know some people tend to frown when it comes to fusion, or smooth jazz.

SC: You know, what I learned is that so much in art is relative. Some people may say that, at least, the fusion that we were doing was a step up from traditional jazz music, and for some people it was probably a step down—or not even on the ladder. It really depends on the person. If you want to put music on a ladder, as in one is better than the other, if that's a game that you want to play, you almost have to really play all those different types of music to really come up your own judgment on it, because sometimes you can't really know what it takes to do something until you actually get yourself into it and try it.

It's kinda like a guy looking at a painting of a flower that's perfect and is very simple, and it could look like, "Wow, that is probably easy to do," from another artist's point of view, and when that person paints a flower is not quite "it," you know? I think it's always a little weird when you try to say that something is better than the other, because fusion music—the jazz-rock music that we played back in the seventies—was fundamentally different from straight-ahead jazz. Number one, there were so many different elements that came into the music.

A lot of our music was written, ensemble, so the whole compositional element was really very important, and a lot of that music we played was very virtuosic stuff, people playing very fast, and you had to have a lot of technique to play in some of those bands. So is that better? Is that worse? It was a totally different type of thing. I'll tell you one thing, I remember sometimes being in some of those fusion bands and having some of the traditional players try to play that stuff, and it was interesting; and also vice versa, having some of the jazz rock players going to a bebop thing, and it's not easy. Everybody learned a lot; it's different.


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