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Kenny Clarke

Kenny Clarke is an NEA Jazz Master

Kenny Clarke (born Kenneth Clarke Spearman, later aka, Liaqat Ali Salaam, on January 9, 1914 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania-died January 26, 1985 in Paris, France) was a jazz drummer and an early innovator of the bebop style of drumming. As the house drummer at Minton's Playhouse in the early 1940's, he participated in the after hours jams that led to the birth of Be-Bop, which in turn lead to modern jazz. He is credited with creating the modern role of the ride cymbal as the primary timekeeper. Before, drummers kept time on the high-hat and snare drum (”digging coal”, Clarke called it) with heavy support from the bass drum. With Clarke time was played on the cymbal and the bass and snare were used more for punctuation. This led to a much more relaxed style of drumming. From this point more and more rhythms and poly-rhythms are made possible. For this, “every drummer” Ed Thigpen said, “owes him a debt of gratitude.” Clarke was nicknamed “Klook” or “Klook-mop” for the style he innovated.

Clarke was a founder member of the Modern Jazz Quartet (as the Milt Jackson Quartet) in 1951 and also participated in many recording sessions as house drummer for Savoy Records. Connie Kay took his place in the MJQ in 1955 and from 1956 Clarke was resident in France where he regularly worked with visiting American musicians in Paris, in particular forming a working trio, known as “The Bosses”, with Bud Powell and Pierre Michelot.

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