Four-time Grammy™ winner Stanley Clarke is quite possibly the most celebrated acoustic and electric bassist in the world. As a performer, composer, conductor, arranger, recording artist, producer, and film scorer known for his ferocious dexterity and consummate musicality, Clarke is a true pioneer in jazz and of the bass itself. Unquestionably he is a “living legend,” lauded with every conceivable award available to a musician in his over 40- year career as a bass virtuoso.
Clarke’s incredible proficiency has been rewarded with: four Grammys, gold and platinum records, Emmy nominations, an honorary Doctorate from Philadelphia’s University of the Arts, and much more. He was Rolling Stone’s very first Jazzman of the Year and bassist winner of Playboy’s Music Award for ten straight years. Clarke was honored with Bass Player Magazine’s Lifetime Achievement Award and is a member of Guitar Player Magazine’s “Gallery of Greats.” He was even given the key to the city of Philadelphia.
Digging through the great multitude of accolades bestowed upon Stanley reveals an interesting phenomenon. It is difficult to remember how limited the potential career path of a bass player was before he came on the scene. Stanley almost single-handedly took the bass out of the shadows and brought it to the very front of the stage, literally and figuratively.
The traditional role of the bass was largely one of time-keeping that sonically filled out the spectrum. Clarke says: “Before I came along a lot of bass players stood in the back. They were very quiet kind of guys who didn’t appear to write music. But many of those bass players were serious musicians. All that I did was just take the step and create my own band.”
Certainly there were great and celebrated bass players before Stanley like Ron Carter, Scott LaFaro, and the pioneering composer Charles Mingus. But Clarke became the first bassist in history to headline sold-out world tours and have gold albums. He was also the first to double on acoustic and electric bass with equal virtuosity, power, and fire. By the time he was 25 years old, he was already regarded as a pioneer in the jazz fusion movement.
Clarke cites Mingus as a great influence personally and professionally. “The greatest moment in my life that changed me was having dinner with the great Charlie Mingus. He had the personality of a revolutionary that could have run a paramilitary group. He was very intense, heavy! That’s when I realized exactly what I wanted to do with the bass. I was going to approach my career completely like a revolutionary. Whatever was there, I was going to do the opposite.” The rest, as they say, literally is history.