"Sonny Clark died in 1963 at the age of thirty-one, a figure who had yet to gain his due as a musician. Recently his work, long neglected, has experienced a much deserved revival."
Introduced to Blue Note aficianados with his first band date on Dial "S" For Sonny, Sonny Clark featured a front line composed of Art Farmer, Curtis Fuller and Hank Mobley. On his impressive follow-up session (Sonny's Crib) the horns consisted of Donald Byrd, Curtis Fuller and John Coltrane. Before we listened together to the rewarding results of his initial trio date, Sonny took a few moments to clarify and amplify his biography.
"Actually, I wasn't born in Pittsburgh," he said. "I was born in a little coal mining town, about sixteen miles southeast of Pittsburgh, called herminie, Pa.--population about 800. I was raised there till I was twelve, then lived in Pittsburgh until I was nineteen, just turning twenty; then an older brother, who plays piano, took me out to the coast to visit an aunt.
"Originally I only intended to stay a couple of months. I worked with Wardell Gray and all the fellows around the coast. Then Oscar Pettiford came to town and we got a band and went to San Francisco.
"I worked in San Francisco a couple of months. Buddy DeFranco was in town, with Art Blakey, and Kenny Drew on piano and Gene Wright on bass. Then Blakey and Kenny Drew left him and I joined, along with Wesley Landers, a drummer from Chicago. He only stayed a couple of weeks, then Bobby White came in--this was late in 1953, and as you know, soon after that, in January and February of '54, we toured Europe in your show, Jazz Club, U.S.A."
"That's where the gaps begin in my notes," I said. "It's been four years since we all came back from europe and I can't account for everything that happened to you in that time. Perhaps you can fill me in."
"Well," said Sonny, "I stayed with Buddy quite a long while after we went back to the coast. We made another tour, in the middle west, and we went to Honolulu. Altogether I was with Buddy about two-and-a-half years. Then in January, 1956, I joined Howard Rumsey's Lighthouse All-Stars in Hermosa Beach, California and spent the whole year of 1956 there."
"How did you enjoy that?"
"The climate is crazy. I'm going to be truthful, though: I did have sort of a hard time trying to be comfortable in my playing. The fellows out on the west coast have a different sort of feeling, a different approach to jazz. They swing in their own way. But Stan Levey, Frank Rosolino and Conte Candoli were a very big help; of course they all worked back in the east for a long time during the early part of their careers, and I think they have more of the feeling of the eastern vein than you usually find in the musicians out west. The eastern musicians play with so much fire and passion.
"We did concerts and a lot of record dates, and I could have stayed as long as I liked, but I wanted to see the east again, and also wanted to see my people who still live in Pittsburgh--a brother and two sisters--and a sister in Dayton. I got to see all of them by joining Dinah Washington in February, 1957 and going along with her as accompanist more or less for the ride.
"Since settling down in New York, I've been doing mostly recording. I played a couple of weeks at Birdland with Stan Getz, and a weekend with Anita O'Day. What I want to do eventually, of course, is have my own trio or quartet and play in the kind of setting I like best--the kind of music you hear in this album."
--LEONARD FEATHER, from the liner notes,
Sonny Clark Trio, Blue Note.
A selected discography of Sonny Clark albums.
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