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Stanley Clarke: A Lyrical Bass Player

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When Stanley Calrke was only 25, the word "legend" was already being used to describe him. Now, he's a king of the acoustic and electric jazz worlds, having won every major award available to a bass player: Grammys, Emmys, gold and platinum records and more.

In 1971, Clarke entered the world of jazz as a teenager from the Philadelphia Academy of Music. When he arrived in New York City, he immediately got to play with such famous bandleaders as Horace Silver, Art Blakey, Joe Henderson, Gil Evans and Stan Getz, all of whom recognized the dexterity and musicality of the young Clarke. Not only was he gifted at crafting bass lines and functioning as a timekeeper in the bass' traditional role, but he also possessed a sense of lyricism and melody that allowed him to make the bass a viable solo instrument.

The opportunity to take the bass to the front of the concert stage succeeded when Clarke joined Chick Corea, an aspiring young pianist and composer, to form the electric jazz/fusion band Return to Forever. Meanwhile, Clarke started his solo career and released several albums that are among the best in the jazz history — namely Stanley Clarke (1974), Journey to Love (1975) and School Days (1976). Overall, his music as a solo, band or guest performer can be heard on more than 100 albums.

Having turned his energy to film and television scoring in the '80s and '90s, Clarke recently returned to his original love of playing bass. His latest album, The Toys of Men, functions as a career summary of sorts, with Clarke delivering a series of solo acoustic bass miniatures that reference past efforts while functioning with impressive restraint.

This story originally ran Nov. 2, 2007.

Copyright NPR 2016.

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