Stanley Clarke

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The Return To Forever bassist who famously developed the slap-funk jazz technique, discusses his new trio album In The Garden

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How did the collaboration with Japanese pianist Hiromi come about?
The guy in charge of Heads Up records, Dave Love, had the idea for me to play with Hiromi (pictured below with Stanley Clarke, middle, and Lenny White, right). I remember meeting her in London – she came to see me playing. I’d listened to her records and checked her out on YouTube – that’s where musicians check each other out these days! And then I got my old friend [Return to Forever drummer] Lenny White. It turned out she was an amazing musician – to be so young and yet so intuitive musically – she has her own language in jazz. We made the record – I knew it was going to flow very well and it did.


‘Paradigm Shift’ is about President Barack Obama?
Yes, when he was elected. Since I was very young – when big or controversial things happen in my life – for some reason a song or piece of music comes out. And that’s what came out.


You’ve got ‘Under The Bridge’, a Red Hot Chilli Peppers track on there?
Yes, a rock ‘standard’. Hiromi is young and likes the music of her time. She said: ‘The melody on this tune is similar to some of the tunes that you used to play.’ She’s right. We came up with this arrangement and, as they say, jazzed it up.


Do the Chilli Peppers like it?
Oh I don’t know. Flea’s a friend of mine. I’m sure he’ll send me a note if he finds out about it!


You play the melody to ‘Someday my Prince will Come’ on the bass…
I really like ‘Someday my Prince will Come’ – I know it’s from the movie Snow White – but all jazz musicians associate it with Miles Davis. To do the melody on the bass is so opposite to the trumpet! The sound is unique and intimate.


In your early career you appeared on Deodata’s hit album Prelude. What was it like working with jazz producer Creed Taylor?
He didn’t really say much – he was kind of like the phantom producer. He was always whispering in other people’s ears but not mine! I was very young then. It was one of the first records that I played on that was played a lot on the radio. It was a big hit in the States and it was like everyday we heard it – It was kinda nice to hear your own bass sound!


What got you into playing jazz?
I was studying classical bass and jazz was something that seemed very difficult. You don’t just wake up one day and play jazz. It’s very specific – there’s a science to it. Starting out in a classical tradition forces you to play your instrument in a traditional way and once you’ve got that together you enter the interpretation game – there’s a great art to interpreting classical music. But me being a guy who was interested in composing and doing other people’s music, particularly music of people I knew – that was jazz music for me. Of course being my age there was rock ‘n’ roll and music that came over from England like The Beatles, and then Jimi Hendrix – and that all became a part of it. But it was about what was behind the music in that time period: we were at war [in Vietnam] and there was a lot of anti-war stuff. It was a great time for music in the late ‘60s.


How did you develop your legendary slap-funk bass technique?
The guy that actually showed me how to do it was our drummer Lenny White. He had a crude way of playing slap bass – he’s not a bass player but he could relate to the techniques, as it’s basically a percussive technique. He said: ‘Hey Stanley, this is the way it goes’. He showed me a very basic way to do it and I took it from there. That was that. I had my own way of doing it – in the jazz way of doing things.

Interview by Neil McKim

Audio clip: In the Garden: Paradigm Shift

Related links:
August 2009 Jazz Choice
Meet the Artists: Gary Burton