STANLEY CLARKE: IN HIS OWN WORDS

SC_StevenParke_1_300-220x300

1. You’ve been referred to as a legend since you were in you mid-20s. When you hear the title “legend,” who comes to mind?

“Legend” is a funny term to me. I don’t pay it any mind. Famous, happy, great, ego, confidence are all feelings. “Legendary” doesn’t really seem to have feelings wrapped around it.

I have heroes like Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Stan Getz and Charlie Parker. These are people I listened to when I was young.

2.  You are undoubtedly one of the most accomplished bassists, prolific in jazz-fusion and jazz, and an inspiration for other musicians to emulate. As a young prodigy, who were your major musical influences?

My mother was a semi-professional opera singer and played a lot of classical music. My father really liked gospel. I was very fortunate in that music was always in my home growing up. My parents introduced me to all different styles of music and I have continued to listen to all types of music, new and old. I was not a person to get heavily into a particular genre.

When I started listening to the radio as a teenager, I loved Jimi Hendrix and the R&B music coming out of Motown. Someone gave me a John Coltrane album in my teens that I fell in love with. That motivated me to listen to artists like Miles Davis, Stan Getz and Charlie Parker. All are incredibly creative and innovative in their own way.

I began studying music around 12 or 13 years old. I first learned on the acoustic bass. I was blessed that the foundation of my career was a great musical education. My initial music education was very traditional and somewhat strict, but it gave me a strong base that I could build upon.

3.  How was the transition fresh out of school from the Philadelphia Academy of Music to New York and into the company of musical bandleaders such as Stan Getz and Dexter Gordon?

I was very lucky in that when I came to New York to launch my career, I immediately landed jobs with famous bandleaders such as Horace Silver, Art Blakey, Dexter Gordon, Joe Henderson, Pharaoh Saunders, Gil Evans and Stan Getz among others. They were great role models, each in different ways. It was the best on-the-job training. One of the wonderful things about Jazz is the nurturing that takes place of young musicians by the masters. I now try and do this myself.

In Charlotte I’m going to be bringing along Beka Gochiashvili on acoustic piano, Mike Mitchell on drums, and Cameron Graves on keyboards. We’ve been playing together for the last few years. Beka is now about 19-years-old and Mike 20-years-old. They are already award-winning, extraordinary musicians. They are about the same age I was when I first started playing with some of the masters. Cameron has been around a bit longer and is a very talented musician.

4.  Shortly thereafter, as a masterful jazz-fusion bassist, you had gold albums and were selling out shows as the headliner. Were you prepared for the success you were achieving by the age of 25?

My ultimate goal has always been to bring the bass out from the rhythm section to the front of the stage. I worked very hard to give the bass a distinctive voice and I could see the progress with each success. Playing in huge arenas was pretty heavy stuff and certainly different from my earlier jazz combo experiences, but, wow, what a great adventure. Specifically to answer your question, I don’t think anyone can really prepare for that kind of success and fame on a major scale.

Things were pretty different for a young musician 40 or 50 years ago. Probably the biggest thing is that we didn’t have the media scrutinization created by the Internet. I’m thankful I didn’t have to deal with that.

5.  Throughout your illustrious career, Mr. Clarke, you’ve received countless accolades including 4 Grammy’s and are well established as a composer, producer, and film score composer, arranger, and conductor.

You had the honor of collaborating with some of the greatest artists in the world. The list–just to name a few–includes Jean Luc Ponty, Marcus Miller, Victor Wooten, Lenny White, and Larry Carlton.

Another one of those artists is Chick Corea. Together, you formed the electric jazz/fusion band Return To Forever. The band won a Grammy for Forever and recorded eight other successful albums. Describe what made that collaboration such a huge success.

Chick and I started playing together around 1970 with Stan Getz. Later we formed many different groups of which Return To Forever was one. A major one. It was great being able to spearhead a movement together. That movement was jazz-rock, jazz-fusion or just fusion…whatever one wants to call it.

One thing special about my relationship with Chick was that he was very encouraging about me writing my own compositions. I had never been challenged in that area before. Composing has become essential to my career.

On the whole, Return to Forever was like a traveling university. At the time the record companies didn’t know what the hell we were doing, but people were coming out to see the shows and we were selling records. Basically, we were as loud as rock bands, but we brought technique to it. It was a great time. We were experimenting with new concepts of uniting those genres. Fusion of jazz and rock was somewhat of an “exposure gateway” of the time. Fans of rock were exposed to jazz and jazz fans were exposed to rock. It gave listeners an appetite for discovery. It still does.

I think it’s interesting that jazz-fusion or jazz-rock has been assimilated into so many genres of music now. I hear it in Gospel, Rock, Pop, Country and more.

6.  You also had tremendous success working with the late George Duke. You were known as the Clarke/Duke Project in 1981. You two recorded three albums and toured together in 2006, 2012, and 2013, actually, up until Mr. Duke passed. What was the highlight of working with George over the years?

Probably the best connection I’ve had on stage and off is with George. I loved George as a brother and had the highest respect for him as a man and a musician. I feel forever fortunate to have had him as a friend for more than forty years. The most fun I had touring was with George because we had such a good time together. So often on a tour the comedy doesn’t live up to the music. In our case it did. George left a huge footprint in our industry. He was a light, bright star with a certain unique skill set.

I always admired George’s sophisticated musicality. Few have the ability to walk through so many different genres as he did…R&B, Jazz, Pop, Rock, and Classical. He knew all well and didn’t have any weaknesses. Incredibly, he understood how to weave these all together. I strive for that myself.

In homage to George, I dedicated my last album, UP to him and made a conscious decision to include his music in every show and project this year.

7.  In 2014, you produced The Stanley Clarke Band: UP which received a NAACP Image Award nomination for Best Jazz Album in 2015, and the song Last Train To Sanity was nominated for a Grammy in 2015 for Best Jazz Arrangement Instrumental or A Cappella. How was UP different from other projects?

UP is the most energetic, fun, rhythmic and upbeat album that I have ever done. My goal was to make a record with my personal friends. The entire album concept was experimentation. I wanted the creative process to be as effortless as possible.

Everyone came prepared and ready to play. All are fantastic musicians and there was an ease and naturalness to our sessions, especially considering the various genres everyone came from. The talent ranged from the great Michael Jackson session rhythm section of John Robinson, Paul Jackson, Jr. and Greg Phillinganes to my friends from rock like Stewart Copeland and Joe Walsh to my newer friends from the more classical Harlem String Quartet as well as so many more. They came to the studio to give everything they had and it was a creative process that I am grateful to have experienced.

8.  Your own record label Roxboro Entertainment was formed in 2010. Aside from your own projects, it’s also home to other musicians as well as projects geared towards education in music. Has this been a goal of yours since the beginning of your career?

Not really. The music “business” is a whole different industry from when I started out. Then, major record companies ruled. Now we’re all trying to find our place. Access to new technology and the Internet has changed almost everything.

I launched Roxboro Entertainment Group in 2010. My business model includes music publishing for my own and other musicians’ work, as well as the development of various projects aimed at music education.

I chose a selection of artists whose work I personally liked, but had not had a lot of recording exposure. So far the roster includes guitarist Lloyd Gregory, multi-instrumentalist Kennard Ramsey, keyboardist Sunnie Paxson, Ukrainian-born pianist, arranger and keyboardist Ruslan Sirota, jazz piano prodigy Beka Gochiashvili from Tbilisi, Republic of Georgia and most recently singer Natasha Agrama’s CD, The Heart of Infinite Change. Natasha is my daughter and I’m very proud of her work and accomplishments.

9.  In addition to your success over the years as an accomplished artist creating music that will live forever and establishing a respectful legacy, you and your wife Sofia established The Stanley Clarke Foundation over a decade ago. What is the foundation’s main mission?

It’s very simple really. In 2002 my wife, Sophia, and I created The Stanley Clarke Foundation. So far, we’ve been able to offer a generous amount of scholarships to the Musician’s Institute in Los Angeles. One day I’d love it to expand to other regions. There is certainly the need.

The foundation is something near and dear to our hearts. We strongly believe that those who have reached success in realizing their own artistic vision have a duty to help others in their struggle to emerge. I’ve always believed that “talent” and not one’s socioeconomic background should be the basis of an individual’s chance to go on to create artistically.

10.  On November 6th, 2015, D-STRINGZ, an acoustic project, was released featuring yourself, violinist Jean Luc-Ponty, and guitarist Bireli Lagrene. How would you describe this album, and what sets it apart?

D-Stringz is entirely acoustic–drumless. I think the album will make listeners rethink how to listen to some of their favorites like: Blue Train and Mercy Mercy Mercy. I’ve been very pleased that reviewers have been very positive and seem to get the point.

We first played together as a trio at a concert last year marking Jean-Luc’s 50th year as a professional and agreed to record together. It was a treat and a true collaboration. Jean-Luc and I had toured on and off for years, but Biréli Lagrène, who is also French, is much less well known to the jazz establishment. Bireli, a guitar virtuoso very popular in Europe, comes from the classic French mold of Django Reinhardt-laced gypsy swing. But, he’s also good at dancing around the fringes of soul, blues, flamenco, jazz and whatever else can be played on guitar. I think people here will enjoy getting introduced to him.

11.  Aside from touring, Mr. Clarke, what does 2016 look like for you?

2016 looks like it will be a wonderful busy year. I’m going to be touring in Europe starting mid-February. Over a break in Europe I’m planning to record my next Stanley Clarke Band CD in Brussels.

I have a movie I scored coming out April 15th. It’s the next in the popular Barbershop franchise, Barbershop: The Next Cut. This one is directed by my old friend Malcolm D. Lee. I’ve done several movies with him, the last being Best Man’s Holiday. Barbershop: The Next Cut stars Ice Cube, Anthony Anderson, Common, Nicki Minaj and others.

I’m also working on a documentary about my career and have some other projects up my sleeve.

I always have things going. I love to keep busy

12.  Finally, if you could have a super power, what would it be, and why?

To be able to be physically in more places than one at the same moment….

The reason is that I would be able to get more things done.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

FOURPLAY’S “SILVER,” A REMARKABLE 25 YEARS

Fourplay: a legendary group that needs no introduction, much like its iconic band members Bob James, Nathan East, Harvey Mason, and Chuck Loeb. The rarity of a group sustaining longevity and success for twenty five years is virtually unheard of these days. Even more remarkable, each member is successful and has amazing careers individually. To celebrate the timeless essence of this group, Fourplay will release “Silver” on November 20th, 2015. “Silver” is a collection of all original songs quite apropos by representing silver in some manner. Former members of the group Larry Carlton and Lee Ritenhour were asked to join the project for this monumental recording. Additionally, long time friend of the group Kirk Whalum lent his one-of-a-kind sound to “Silver.” Bob, Nathan, Chuck, and Harvey share an undeniable cohesive bond and share language that illuminates with every note they play.

I spoke with guitarist Chuck Loeb about the groups’ “Silver” anniversary:

Fourplay_Silver_36688_5x5_RGB

 

The Colorful Matt Marshak

You can’t think about Matt Marshak without thinking of musical diversity. He’s a guitarist from Long Island that grew up listening to Rock n Roll, and playing some blues and R&B. While in High School he was mentored by some teacher’s that guided him into the world of jazz. For that, he’s ever so thankful. Matt is skilled at fusing his music with specific instruments to create the exact sound he wants. Creating music that is diverse and colorful is what Matt Marshak does. Thus, his latest CD is titled “Colors of Me.” It’s funky, fun, and full of life.

Although Marshak is passionate about making music, he’s just as driven to give back and share his gift for great causes. He goes into the schools and talks with kids about music. He is also a supporter of Multiple Sclerosis, and Autism Awareness.

I sat down with Matt after a energy packed performance recently. He opens up during our conversation.

Q. Hi Matt, how are you after the wonderful show you performed tonight in Winston Salem, NC?

A. I’m doing just well, and it was a great time tonight. Happy to be with you here.

PBN: The weather gave us a break at 75degrees. I’m sure it was cool for you.

Matt: I had a good time. I left hot and steamy New York in the 90’s so this was a nice break from that.

Q. I saw you working the crowd. Could you feel the energy coming from the crowd?

A. It was a good time, yes. I saw some folks smiling, and some kids laughing. So we had a good time out there.

Q. Coming from your home in Long Island, and listening to Rock n Roll, how did you end up transitioning to jazz?

A. It was an evolution. You know you grow up with one thing, and then suddenly things are presented to you in different kinds of music. Certain experiences and I kept getting exposed to jazz music. Went out to a couple shows and I was hooked. Went to see George Benson and Larry Carlton and these people really changed my whole musical mindset.

Q. Around what age were you?

A. This was late teens. So I started pretty late, and then I knew at that point that was what I wanted to do. I was thankful for the rock beginnings and I haven’t abandoned it but jazz has become my life.

PBN: Tell me how your teachers in High School inspired you.

Matt: I had a couple good teachers that inspired me to follow whatever unique qualities I had and to focus on the style. They exposed different music to me. That was good because it opens up your mind to all the other languages of music.

PBN: You had an opportunity to play some blues and R&B while in college at SUNY.

Matt: Yes!

Q. Compared to playing jazz, which would you say is the most complex to master?

A. I think playing a contemporary form of jazz that blends everything is maybe the most complex thing, and sometimes how much to blend of each. Sometimes you can strike the perfect balance which is a certain amount of traditional jazz, certain amount of R&B, certain amount of Blues, and the funk. Getting that right formula, that’s the hardest thing.

PBN: So we’re going to go with Contemporary jazz.

Q. Upon graduating from college, did you immediately hit the music scene performing?

A. I wish I could say that I had a storybook beginning but I didn’t. I started kinda late, in my late teens, and I didn’t really have my first bit of success until I decided to go record some ideas. I always wanted to do this instrumental jazz thing, and wasn’t career minded at this point. Just wanted to document what I had done. Little did I know that the record would find its way into the hands of agents, managers, the next thing I know I was opening for Guitars and Saxes in New York City, and getting played on the radio there. At that point I said, “oh my goodness I think we’re onto something here.”

PBN: It’s clear you enjoy showing your diverse background in music.

PBN: Thus, the creation of your latest release “Colors of Me.”

Q. How did you come up with the major theme for “Colors of Me?”

A. It starts with the cover where I met a wonderful fan in Atlanta who’s so supportive. I was down visiting with them and they left the house for a moment. They had the most colorful walls I’ve ever seen anywhere. So we said let’s do a quick photo shoot while they’re not here. If it turns out good, we’ll just explain and ask permission later. So we took a bunch of photos in every different room and had all different colors. The cover is one from their kitchen. That’s Will and Maggie, great jazz fans in Georgia. So I showed them the picture and they really loved it and said it was fine we could use it. They gave me permission. At the same time I was recording music where I would just go into the studio and play anything. There were no pre-conceived ideas. Whatever came out of the guitar I put down. So it’s sorta like all the styles within. Hence, we have “Colors of Me.”

Q. Out the 10 original songs, why was “Cadillac Kid” chosen as the first radio single?

A. When we put out a single, we have a radio promoter, and the artist, and the agent. We all talk and originally the radio promoter wanted to release “Down In Deleware,” which I like the song, but I already released something similar. So I said no, I think “Cadillac Kid” is different. I’ve never done anything like this. It’s gotta a little bit of Cuban funk, and NYC bugaloo beat. What happened was they said ok. We put it out and Sirius radio picked it up and it’s been my biggest single to date.

PBN: Well that was a good choice. You were on that bugaloo beat. So you were on to something.

Matt: He wrote me back, the radio promoter and said “good call.”

PBN: You are extremely good at fusing music with certain instruments to create the sound you want.

PBN: Your touring band consists of drummer Carl Anderson, bassist Kenny Harris, and keyboardist Rodney Williams.

PBN: Describe what makes them perfect for this project.

Matt: That’s my main unit, the band I use a lot. Besides musically often, we started from way back. When no one knew about us we were playing in a little casino in rural West VA. Those were really formative years. We formed a bond in those times. Some of the moments were not glorious at all, but they were memorable at least. So what happened was, we formed a bond musically and as friends. So when we’re on stage, there’s a unity that extends far beyond the notes.

PBN: You are very busy on the road performing and sharing your music on many stages including some festivals.

Q. Do you enjoy playing the big festivals?

A. Oh yeah! It’s a lot of fun. You get to see and hear a lot of other musicians. You get to see the artists that influenced you in the first place. You get to see new artists, and be around the fans that are a unique brand of fans. Just the dedication and friendliness, and the diversity among the crowd at Jazz Festival’s is something that I really like.

PBN: You’ve come a long way Matt from 2001 when you released your debut CD “Preservation.”

Q. Looking back, did you have any idea your career would be where it is today?

A. You know what, no, sometimes I can’t believe it. We’ve had some moments where we’ve gotten some great opportunities like this evening here in Winston Salem to play in front of great audiences. Like I said, when we started we were playing in little bars, so to get to play in big events with great sound systems and big crowds. It’s like being a baseball player. We’ve slugged it out in the little minor league stadium, now you get the big field, the lights are perfect, the crowd is there, the base’s are nice and polished. I’m very fortunate and filled with gratitude to be able to do this.

Q. How important is it to you to “brand” yourself?

A. You know what, I think Bob James once said it. “You have to blend commerce and creativity.” So if you can do that, it’s important. Sometimes that can be a difficult for an artist. Our music is something very personal and passionate. We don’t want to compromise ourselves and our integrity. But at the same point, this is a job and a business. Marketability and branding can be done tastefully, where it’s honestly artists, but also pleasing to the end recipient.

Q. Who would you most like to collaborate with that you haven’t thus far?

A. Wow! I think at some point if I could ever have a chance to feature George Benson or Larry Carlton on a record, that would like the ultimate.

Q. Is that a goal of yours?

A. If it ever happens it happens, but I’m not going to force it.

PBN: I’m not sure if most of your fans know this about you, but you write TV jingles.

Q. How did you get into that?

A. Yes! Going back to this commerce thing, you gotta branch out sometimes. I’ve had a chance to write for baseball teams, and little songs they’ve used in their commercials. I’ve written music for children’s books, and TV commercials. A lot of different things.

PBN: You also are a huge supporter of Multiple Sclerosis and Autism awareness.

Q. Why are they close to your heart?

A. Those two causes, I’ve had fans that had family members that were affected or they were affected, so they told me about the benefits that were going on, and how I could help the cause to help people affected by MS and autism. I became very interested in how I could use my music to help these causes. It’s very fulfilling to be a part of that.

PBN: That is wonderful. You’re just a huge supporter of all things good and positive.

PBN: You also find time to go into the schools and talk with kids about music.

PBN: You’re not only a phenomenal guitar player, but you’re to be commended for understanding the importance of giving back and keeping music alive in our youth.

Q. I know you love performing in and around your hometown, as well as on stages nationwide. So what do you love most about performing in Long Island, NY? What do you do differently there that you do no where else?

A. I like to bring some of the southern energy that I gained back up to NY, and some of the stuff that I’ve picked up playing with folks from MD, south of FL and to present that to the people I grew up with. It’s a different flavor and brands of jazz, brands of funk. Sometimes I bring the band up so my fans who knew me from way back get to see me in a different light. Playing more of a R&B based or urban based jazz.

Q. What’s next for your Matt, and how can your fans keep up with you and where you’ll be performing?

A. My website is Mattmarshak.com and is updated weekly. On Facebook it’s Matt Marshak. We’re hoping to put forth a collection record. It’s been almost 10 years, 7 or 8 records. We’re going to pull off a couple songs off each. Maybe add a brand new song. I can’t believe it already. We’re going to put that out, and suddenly feeling old talking about this.

PBN: Thanks for sitting down with me Matt.

PBN: I enjoyed the show, and it was a pleasure spending this time getting an introspective view into Matt.

Q. Where are you headed next?

A. Tomorrow I’m leaving here at 4am headed to Nashville, TN.

Matt Marshak

Matt Marshak

Matt Marshak
Matt Marshak