STANLEY CLARKE: IN HIS OWN WORDS

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

JOHN COLTRANE BLUES AND JAZZ FESTIVAL

As festival season and summer come to an end for 2015, I am taking in the best of the last. I always look forward to Labor Day weekend in High Point, NC where I attend the John Coltrane Blues and Jazz Festival. It is held at the beautiful Oak Hollow Park by the lake. Great music, legendary artists, and a spectacular sunset comprise the essence of this festival. This year, the festival was a two-day event. Opening day was an extra special treat for attendees; the Coltrane Youth Orchestra opened the festival, followed by The Bold Soul Revival, featuring singers Lauryn Mitchell, Annika Chambers, and Annie Mack. Then, the first of three legendary masters graced the stage: Earl Klugh. He was followed by Marcus Miller, and ending the night was David Sanborn. It wouldn’t have been a show if Miller hadn’t joined Sanborn on stage for a couple of songs. At the end of day one, my musical palette had been satisfied. The final day was opened by the Coltrane All-Stars, followed by Poncho Sanchez. Rounding out the final evening was Snarky Puppy, joined by Eric Gales and headliner, Lalah Hathaway. Another successful year for The John Coltrane Blues and Jazz Festival, benefiting music and local youth.

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KODAK Digital Still Camera

KODAK Digital Still Camera

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KODAK Digital Still Camera

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Eric Gales photo credit Garland Hancock

Eric Gales
photo credit Garland Hancock

 

Snarky Puppy and Eric Gales Photo Credit Garland Hancock

Snarky Puppy and Eric Gales
Photo Credit Garland Hancock

Poncho Sanchez Photo credit Garland Hancock

Poncho Sanchez
Photo credit Garland Hancock

Lalah Hathaway Photo credit Garland Hancock

Lalah Hathaway
Photo credit Garland Hancock

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“LIVING MY DREAM” STORYTELLING BY JONATHAN BUTLER

With every season, there is change. For Jonathan Butler, that change was embraced, and a body of work was subsequently created. “Living My Dream” was born out of a time of transition for Butler while he held on to his faith in God to see him through trying times. At this appointed time in his life, he is well rounded and very seasoned. He is enjoying making life changes, new hobbies, and new passions. Jonathan wholeheartedly knows that this is divinely the right time and right season for him as a man, husband, father, grandfather, and artist. He says his inspiration for making “Living My Dream” is his daughter, Jodie. Jodie–an artist in her own right–collaborated with her father on the romantic and healthily risqué “Night To Remember.” Additionally, he also shares collaborations with Marcus Miller, Elan Trotman, Davy Nathan, and the late George Duke. This album is all about Butler’s identity and storytelling that crosses multiple genres of music and is easily identifiable. The first radio single and first song on the album, “African Breeze,” is one that was written many years ago, and he felt it was time to retrieve it out of the archives. When I spoke with Jonathan, like always, it was like talking to an old friend. He makes such an indelible impression and is always honest. He wants everyone to know that he is a real man with real issues and not just an artist to be admired. That is what “Living My Dream” expresses to the world. Sitting at #1 on iTunes and on Billboard, Butler says, “I’m a granddad who’s kicking butt, taking no prisoners, and “Living My Dream.” I love it!

Jonathan speaks from the heart and very candidly with me:

Jonathan Butler "Living My Dream"

Jonathan Butler “Living My Dream”

 

 

Jonathan Butler

 

 

 

 

Rising above the struggles, Jonathan Butler is living his dream‏

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Rising above the struggles, Butler is living his dream

Family, friends – including Marcus Miller and the late George Duke – and an “African Breeze” combine forces on “Living My Dream,” coming June 24 from the R&B-jazz artist.

Sherman Oaks, Calif. (30 April 2014): It took a while for Jonathan Butler to feel comfortable saying it, but the South African singer-songwriter-guitarist’s confidence has grown as he celebrates what he calls “the season of me” and finally admitting that he is living his dream. He tells the story of his life and loves in the eleven original songs that “came from the heart” on his forthcoming Artistry Music album, “Living My Dream,” which will be released June 24.

Like Butler’s best material from a diverse, award-winning and chart-topping career that’s spanned R&B, jazz, pop and gospel, “Living My Dream” provides an honest and revealing soulful songbook probing the artist’s passions: God, family and his homeland. He has been taking care of others ever since he was seven years-old when he became a child star and was the first black artist played on white radio stations while growing up under Apartheid. Writing and producing gold-selling albums and international hit singles, the two-time Grammy-nominee’s entire life has unfolded in the public eye. Enduring recent struggles forced him to do a lot of reflection and ponder the type of man he wanted to be. He decided that he was finally in a place where it was time to celebrate his own extraordinary life and accomplishments.

With a much needed push from his daughter, singer-songwriter Jodie Butler, and guitarist-songwriter Dennis Dodd Jr., he wrote music every day before heading into the House of Blues recording studio in Los Angeles to record the material in a live setting “like records used to be made.” Bassist-songwriter-producer Marcus Miller co-wrote “Let There Be Light” with Butler and played on that track as well as on “Be Still,” which Butler wrote with George Duke during a 5-hour visit to the late legend’s wine cellar. Saxophonist Elan Trotman also appears on “Let There Be Light.”

“It’s one of those albums that I really didn’t think I had in me. I had been struggling, going through this emotional period. Last year was a transitional period. Once I got my wind and got back to a place of focus, it turned out to be the best experience for me. I had to be vulnerable to the songs,” said Butler about the essence of “Living My Dream.” “It’s the story of my life and the newness of discovery. These really are the best years of my life.”

Butler wrote or co-wrote ten songs for “Living My Dream,” which is a balanced blend of contemporary jazz instrumentals and R&B vocal tunes. The first radio single, “African Breeze,” is a reboot of an instrumental that he wrote 30 years ago for “The Jewel of the Nile” motion picture soundtrack. It is a brisk, energetic African-hued dancer on which Butler plucks the festive melody on nylon string guitar.

A captivating and impassioned performer, Butler will help launch “Living My Dream” during a summer concert tour at which he will share the spotlight with Grammy-winning guitarist Norman Brown.

Butler takes you into the recording studio and talks about recording “Living My Dream” in his EPK, which can be viewed at http://youtu.be/UFFmGWfsKkk. For more information, please visit www.JonathanButler.com.

“Living My Dream” contains the following songs:

“African Breeze”

“Living My Dream”

“Be Still”

“Let There Be Light”

“Heart and Soul”

“Song For You”

“Catembe”

“Night To Remember”

“All About Love”

“Sweet Serenade”

“A Prayer”

INCREDIBLE PIANIST RUSLAN SIROTA

Ruslan’s story is just as incredible as he is a pianist. Fleeing with his family from the Communist Soviet Union to Israel would prove to be the perfect catalyst for his future. He was such a great musician that he was granted a full scholarship to the Berklee School of Music, and it was there that he would learn many valuable lessons about music and life. He accredits his journey for allowing him to explore and be creative. With aspirations and perseverance, he navigated his way around the music scene. It wasn’t long before Ruslan found himself working with the legendary Stanley Clarke. And that was just the beginning. He’s won a Grammy as well as collaborated with George Duke, Marcus Miller, Seal, and Chick Corea. When Ruslan decided to do an album, it was only befitting that he do so on Stanley Clarke’s label, Roxboro Entertainment Group. His debut album, “Ruslan,” has 14 songs–some of which are collaborations. It serves as the culmination of Ruslan’s varying abilities while maintaining authenticity. I find it magical and mesmerizing.

Listen to his story in his own words.

Ruslan Sirota

Ruslan Sirota

Ruslan Sirota

Ruslan Sirota

Keiko Matsui’s “Soul Quest”

When you cross paths with a great spirit while on this journey called “life,” it is an amazing experience. While listening to and talking with Keiko Matsui about her journey, that connection was made. Out of her journey was born her latest CD “Soul Quest” on which she dedicated her mind, body, and soul. Keiko, the pianist, composer, and humanitarian collaborated with music greats like Chuck Loeb, Narada Michael Walden, Kirk Whalum, and Marcus Miller to create her latest masterpiece. Undoubtedly, she displayed music artistry at its best, meanwhile sharing her passion about various causes that effect us personally as well as the world we live in.

From the moment the music begins, you’re instantly mesmerized by the melodious first song “Dream Seeker.” Later, Keiko adds vocals to the up-tempo Black Lion which is also her first single. Alongside Loeb, she wrote “Top Secret” which displays a beautiful dance between piano and trumpet. Next up is “A Night With Cha Cha,” featuring the smooth sounds of Saxophonist Kirk Whalum. Keiko and Narada Michael Walden change the tone of the CD with the soul stirring “Moving Mountain” and “Antarctica – A Call To Action.” “Antarctica – A Call To Action” is soulfully powerful and features Kirk Whalum on sax and Marcus Miller on bass. She dedicates this song to saving Antarctica and the environment or our planet. The title track, “Soul Quest,” is mystical and alluring. “Proof” is funky and sultry, and “Two Hearts” resembles a conversation between two. Both were written by Keiko and Chuck. Finally, she and Walden pay tribute to Sting with the edgy song “Stingo” on the finale of the album.

The connection unfolds…

Keiko Matsui

Keiko Matsui

Keiko Matsui

Keiko Matsui

Keiko Matsui’s “Soul Quest”

When you cross paths with a great spirit while on this journey called “life,” it is an amazing experience. While listening to and talking with Keiko Matsui about her journey, that connection was made. Out of her journey was born her latest CD “Soul Quest” on which she dedicated her mind, body, and soul. Keiko, the pianist, composer, and humanitarian collaborated with music greats like Chuck Loeb, Narada Michael Walden, Kirk Whalum, and Marcus Miller to create her latest masterpiece. Undoubtedly, she displayed music artistry at its best, meanwhile sharing her passion about various causes that effect us personally as well as the world we live in.

From the moment the music begins, you’re instantly mesmerized by the melodious first song “Dream Seeker.” Later, Keiko adds vocals to the up-tempo Black Lion which is also her first single. Alongside Loeb, she wrote “Top Secret” which displays a beautiful dance between piano and trumpet. Next up is “A Night With Cha Cha,” featuring the smooth sounds of Saxophonist Kirk Whalum. Keiko and Narada Michael Walden change the tone of the CD with the soul stirring “Moving Mountain” and “Antarctica – A Call To Action.” “Antarctica – A Call To Action” is soulfully powerful and features Kirk Whalum on sax and Marcus Miller on bass. She dedicates this song to saving Antarctica and the environment or our planet. The title track, “Soul Quest,” is mystical and alluring. “Proof” is funky and sultry, and “Two Hearts” resembles a conversation between two. Both were written by Keiko and Chuck. Finally, she and Walden pay tribute to Sting with the edgy song “Stingo” on the finale of the album.

The connection unfolds…

Keiko Matsui

Keiko Matsui

Keiko Matsui

Keiko Matsui