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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

AT HOME WITH JEFF LORBER

In Jeff Lorber’s home, surrounded by a variation of instruments old and new, creativity is abundant. Taking a step down into his studio, I was overwhelmed by the majestic presence of music. I knew it was the home of countless artists, songs, albums, and hits. It was the place that Grammy-nominated Jeff Lorber called home. As we comfortably made our way from one room to the other, Jeff and fellow friend/producer shared stories about the “Beatles.” I listened intently absorbing every word.

Jeff is very fortunate because he gets to do what he loves and that is making music. Having grown up in a household where music was abundant helped fuel his passion. His ability to evolve with the change of tides in the music industry, in addition to being inspired by new music and artists has contributed to his longevity. Lorber challenges himself to get out of his comfort zone when collaborating with countless musicians crossing genre lines. Reinventing himself continuously, Jeff is keenly aware that it is his job to make great music, and holds himself accountable if it is not. From his point of view, his music is “melodic, funky, and harmonic.”

Lorber is undeniably a great musician. While talking with him, I discovered he’s great for more reasons than one:

 

“MAN WITH A HORN” … MELVIN MILLER

Melvin Miller is a talented trumpet player with the ability to engage and entertain audiences in a style like no other. Having been influenced by legendary musicians such as Miles Davis, Louis Armstrong, and Dizzy Gillespie, Miller has crafted his own sound. Being versatile is one attribute that makes Melvin so appealing. He can play everything from Jazz to R&B to Pop. His career in music is vast and worldwide. Melvin is the composer of the fanfare for The Trumpet Awards, has performed with the UniverSoul Circus, and has served as the musical director for Gloria Gaynor. It is no surprise that he has also shared the stage with dynamic artists such as Alex Bugnon, Eric Essix, James Brown, and Wynton Marsalis just to name a few. Residing in Atlanta has opened the door for Miller to become the fifth man of the group Five Men On A Stool–an experience he shares with fellow talented musicians. In the midst of all that he’s a part of, Melvin still creates great music. To his loving mother, he is the “young man with a horn.” And this title has followed him throughout his life. As a tribute to his mother, he wrote his latest album, “I Hope You Dance.” Each song has a distinct meaning and direct connection to his mother whom he lost a few years ago. Through the pain and with the help of friends and family, he masterfully created a musical gem. The album has an array of songs ranging from up-tempo, funky grooves to smooth heartfelt tunes. I haven’t experienced another album quite like it.

Melvin talks to me about his career and opens up about the making of “I Hope You Dance.”

Melvin Miller

Melvin Miller

Melvin Miller

Melvin Miller

THE “PULSE” OF STEVE COLE

Steve Cole has come full circle in his career that has spanned 15 years. He had a great start with the success of his debut album “Stay Awhile” which earned him two #1 singles. His latest and 7th album, “Pulse,” embodies snippets of Cole’s background in R&B, blues, gospel, and rock and roll. “Pulse” takes listeners on a musical journey beginning with the title track that he co-wrote with Nicholas Cole. Its funky and smooth groove sets the stage for a collection of tunes produced and co-written with David Mann. The first single, “With You All The Way,” sounds like pure Steve Cole. Listen a little longer, and you’ll be mesmerized by his beautiful cover of “Going In Circles,” then end your journey with the fusion of gospel and jazz, “Believe.” In Steve’s own words, “Pulse” can simply be described as: “This is Steve Cole.” Steve is touring to promote “Pulse” and working on a new project with Sax Pack alongside fellow saxophone players Marcus Anderson and Jeff Kashiwa.

Steve and I had a great conversation.

Steve Cole

Steve Cole

Steve Cole

Steve Cole

THE “PULSE” OF STEVE COLE

Steve Cole has come full circle in his career that has spanned 15 years. He had a great start with the success of his debut album “Stay Awhile” which earned him two #1 singles. His latest and 7th album, “Pulse,” embodies snippets of Cole’s background in R&B, blues, gospel, and rock and roll. “Pulse” takes listeners on a musical journey beginning with the title track that he co-wrote with Nicholas Cole. Its funky and smooth groove sets the stage for a collection of tunes produced and co-written with David Mann. The first single, “With You All The Way,” sounds like pure Steve Cole. Listen a little longer, and you’ll be mesmerized by his beautiful cover of “Going In Circles,” then end your journey with the fusion of gospel and jazz, “Believe.” In Steve’s own words, “Pulse” can simply be described as: “This is Steve Cole.” Steve is touring to promote “Pulse” and working on a new project with Sax Pack alongside fellow saxophone players Marcus Anderson and Jeff Kashiwa.

Steve and I had a great conversation.

Steve Cole

Steve Cole

Steve Cole

Steve Cole

Let’s talk Rick Braun

Rick Braun has been entertaining us for many years with his chart topping award winning hits. He’s collaborated with some of the best to bring us songs like “Shake it Up” with Boney James which won the Best Collaboration Award. His work with Richard Elliott in “RNR” went to #1 on the Billboard Contemporary Jazz Chart. It’s no surprise that he’s a much sought after producer. He’s definitely proven that he has what it takes.

Rick is skilled in more than just one area of music which makes him versatile as an artist. He’s a vocalist who was once a back-up singer for artists like Rod Steward, Sade, and Tina Turner. That’s something that most people probably wouldn’t know. Now he’s chosen to display his vocals on his latest project titled “Rick Braun Sings With Strings.” He covered songs that we all know and love such as “Time After Time,” and some we may not be as familiar with like “Once Upon A Summertime.” Rick created a project that would beautifully display his trumpet playing skills, as well as his vocal abilities.

Rick tells me all about it.

Rick Braun

Rick Braun

Rick Braun

Rick Braun

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Mike MacArthur “Feels Like Home”

Mike McArthur

Mike McArthur

Moving away from the kids’ table

In the company of prominent friends, saxophonist Mike MacArthur releases a sterling jazz album,

“Feels Like Home,” his first major release as a frontman.

Tampa, Florida (4 June 2013): In the midst of graduation season, it seems like the ideal time for the release of long-time sideman Mike MacArthur’s first major recording on center stage. The saxophonist’s 10-song “Feels Like Home” was released today by Paradise Point Music. On the collection produced by Grammy-nominee Brian Bromberg, MacArthur graduates surrounded by his scholarly musician friends on the set comprised of soulfully performed jazz standards and alluring originals.

When asked to describe how he felt after recording the album at Bromberg’s suburban Los Angeles home, MacArthur said “It felt like the beginning of a lot of things to come – like I’ve finally moved away from the kids’ table with my own (musical) offering. It confirms that I can stand alone as a frontman.”

“Feels Like Home” sounds live. MacArthur describes it as “real players making real music on real acoustic instruments.” Playing the music of the masters such as Duke Ellington (“In A Sentimental Mood”), Miles Davis (“Jean Pierre”), Sonny Rollins (“Blue Seven”) and Joe Zawinul (“Birdland”), MacArthur, bass prodigy Bromberg, Ron Reinhardt (piano, B-3 organ) and Frank “Third” Richardson (drums) formed the core quartet that features spotlight soloing from contemporary jazz maverick Jeff Lorber on piano, Rick Braun on trumpet and flugelhorn, and Jeff Golub on guitar. Journeyman percussionist Alex Acuna decorates and texturizes the tracks. MacArthur graciously gives his friends permission to uncork their finest vintage of improvisational jazz.

Radio stations have been playing the gospel soul cut “Sanctified,” which was christened as the first single and includes a vocal hook belted out by the almighty Alva Copeland. MacArthur wrote the three other original tunes on the disc, including the title track, a heartfelt ballad with a gorgeous melody gracefully emoted from his tenor sax. He penned the boisterous blues joint “Around The Corner” specifically with Golub’s gritty guitar in mind. Written on piano in his daughter Sydney’s playroom while the then 5-year-old was gleefully dancing, MacArthur refers to the frenetic “Sydney Style” as the “up tune on the album.”

Throughout the album, MacArthur’s sax play is dexterous, precise and efficient. He plays just enough notes to convey the song and solos with just enough pizazz to get his point across. Having performed with a bevy of marquee musicians as a sideman throughout his career, including with Bromberg, Braun and Golub, he wants the release of “Feels Like Home” to signal the start of a new chapter. Setting the bar high in terms of performance, production, and composition, MacArthur’s stride into the spotlight is smartly executed with confidence, poise and a whole lot of soul.

After recently opening for superstar Queen Latifah, MacArthur will lead his own band at Uptown Altamonte near Orlando, Florida on June 15th sharing the bill with guitarist Nils and will open for guitarist Peter White on July 21st at Glenora Wine Cellars in Dundee, New York.

A clip of MacArthur discussing “Feels Like Home” can be viewed at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6LmHusgBHR4. Highlights from some of the album reviews appear below:

“One of the best for 2013 no matter what flavor jazz you may be into. That nice fat tenor sound with chops to match, if ‘Feels Like Home’ doesn’t move you then you must be waiting on your autopsy report.” – Critical Jazz

“This album has no safety zone. It is entertaining, listenable, and catchy but it is not safe. Some of these guys have made a name for themselves in smooth but this is a jazz album. It is not an academic, archival, or intimidating jazz album. It’s a jazz album because there is a lot of improvisation and about half of the songs on here are benchmark songs in the history of contemporary jazz, and beyond…This is an album that will lead even the most skeptical pop/smooth listener deeper into the world of jazz.” – SmoothViews

“He (MacArthur) has surrounded himself with some pretty fine players and has made an album which is simply terrific…Of the album’s ten tracks, three are MacArthur originals and it’s a testament to his skills that you can’t differentiate them from the standards…this is a warm and enjoyable album that is a treat for the ears.” – Bass Players United

“’Feels Like Home’ is superior jazz made among friends. From the first track ‘Filthy McNasty’ by Horace Silver to the 10th and final cut ‘Mo Better Blues’, music enthusiasts will know that this one belongs on the top shelf.” – The Entertainment Bank

“Rolling through a set of tracks as diverse as any jazz enthusiast could hope for, MacArthur puts both feet into this project, offering appealing sax runs while his pals mix up a batch of riveting acoustic bass runs, soul-wrenching guitar riffs, tantalizing piano/keys action, and solid drums and percussions.” – The Smooth Jazz Ride

“He (MacArthur) comes out firing – surrounding himself with some of the very best players on the circuit and wisely mixing the repertoire between tried and tested jazz standards and quality originals.” – Soul and Jazz and Funk

“The result is a predictably eclectic and jazzy mix with which jazz lovers of all persuasions will find favor.” – Smooth Jazz Therapy

Additional information about MacArthur is available at http://www.mikemacarthur.com.