Buck Clarke is truly a joy to listen to and for today's episode we are blessed to be able to talk to such an amazing artist.
Buck Clarke grew up in Washington D.C. At the age of 15 he worked in a display and sign shop. At the sign store his boss Fella Conway's father was Duke Ellington's cousin. Fella would play albums for Buck, his first real exposure to jazz. They would listen to the Duke, Oscar Peterson, then when he heard Dizzy it was all over. Soon after the influence of John Coltrane and his oh so African sound changed Clarke yet again and again came more changes with the influence of Allen Jones. Jazz was the art form that surrounded Clarke as a youth, Jazz rhythm captured his soul, he experimented with other types of music yet jazz was the one he would always come back to, "I'm hooked on Jazz".
They changed signs at the Howard Theater in Washington D.C. With the combination of working at the theater and the spiritual feeling that was felt by listening to dizzy he just couldn't "fight the feeling". He new what he wanted to do.
With an education on the streets, Clarke was a full fledged man by the age of 15. He learned everything under pressure. He was thrown into drumming at the age of fifteen with a job offer at a local D.C. club and had to learn how to drum on the fly.
'Cool Hands Buck Clarke' Soul-Jazz, Funk percussionist. The sideman with amazing rhythm. He picked up the bongos and didn't look back. His first gigs withe the bongos were with what was known as a 'Jig Show', or as we know it today Carnivals. He would play, with a light in his drum, as comedians and dancers would perform. The traveling Carnivals opened him up to worlds beyond worlds, taking him to places such as New Orleans where he discovered Rumba for the first time, back then all the Latin sounds were called rumba.
Clarke was the very first Jazz percussionist to use bongo drums and a lot of people tried to encourage him to play "real instruments" However this percussion was a rebellion, a revolution of sorts. "I felt like I was putting my hands on the earth" it was a deep and emotional experience for him to play the bongo.
Buck Clarke had the honor to play with the Jazz Legend Charlie Parker, when he was only 16 or 17 years old. "The experience shook me up so bad, it was mind blowing". Playing with Wess Anderson's band The Washingtonians which included, Eddie Jones and Charlie Parker, back then Clarke possessed amazing energy and strength and could perform up to an hour and a half nonstop at a time. This music was unfortunately never recorded, but the "memory is recorded in my mind" Clarke recalls.
Clarke played with the New york jazz messengers at 19 or 20 years old, he was a member of an 8 piece band that would be Clarke's education on how to play in a band. "If I had a chance to play, then I would go (play) take the greyhound (bus) anywhere" (in the country).
Premonition of the future, Buck Clarke would tell other musicians that Latin influence was going to be the future of jazz, they would laugh at him. That was in the 1950's, some years later we know this to be true.
Clarke played at Jazz festivals, Carnegie hall, symphonies and much more. To be rich with experience, to be likable, dependable, have a positive attitude, has a lot to do with the success of creativity according to Clarke. "If you want it bad enough, you are going to get it".
It was a spiritual feeling for Clarke, recording Hot stuff Santa Monica, cool hands in D.C., Drum sum, and The Buck Clark Sound. Through triumph and tribulation Buck Clarke was able to keep his faith in himself and in god, and create amazing albums to keep the faith going strong.
The wisdom of 'Cool Hands' says with financial success or failure, if you are an artist living your dream you have found the riches. Inner love is what it's all about.
Buck invited me into his home in Silver-lake home in Los Angele's to talk about his career and life. This was one of his last interview before his death in December 0f 1988
Conventional music industry wisdom has long dictated that a jazz musician must take sides-either you play straight-ahead be-bop, or you go fully contemporary and cater to the smooth jazz audience. Like the legends he most admires-from Miles to Herbie and Ramsey - pianist and producer Billy Mitchell loves playing both, and his refusal to limit himself creatively has earned him respect from both sides of the proverbial fence.
His first solo efforts, Blue City Jam (PAUSA-1984) and Night Theme (PAUSA-1987) captured the funky, urban flavored vibe of the Quiet Storm format just before the advent of smooth jazz, and Faces (Vista/Optimism-1988) and the similarly styled In Focus (Vista/Optimism1991) rose high on Billboard's contemporary jazz charts and continue to receive international airplay. After a few colorful live excursions into swing and straight-ahead Live All Night Long (USA-1994), Cat's Pajamas (USA-1996), Passion (USA-1998) Mitchell returns to the smooth jazz fold with his release, Never Give Up On Love (PRC- 2001), a soulful and dynamic session which combines Mitchell's love for jammin' R&B funk with a keen sense of romance and grace. 2005 has produced a collaboration of international flavors Minority Report-Classified (Vista) and the 2006 release of The Traveler (Vista) featuring the influences of Afro-Centric music.
Born in Tarrytown and raised in Buffalo, New York, Billy Mitchell tinkered with the piano as a child but did not get serious about music until he entered Morehouse College. While pursuing a political science degree he joined the school jazz band and was soon playing gigs in and around Atlanta. In 1970 Mitchell moved to Los Angeles to pursue his career and was soon backing up such artists as Gloria Lynn, Ester Phillips, Randy Crawford and Linda Hopkins, to name a few.
The Billy Mitchell Group has appeared at many international festivals including the Monterey Jazz Festival, Playboy Jazz Festival, Heineken World Music Festival, International Jazz Festival, Pori Jazz Festival, Sedona Jazz on the Rocks, and countless club appearances. His solo career has included appearances in film, most notably Clint Eastwood's "Bird." In 1999 America West Airlines awarded Mitchell the Jazz For The Next Generation Award for his continued work with young musicians. His work as a clinician has centered on his book, "The Gigging Musician" (Backbeat Books) based on interviews and his articles as a writer for Gig Magazine.
In 2002 Billy founded The Scholarship Audition Performance Preparatory Academy (SAPPA). This program is designed to increase participation of inner-city students in music and arts scholarship competitions. SAPPA works to develop the students' artistic and creative aptitude, ability, desire and skills by providing music workshops to help students toward their ultimate goals. For additional info on the SAPPA program: www.sappa.net. This interview was recorded 02/16/2013.
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