It is important to Stanley Clarke that singers and musicians never rest on their laurels by solely making records to stay relevant or generate revenue. The fearless Grammy-winning bassist, composer, arranger and producer gets in his element whenever he can encourage both young and old talent to figure out ways to connect with audiences.
Clarke suggests entertainers direct most of their attention to performing live. “The one last thing the business hasn’t been able to own is touring,” says Clarke, a master of both the electric and acoustic bass, via early morning phone interview.
“Everything should be geared to get on a stage or in front of an audience. Don’t just think you’re gonna make a record, and that’s gonna change your life. Forget that. View your record as a business card or something, and just keep moving. The stage is where you’re gonna get your rewards.”
A native of Philadelphia, Clarke emerged out of the jazz circuit over four decades ago. He became a best-selling solo artist and acclaimed live act by fusing together various genres of music to accompany his hypnotic and highly rhythmic bass thumps and slaps. Speaking neighborly, Clarke takes the need for performers to understand professionalism very seriously.
Being professional means being punctual, prepared and most importantly, generous says the iconic musician.
“If people come and pay money to see or hear a certain thing, they should get that certain thing,” says Clarke as he references the Boy Scouts motto. “If you’re going on-stage and the people in the band are not prepared, especially if it’s your band, then you’re not prepared.”
Full of wisdom, Clarke doesn’t name a particular artist but knows all too well about performers who inevitably experienced failure simply because of having a bad attitude. “The only way that someone is gonna rehire you,” says a self-reflexive Clarke, “is if you play good and they can stand being around you.”
“It’s something that a musician has to give,” continues Clarke. “Help whatever the effort is that you’re trying to do. That essentially takes you outside of how you feel and lifts your spirit, which is a very good thing.”
The accomplished musician refers to himself as a “bass player’s biggest fan,” but composing scores for film and television is one of Clarke’s favorite things to do. He recently filmed a mini-documentary that offers a glimpse into his work on the blockbuster film, The Best Man Holiday.
“It’s really scientific, but at the same time, it’s very spiritual,” he says of composing before listing his creative methodology step-by-step. Whenever Clarke takes on a project, the Emmy nominee likes to read the script before he goes to the drawing board. “I let the story float around in my head,” he says.
“You have to have the goal to enhance the drama. I don’t really come up with music until I see what the director has shot. You have to look at a scene and ask, ‘What does this mean?’ Music is the glue. You need a bridge to go across scenes and smooth it out.”
Becoming acquainted with Oscar-nominated director John Singleton vividly comes to Clarke’s mind. When the two met, the veteran musician was scheduled to appear on The Arsenio Hall Show. Singleton, then an intern, approached Clarke backstage, insisting the pair would soon be working together.
It wasn’t long before Columbia Pictures contacted Clarke about scoring Singleton’s feature debut, Boyz n The Hood. Clarke also scored Singleton’s subsequent films, Poetic Justice and Higher Learning. “[John] is very straight,” says Clarke.
“You have to have the confidence of the director and convince the person that he can be comfortable with you. If you’re approaching someone to get respect, that’s not necessarily gonna get you the gig or make the job.”
“What you want is confidence,” adds Clarke. [John’s] not thinking about whether I can do the job. All he’s thinking about is how he’s gonna work with me. It’s all about flexibility and elevating the story.”
Young musicians getting a good education is also important to Clarke. He and his wife, Sofia, have quietly funded The Stanley Clarke Foundation, which offers annual scholarships to young musicians, for 13 years. Clarke, a product of Philadelphia’s Academy of Music, points out the impact that great music teachers left on him.
It is Clarke’s hope that other students can turn their love of music into something they can be proud of in life. “A person’s potential can only really be visualized once he’s educated,” says Clarke.
“You don’t necessarily have to do this so that you can end up on a stage playing in front of 50,000 people. There are lots of options. You can teach music or have music in your home.”
Currently embarking on a European tour, Clarke has come a long way from wanting to change how the general public and music listeners perceived bass players. He frequently writes music and challenges his own bass playing.
Clarke is proud that audiences globally appreciate good musicianship. He’s optimistic that young performers will take their craft seriously and how their presence is regarded on various stages.
“The people that make these festivals or gigs stand up are American artists,” asserts Clarke. “It’s very nice to tour over there because the people are anxious to see. The music business is designed now to take everything from the musician. In spite of that, it’s nice to see that you can still go back to the very basic exercise of going on-stage.”
This post was written by Christopher A. Daniel, pop cultural critic and music editor. He is also contributing writer for Urban Lux Magazine and Blues & Soul Magazine. Follow Christopher @Journalistorian on Twitter.