Bass pioneer Stanley Clarke to play Tupelo on SundayBy MIKE COTE
New Hampshire Union Leader November 22. 2017 2:28PM
The bass player is often the musician who gets the least acclaim, despite being the crucial link between the drummer and the rest of the group — holding down the groove and supporting the harmony.
Then there are bass players like Stanley Clarke, who redefined what a bass can do and inspired countless musicians to follow his lead, expanding the melodic possibilities of the instrument. Clarke practically invented the solo artist genre for bass players, breaking through to the mainstream with his 1976 instrumental “School Days.”
Bass Player magazine ranked Clarke No. 5 in its ranking this year of the “100 Great Bass Players of All Time,” and he consistently earns top honors with both critics and readers as the Best Electric Bass Player in Downbeat magazine.
Clarke, who performs on Sunday night at Tupelo Music Hall in Derry, is best known for leading his own bands and playing with Return to Forever, the jazz fusion band founded by pianist Chick Corea in 1972. He’s recorded and toured with countless musicians, including Jeff Beck, Keith Richards, Art Blakey, Quincy Jones and Aretha Franklin, and has composed dozens of TV and film scores, from “Pee-wee’s Playhouse” in the mid-’80s to 2016’s “Barbershop: The Next Cut.”
For his latest album, due out next year, Clarke worked with a band made up of 20-something musicians, inspired to create new music while they were sidelined from touring in Paris when terrorist attacks kept them holed up in a hotel.
“We stayed in Paris actually close to a week as we figured out what to do,” Clarke said during an interview last week. “I was starting to work on the new album myself. I thought, ‘Why don’t I sort of take a page out of the ‘Return to Forever’ book and have everyone write music, offer something, and then try to put it all together. The guys went out and bought some keyboards and speakers.”
The down time proved to be a great creative opportunity, stretching out for a couple of weeks.
“The guys were writing and writing, and they came up with all this music. Some of it were things, that to be quite honest, I would never even think of. That’s the beautiful thing about having a band,” Clarke said. “They gave me all this stuff, and it was all in this raw form, not particularly organized.
“So I spent the last four or five months organizing it. And it really sounds good. The thing I like about it is this music can be performed. It’s a performance album. Hear it and you can hear what it would sound like live.”
Clarke considers the still-untitled collection to be a sister album to 2010’s “The Stanley Clarke Band,” which won a Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Jazz Album. It’s due for release early next year on Mack Avenue records and features current band members Michael Mitchell on drums, Beka Gochiashvili on piano and keyboards, and Cameron Graves on keyboards.
“It’s just the sound textures,” Clarke said, comparing the new album to the 2010 disc. “It’s a little more electric sounding, and it also has acoustic music on there, too. It’s very compositional.”
Clarke has learned from the band leaders who mentored him as well as the young musicians he leads now, but the most important lessons haven’t been about music. Clarke was just a teenager when he first began performing with jazz icons like Stan Getz, which led to work with Horace Silver, Art Blakey and other band leaders.
“The thing I learned from a lot of these guys is just the subject of humanity. Some of those band leaders, actually the majority of those guys, were really good and fair and took care of me. I came on the scene just turning 18,” said Clarke, 66. “I think I was with Stan Getz when I was just 18 years old. Stan was really nice to me.”
And Getz could see that Clarke needed guidance.
“When you’re a band leader and you have someone who is extremely talented, it’s very easy to just look at the person and his talent and not necessarily think or realize that the guy is only 18. Just a couple of years ago he was playing with toys,” Clarke said.
“I have one musician who started playing with me when he was around 16 or 17. His name is Beka Gochiashvili from the country of Georgia. He’ll be playing with us at these next few concerts,” Clarke said. “He plays like he’s in his 40s, but he’s a young kid from a country somewhat war torn. When he left, I think, the Russians were getting ready to bomb that place so he has all that up in him. He’s a little more involved emotionally than most American kids or he maybe he can go the other way.”
Over time, Clarke helped nurture Gochiashvili and shield him from the temptations of the touring life that can derail a young musician.
“It’s very cool to watch him grow. He’s 21 years old now, and he’s really developed into a fine player and a good person,” Clarke said. “I made sure that I took time to keep him away from as many things as I possibly could. At least I would talk to him, like Stan Getz did to me.”