Kenny Clarke
January 9, 1914 – January 26, 1985





Kenny Clarke

Kenny Clarke was a highly influential if subtle drummer who helped to define bebop drumming. He was the first to shift the time-keeping rhythm from the bass drum to the ride cymbal, an innovation that has been copied and utilized by a countless number of drummers since the early '40s.

Clarke played vibes, piano and trombone in addition to drums while in school. After stints with Roy Eldridge (1935) and the Jeter-Pillars band, Clarke joined Edgar Hayes' Big Band (1937-38). He made his recording debut with Hayes (which is available on a Classics CD) and showed that he was one of the most swinging drummers of the era.

A European tour with Hayes gave Clarke an opportunity to lead his own session, but doubling on vibes was a definite mistake! Stints with the orchestras of Claude Hopkins (1939) and Teddy Hill (1940-41) followed and then Clarke led the house band at Minton's Playhouse (which also included Thelonious Monk).

The legendary after-hours sessions led to the formation of bop and it was during this time that Clarke modernized his style and received the nickname "Klook-Mop" (later shortened to "Klook") due to the irregular "bombs" he would play behind soloists. A flexible drummer, Clarke was still able to uplift the more traditional orchestras of Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald (1941) and the combos of Benny Carter (1941-42), Red Allen and Coleman Hawkins; he also recorded with Sidney Bechet. However after spending time in the military, Clarke stayed in the bop field, working with Dizzy Gillespie's big band and leading his own modern sessions; he co-wrote "Epistrophy" with Monk and "Salt Peanuts" with Gillespie. Clarke spent the late '40s in Europe, was with Billy Eckstine in the U.S. in 1951 and became an original member of the Modern Jazz Quartet (1951-55).

However he felt confined by the music and quit the MJQ to freelance, performing on an enormous amount of records during 1955-56.

In 1956 Clarke moved to France where he did studio work, was hired by touring American all-stars and played with Bud Powell and Oscar Pettiford in a trio called the Three Bosses (1959-60). Clarke was co-leader with Francy Boland of a legendary all-star big band (1961-72), one that had Kenny Clarke playing second drums! Other than a few short visits home, Kenny Clarke worked in France for the remainder of his life and was a major figure on the European jazz scene.














Kenny Clarke
1966


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Kenny Clarke
with The J.J. Johnson All-Stars - 1964



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KENNY CLARKE:
Though the founder of modern drumming had an extensive recording career both stateside and abroad, it's a shame that just not that many of his recordings are available. He can be heard with Charlie Parker on half the tracks on "Swedish Schnaps" (1952: Verve label) and on the legendary Charlie Christian sides recorded at Minton's by Jerry Newman in 1941 (out on any number of labels).

"Swiss Radio Days" finds Clarke in the company of Coleman Hawkins in 1949 (TCB Records label), with Dizzy Gillespie's big band on "Cubana Be, Cubana Bop" (1947: RCA label), and with the original version of the Modern Jazz Quartet on "La Ronde" (1952: Prestige label). Clarke made a number of great small group sides for the Savoy label in the mid-1950s, including "Bohemia After Dark," "Klook's Clique" and "The Trio," but those items are tough to obtain.

Thankfully being issued recently is Clarke's wonderful, latter-day work as co-leader of the Kenny Clarke/Francy Boland big band, available on "Jazz is Universal" (1962: Collectables label).



© Karlheinz Klüter



Kenny Clare - Kenny Clarke



Kenny Clarke - Kenny Clare
Clarke - Boland Big Band
The Drum Duet
1968


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Modern Jazz Quartet: John Lewis, Milt Jackson, Percy Heath,
Kenny Clarke



© Gottardo Paganin



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Kenny Clarke
Our Delight - 1972


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Kenny Clarke
with Lucky Thompson Quintet
STRIKE UP THE BAND
1960



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Kenny Clarke - Kenny Clare
Clarke - Boland Big Band
Volcano
1968



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