Stanley Clarke: When you talk to actual musicians, you get the truth

Stanley Clarke: When you talk to actual musicians, you get the truth

Like "Stairway to Heaven" for most guitar players, Stanley Clarke's funked up jazz-fusion smash "School Days" possesses a similar esteem for those who pick up the bass. The title track to his groundbreaking 1976 record invoked a trend for the combination of funky jazz and rock through the late '70s and into the '80s. Inciting cringes from the more purist musical skeptics and "bass face" for the lovers of the form, fusion further popularized what had become of jazz, and brought the music from the clubs into the arenas.

While it's become somewhat the norm for veteran acts to perform their classic records in their entirety, it's as good a time as any to imagine a landmark jazz record by a pioneer of the craft. Clarke and his band will be tackling School Days this year and as they make a tour stop in the Twin Cities at the Cedar Cultural Center this Thursday.

Calling from his home in Malibu, Clarke talked about the upcoming tour, School Days and "Jazz Fusion" music in general.

Stanley Clarke: When you talk to actual musicians, you get the truth
photo by Jennifer McCormick

Gimme Noise: Since the idea of performing a classic record has become a bit of a standard for touring bands, I'm wondering how this came about?

Stanley Clarke: I had never really thought of it. Someone in my office said it would be really interesting to play the music from School Days. I haven't really touched that music in a long time. I hardly even play "School Days" anymore. When I listen now, it was a good record. It's definitely a seminal record, I think. In the world of bass it's definitely a first of its kind. You know, mostly it's just a guy playing bass! What I really like about it is the compositions. They hadn't yet called it "fusion." It was pretty much jazz and rock.

At the time, what I liked was you could bridge two different types of music and two different kinds of players, jazz guys and a rock guys. I remember when Billy Cobham released Spectrum, with Tommy Bolin's guitar all over it. There was something really new and cool about that. With Return to Forever, it was way more complicated. Some of the solo artists that came out of that band made jazz-rock music. A lot of our friends were into different kinds of music. Jeff Beck was an old friend and played on a lot of my records. We have two different languages.

I think "fusion" gets a bad rap. Truthfully, I think the records, including School Days, that really stand out for me from that time kind of encapsulate a different kind of fusion than most people talk about. There's a funk, dance almost "disco jazz" vibe going on with a lot of that music. Donald Byrd's Street Lady for example. What do you think?

[Laughing] "Disco jazz?!" Really? I don't know about that! I have a different view about music that makes you dance. People outside of the music come up with these categories. If you look at the jazz scene, Louis Armstrong through Duke Ellington, all that music was dance music. Most simple bebop music Charlie Parker was doing was dance music as it progressed and got more popular. Even if you look at Return to Forever, one or two songs you can move to. But a lot of it was cerebral. There's a bad case of association.

School Days, half of it is rock 'n' roll! "Hot Fun" on the second side is close. Jazz-rock started with Tony Williams' Lifetime, Miles Davis' Bitches Brew and certainly what Weather Report was doing. It was a natural thing for someone to want someone to move. Why wouldn't you want rhythm, sophisticated rhythm? It was just a part of the overall thing. It always came down to the drummer really! Some guys play really good rhythm, and people tend to move to it. If you have a drummer who's really good, it's going to be funky!

I think School Days and a lot of the popular jazz stuff of the '70s really shows the origins of how everything is so open right now. As far as people having really disparate tastes and genres crossing, now, it's a natural and often-expected thing.

I grew up listening to Miles Davis, but I was way into Jimi Hendrix, James Brown, Stevie Wonder, I had Sgt. Pepper when it came out. I was way into that. Association is an interesting thing in art. What I loved about the fusion era, to me it was the most honest era. People didn't have to be cool and be into just one thing. I remember talking to and hanging out with Patti Smith. In the '70s in New York, Every time I played with McCoy Tyner, she would come down. When you talk to the actual musicians, you get the truth.

Everyone was very saddened when we lost George Duke. You two of course were great friends and collaborators.

Yeah. Man, George. We were the same in a lot of ways. That was a major loss for a large section of the music industry. Behind the scenes, George produced many people. George wrote songs for many people. He was as much a producer and organizer as much as a player on his own. When Al Jarreau says he's going to do a tour, George would be at home laying out the whole guy's tour. I sometimes wondered if George enjoyed that more than just playing. We did our final tour together last year. His wife had died and he wanted to do one last tour. I knew about his sickness for four or five years. I think when she died that was it for him.

So sorry you lost your friend.

It was a pretty hard loss. I was with him until the last minute, it was almost surreal. Now, certain things may trigger memories of George. It's kind of funny and makes me smile. For example, he loved pasta so much! Whenever I have pasta I often have these thoughts George is probably doing the same. He introduced me to Puttanesca Sauce. I didn't even know what it was! We'd go to his favorite Italian spots. He'd order all these exotic pasta dishes. Musically, he left a tremendous footprint. We had a tribute to him shortly after he passed. Myself, Stevie wonder, Chaka Kahn, Jeffery Osbourne, many others all performed, it was a beautiful memorial. He did so much for so many people.

Stanley Clarke presents School Days at the Cedar Cultural Center, Thursday February 27. 7pm. All Ages welcome. Tickets still available.

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