British drummer Kenny Clare died on January 11 at the Westminster Hospital in London, at the age of 55. Kenny had been hospitalized for eight weeks and had several operations for the removal of cancer from the esophagus.
The son of a drummer, Kenny Clare started playing in the early ’40s, after being inspired by a movie featuring Buddy Rich. Kenny always credited Buddy and Don Lamond with being his biggest influences. Kenny’s dynamic and readily identifiable style made him one of the top British studio players. At one point in the mid-’60s, he was doing every major TV show and record date in the U.K., along with his busy playing commitments for visiting American jazz artists. He played on about 30 “number ones” in the USA and Europe, and worked with major stars ranging from Tony Bennett and Tom Jones to Barbra Streisand, Ella Fitzgerald and the late Judy Garland. One of the highlights of his career was the Conversations album and a concert with the Bobby Lamb/Ray Premru band, featuring Buddy Rich and Louie Bellson. On one occasion, he had to sub with the Duke Ellington Band at the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival without any rehearsal, and without drum charts. His work with Kenny Clarke in the two-drummer situation of the Clarke/Boland Big Band will be long remembered.
Just recently, Kenny had been globe- trotting with British vocalist Cleo Laine, as well as maintaining a busy teaching and clinic schedule. He always had plenty of time for other drummers, and would spend hours after a concert or clinic discussing technique and the instrument. Even at the end, while in the hospital, he kept his sticks and practice pad beside his bed.
Kenny is survived by his wife, Marjorie, and two daughters. He will be sadly missed by his many colleagues and friends around the world. —Jimmy Tagford
The drumming community lost one of its most innovative members on January 26, when Kenny Clarke died in Paris of a heart attack. Born in Pittsburgh in 1914, Clarke first came to national attention with the swing bands of leaders such as Roy Eldridge, Edgar Hayes (with whom Clarke made his first recordings), and Claude Hopkins. In 1939, Clarke joined the Teddy Hill band, where he worked with Dizzy Gillespie. It was here that Clarke began experimenting with the ideas that eventu- ally earned him the title “Father Of Bebop Drumming” (but which got him fired from
the Hill band). Clarke had decided that, unlike the other drummers of the day, he wanted to use the bass drum for accents, rather than as the main timekeeper. So Clarke used a cymbal to keep time on, playing accents (“dropping bombs”) on the bass drum, and complementing his bass drum patterns with left-hand snare drum rhythms.
Clarke continued to develop his unique style throughout the ’40s, most notably at a New York jazz club called Minton’s, and often in the company of Dizzy Gillespie. Drummers such as Max Roach and Philly Joe Jones were heavily influenced by Clarke, and Jim Chapin used Clarke’s style as the basis of his classic book, Advanced Techniques For The Modern Drummer. Clarke didn’t mind. As he told Ed Thigpen, “Jim Chapin would hang around all the time, and he wrote down all the stuff we did. As long as it got to the cats, 1 was happy.” It was during this period that Clarke picked up the nickname “Klook,” from the scat lyrics to the song “Oop Bop Sh’Bam,” one of which was “a klook a mop,” and sounded like a drum lick.
Clarke also had his hand in a couple of notable compositions. One was the tune “Epistrophy,” written in collaboration with Thelonious Monk, and frequently recorded by Monk. Another was the bebop standard “Salt Peanuts,” written with Dizzy Gillespie.
In the early ’50s, Clarke was one of the founding members of one of the most distinguished jazz groups of all time, The Modern Jazz Quartet. In addition to working with the MJQ, Clarke did a lot of free-lance recording in New York, with such notables as Miles Davis.
Clarke went to Paris in 1956 to join the Jacques Helian band. Except for occasional, brief visits, Clarke never returned to the U.S. In 1960, he and pianist Francy Boland formed the Clarke/Boland Big Band, which stayed together until 1973, and recorded several albums. One of the notable features of the band was that it had two drummers: Clarke and English jazz drummer Kenny Clare. After that group disbanded, Clarke continued to gig around France. In 1983, Clarke came to New York to record an album called Pieces Of Time, which also featured drummers Don Moye, Andrew Cyrille, and Milford Graves. — Rick Mattingly