Sonny Clark Biography

Conrad Yeatis Clark, 21 July 1931, Herminie, near Elizabeth, Pennsylvania, USA, d. 13 January 1963, New York City, New York, USA. An underrated piano genius of the hard-bop era, Clark cast a glorious ray of sunshine over some of the Blue Note Records label’s most memorable sessions. Art Tatum, one of his childhood heroes, and Count Basie, whose big band radio broadcasts were a popular feature of his youth, are two pianists whose influence can be heard in his minimal and understated style. However, his succinct and melodic approach drew as much from wind players as other pianists, his left hand providing the barest of occasional accompaniments, while he stressed instead an elegant and sophisticated single note approach. He moved to the west coast in the early 50s, and soon began working with saxophonist Vido Musso and bass player Oscar Pettiford. Throughout the mid-50s, he was an active element of the west coast scene, touring with clarinettist Buddy De Franco, saxophonist Sonny Criss and others. In 1957 he moved to New York, working first with vocalist Dinah Washington, and enjoying a new boom of attention, leading various small groups (his Sonny’s Crib features John Coltrane) and working as a sideman with saxophonists Sonny Rollins, Clifford Jordan, and Hank Mobley and trombonist Curtis Fuller, before the combined ravages of alcohol and hard drugs took their toll. Recommended listening are Leapin’ And Lopin’ on Blue Note ? an inspired 1961 session with saxophonists Ike Quebec and Charlie Rouse? the popular Cool Struttin’ and baritone saxophone genius Serge Chaloff’s classic Blue Serge. In 1986, the radical New York pianist Wayne Horvitz led the Sonny Clark memorial Quartet (featuring John Zorn) on Voodoo, a tribute album of Clark compositions.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.