Wednesday, December 30, 2009


An important drummer we should all check out and recognize is Kenny Clarke. "Klook" (as he was nicknamed) was one of the most influential jazz drummers of his time and revolutionized jazz drumming by focusing his method of timekeeping on the ride cymbal (as opposed to the hi-hat or snare drum). Klook was THE bebop drummer of his time and laid the foundation for future jazz drummers to follow. Later establishing himself in France for a good portion of his life, he remained an influential drummer on the European jazz scene.

One of the first jazz records I ever obtained when I was a kid had Kenny Clarke on it. My jazz combo teacher at the time, Brenda McAlpine, recognized that I was struggling with trying to figure out what jazz drummers to listen to. So she went to the Regina Public Library, took out a stack of LPs and made me a series of cassettes of things to check out. An album that she gave me and STILL influences me to this day was "Kenny Clarke Meets The Detroit Jazzmen", a very swinging date featuring Kenny Clarke with a host of jazz musicians originally from Detroit including: Tommy Flanagan, Paul Chambers, Pepper Adams and Kenny Burrell. His cymbal playing, brushwork and TIME on that album is really something else ! One of my desert island albums, for sure.

Once I attended McGill University as an undergraduate student, studying Kenny Clarke's ride cymbal beat was standard fare around those parts and required material assigned by my teachers Chris McCann and Andre White. My friend Jesse Cahill, who was also a student at McGill at the time, was really into Klook and would often hip me to different albums and things to check out.

Furthermore, when I studied with drummer Terry Clarke in Toronto a couple of years ago, one of my assignments was to read the Mike Hennessy biography entitled "Klook: The Story of Kenny Clarke". Unfortunately this great book is out of print, but if you dig around you might still be able to find it. Took quite a bit of detective work on my part, but I'm glad was able to track it down. This book is an excellent insight into the life and music of one of jazz drumming's iconic figures.

Here's some of my favorite footage of Klook that is floating around The following is some great music with Clark Terry and tenor saxophonist Barney Wilen (I would like to know more about this guy! Is he still alive?):

Here with Sonny Stitt, J.J.Johnson and Howard McGhee in a tribute to Charlie Parker:

And here with a long time musical associate of Klook's, Bud Powell:

Kenny Clarke fronted a number of his own groups while living in France (of course, one most notably being the Clarke/Boland big band) and had a number of steady engagements at several prominent Parisian jazz clubs during his time overseas.

Here he is playing with one of his small groups featuring George Gruntz on piano and other European musicians:

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