A brilliant player on both acoustic and electric basses, Stanley Clarke has spent much of his career outside of jazz, although he has the ability to play jazz with the very best. He played accordion as a youth, switching to violin and cello before settling on bass. He worked with R&B and rock bands in high school, but after moving to New York he worked with Pharoah Sanders in the early '70s. Other early gigs were with Gil Evans, Mel Lewis, Horace Silver, Stan Getz, Dexter Gordon, and Art Blakey; everyone was impressed by his talents. However, Clarke really hit the big time when he started teaming up with Chick Corea in Return to Forever. When the group became a rock-oriented fusion quartet, Clarke mostly emphasized electric bass and became an influential force, preceding Jaco Pastorius. But, starting with his School Days album (1976) and continuing through his funk group with George Duke (the Clarke/Duke Project) and his projects writing movie scores, Stanley Clarke largely moved beyond the jazz world into commercial music, notable exceptions during the '80s and '90s including his 1988 Portrait album If This Bass Could Only Talk and his 1995 collaboration with Jean-Luc Ponty and Al DiMeola on the acoustic The Rite of Strings.
Clarke signed with Sony in the early 21st century, releasing Find Out and 1, 2, to the Bass before leaving the label. In 2006 he recorded Standards for the independent Kind of Blue imprint, an innovative -- even radical -- live-to-two-track, no-overdub set with drummer Leon "Ndugu" Chancler and pianist Patrice Rushen. In 2007 Clarke released the double album Toys of Men, his debut for Heads Up Records, as well as a live DVD entitled Night School: An Evening with Stanley Clarke & Friends. In 2008 he reunited with Return to Forever for a second time, for an acclaimed tour that produced a live album and DVD. In 2010 he released The Stanley Clarke Band on Heads Up/Concord. The band included Japanese pianist Hiromi, keyboardist Ruslan Sirota, drummer Ronald Bruner, Jr., and a slew of guest performers.
In 2012 Clarke went to Paris, France to participate in a celebration of violinist Jean-Luc Ponty's 50th anniversary as a recording artist. He joined Ponty and guitarist Biréli Lagrène in one of the trios that were part of the evening's festivities. Neither Ponty nor Clarke had played with the guitarist before that evening. The musical conversation proved electrifying for the players and audience. Two years later, the trio entered ICP Studios in Brussels and recorded an album over four days. Entitled D-Stringz, it was released by Impulse! in November of 2015. ~ Scott Yanow & Thom Jurek