Stanley Clarke was born June 30, 1951 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Starting out on violin, then cello, he would eventually take up the bass, with his first experiences on the musical landscape leading him towards rock and R&B. At the same time, Clarke expanded his palette, graduating from the Philadelphia Music Academy.
Heading off to try his luck in New York in 1970, it didn't take long for the bassist to find gigs. His formidable skill twinned with an undeniable melodic sense, his playing would soon win over such veteran jazzmen as Gil Evans, Horace Silver, Art Blakey, Stan Getz and Pharaoh Sanders.
Return to Forever
In 1971, Clarke met pianist Chick Corea by chance at one of his many engagements. The two musicians would soon bond in Return to Forever, the landmark jazz fusion group that would score hits throughout the decade with a handful of albums including Where Have I Known You Before (1974) and Romantic Warrior (1976).
During that era, Clarke set aside the double bass to work mainly on electric bass. He developed a very funky percussive style-slap-pioneered by Larry Graham, who kept things groovy as a member of Sly & the Family Stone. Clarke would also push a new approach, moving his instrument front and centre onstage as a lead rather than support player.
Solo and with others
Alongside his membership in RtF, Clarke launched a series of albums as a bandleader. Children of Forever (1973), Stanley Clarke (1974), Journey to Love (1975) and School Days (1976) would allow him to showcase his talents as a composer as well as an instrumentalist.
Following the dissolution of Return to Forever in 1977, the bassist tackled projects that would take him beyond the boundaries of jazz fusion. He accompanied Rolling Stones Keith Richards and Ron Wood as part of The New Barbarians tour, played on Paul McCartney's Tug of War album and tried out funk in a collaboration with George Duke, The Clarke/Duke Project.
Beginning in the mid-1980s, Clarke expanded his repertoire to include music for the big and small screens. After composing the music for hit TV show Pee Wee's Playhouse, for which he received an Emmy nomination in 1985, the musician composed the original soundtracks for films including Boys n the Hood, What's Love Got to Do With It, Passenger 57, Poetic Justice and Little Big League.
At the Festival
In 1986, the Festival International de Jazz de Montréal welcomed the musician and his Stanley Clarke Band. He would not return for nine more years, alongside violinist Jean Luc Ponty and guitarist Al Di Meola for the project Rite of Strings. During the interval, Clarke would release several albums under his name-among them, a critically-acclaimed jazzy project, If This Bass Could Only Talk (1988)-and collaborate with musicians from various backgrounds, including Stewart Copeland, former drummer in The Police, with his group Animal Collective.
In 2004, Clarke returned to the Festival with Ponty and Di Meola to once again present Rite of Strings-with the chemistry of the three players very much intact. The following year, Clarke and Ponty once again appeared in a trio, this time with banjoist Béla Fleck.
The Return to Forever reunion led to a tour including a date in Place des Arts in 2008. Three years later they were back, with Clarke celebrated his 60th birthday by receiving the Miles Davis Award.
The legendary bassist was one of two guests artist headlining the prestigious 2012 Invitation series 2012. He performed with his Stanley Clarke Band, accompanied by the Harlem String Quartet, in a duo with Japanese pianist Hiromi and in a trio with standard bearers Marcus Miller and Victor Wooten.