Stanley Clarke Finds Reel Career in Film Scores : Jazz: For the multifaceted bassiest, who comes to the Coach House tonight, touring is now a way to unwind.
Mention the name Stanley Clarke, and jazz and rock fans alike will probably think of the funk-hungry electric bassist with the crisp, crackling sound.
Understandable, since it was that side of Clarke that came out during his tenure with Chick Corea’s ground-breaking Return to Forever band of the ‘70s as well as when he subsequently formed his own high-powered groups, sometimes in association with a fellow crossover artist, keyboardist George Duke.
But that’s only one facet of his many-sided career.
Before Return to Forever, Clarke was known as the hot young thing on acoustic bass while working with such notables as saxophonists Dexter Gordon and Joe Henderson and pianist-composer Horace Silver.
That side tends to resurface during concert performances, where he plays both electric and acoustic. Earlier this year, Clarke led an acoustic band at New York’s Blue Note club, and he makes infrequent, unadvertised club dates in Los Angeles where he often works on the upright.
Now, however, Clarke is getting attention for still another aspect of his music: film composing.
His scores include “Passenger 57" with Wesley Snipes, the Tina Turner story “What’s Love Got to Do With It” and both “Poetic Justice” and “Boys N the Hood” for John Singleton. He’s working on the music for the directorial debut of Gregory Hines.
So what does Clarke do when he wants to unwind? He goes on tour.
“Yes, it’s like a vacation for me,” he said over the phone from his home in Los Angeles’ Benedict Canyon. “There’s always so much to do when you’re at home. But when you’re on tour, you’re down to one activity. It’s kind of nice.”
The current trip, which stops at the Coach House tonight, finds the bassist, keyboardist Deron Johnson and drummer Clarence Penn supporting Clarke’s latest album, “East River Drive.” It’s a diverse album that includes pieces from “Poetic Justice” and “Boyz N the Hood” as well as a string-backed ballad titled “What If I Forgot the Champagne” and his usual funk numbers.
His sidemen on the album constitute an equally varied group, including long-time collaborator Duke, saxophonist Gerald Albright, violinist Jean Luc Ponty, and pianist Kenny Kirkland. Additionally, he features several fellow bassists, including Armand Sabal-Lecco, Charles Fambrough and Abraham Laboriel. On one tune, Clarke even sings background vocals.
“It’s definitely a reflection of a lot of the things I do,” Clarke said. “And doing it also gave me a chance to plug back into the performance world after spending so much time with films.”
Clarke’s move into film and television scoring wasn’t calculated. Indeed, the bassist said, “I never really considered it a noble career for a musician--not that I put down film composers. Personally, I like those dumb action pictures, like ‘Die Hard,’ but I never thought much of the music. So when someone asked me to score something, I thought, ‘Why would I want to do that?’ ”
He began simply enough, writing music for CBS-TV’s “Pee Wee’s Playhouse” and HBO’s “Tales From the Crypt.” When his work for “Pee Wee’s Playhouse” received an Emmy nomination, his scoring career took off.
“I wrote 15 minutes of music and suddenly people were calling me a film composer. I started getting calls for work; people were talking to me differently. And I thought, ‘Hey, I can get into this.’ ”
After honing his chops on “a ton of television specials and series,” including the TV movie “Final Shot: The Hank Gathers Story,” he made the jump to the big screen.
“Film work was much easier than TV,” he said. “I had great training in television, and you don’t have to deal (in films) with the constant target dates and deadlines that you have in television.”
Further, “When you’re scoring, the source point is the writer; everything comes from the script,” he said. “It’s what inspires all the creativity that follows from the actors, the lighting, the music. Then you put your own two cents into it.
The big difference between scoring a film and writing for himself is that “With your own material, all the inspiration comes from inside you,” Clarke said.
A native of Philadelphia, Clarke cut his teeth playing with rock bands before he began to make a splash on the jazz scene. As a teen-ager, he was making a big impression, showing off loads of technique on Joe Henderson’s “In Pursuit of Blackness” album.
In a recent Times interview, Henderson, while disparaging the current youth movement in jazz, said that Clarke, as a young player, had not only the chops, but a feel for the music that was unusual for one so young.
“Yeah, I carried the jazz flag for about a week,” Clarke recalled. “Now, it sometimes ticks me off when you see younger musicians selected to carry the jazz flag. It’s usually the press that does it: ‘Here’s this guy, let’s give him the flag and ordain him the world’s greatest musician.’
“There’s always a slot ready for the young black jazz musician. Meanwhile, a lot of older guys who deserve credit aren’t getting it. Everyone in the press runs toward the younger guys and forgets the rest.”
Clarke sees the diversity of his own career as a hedge against being forgotten in his middle age. In addition to his performing and scoring activities, Clarke has started a small record label, Slamm Dunk Records. He’s also composing music for symphony orchestra, something inspired by an appearance in his hometown where he played the lead in a concerto for electric bass, “in full tails, the whole bit,” he said.
He’s also anxious to pull together a film company of his own.
“Filmmaking is a fascinating process, so much different than recording (albums),” he said. “And I’ve seen a lot of bad movies in my time. I think I can do better.”
* The Stanley Clarke Band and saxophonist Jeff Gonzales play tonight at 8 at the Coach House, 33157 Camino Capistrano, San Juan Capistrano. $19.50. (714) 496-8930.