Sid Gribetz presents the music of pianist Sonny Clark on Jazz Profiles, this Sunday, June 7, from 2-7 PM on WKCR.
Sonny was a pianist with a funky sound yet a crisp and swinging technique. His style also embodied an element of “cool” suited to the modern jazz of his period. As a composer, his songs were angular and sophisticated, but melodic and bluesy enough to be accessible. Many of his tunes, such as “Sonny’s Crib” and “News For Lulu,” endure in the standard jazz repertory.
Conrad Yeatis “Sonny” Clark was born in western Pennsylvania in 1931 and raised in the Pittsburgh area, a hotbed of jazz. After high school, Clark moved to California to begin his career as a professional musician and became active on the West Coast scene. He made his first record with Teddy Charles and Wardell Gray in 1953, and Clark next joined clarinetist Buddy DeFranco’s regular working combo from 1954-56.
Clark moved to New York City in 1957 and there he established himself in just a couple of years as a leading pianist, composer, and accompanist in the heyday of the “hard bop” groove. He appeared on numerous records on the Blue Note label, with his relaxed touch inspiring classic sides by the likes of John Coltrane, Hank Mobley and Curtis Fuller, plus his own albums such as “Cool Strutting” which are still best sellers in Japan.
Beset more than others with the ravages of drug addiction, and suffering other health problems, Clark was inactive for a time, but returned to the Blue Note fold in the early 1960's for superb sessions with Grant Green, Dexter Gordon, and others. He eventually succumbed to his ailments and died on January 13, 1963 at the age of 31.