Musicians Institute concert features Stevie Wonder, Stewart Copeland, Marcus Miller, Bela Fleck and many others
Bassist/composer/producer Stanley Clarke has done it all. A teenage prodigy from the musically and culturally rich city of Philadelphia, he emerged in the early 1970s with an innovative style that immediately redefined his instrument’s potential in virtually every genre of music – jazz, R&B, rock, funk, world and beyond. Both as a solo artist and a co-founder of the seminal quartet Return To Forever, and later as a composer for the big and small screens, Clarke has compiled a resume that includes an impressive list of gold and platinum records, GRAMMYs, Emmys and much more.
But after more than three decades of awards and accolades, Clarke still insists that education is his highest calling. Since the late 1990s, his annual Stanley Clarke Scholarship has given a boost to numerous up-and-coming young musicians – bass players and otherwise – from all parts of the world. The scholarship is marked by an annual concert that continues to draw a lineup of high-profile musicians every year.
Night School: An Evening with Stanley Clarke and Friends (HUDV-7118) is a star-studded DVD set for release on Heads Up International through Clarke’s own Roxboro Entertainment Group on March 27, 2007. The 90-minute presentation chronicles the third annual Stanley Clarke Scholarship Concert, recorded at Musicians Institute in Hollywood, CA, in October 2002. With guest performances by Stevie Wonder, Wallace Roney, Bela Fleck, Sheila E., Stewart Copeland, Flea, Wayman Tisdale, Marcus Miller and more, Night School captures performances that range from straightahead jazz to full-tilt rock fusion to twenty-two-piece string arrangements – all on one stage, all in a single night!
“We had great chemistry at the scholarship concert in 2003,” says Clarke of the Night School DVD. “The thing I really liked about that concert – aside from raising the money for the scholarship – was that all these great people showed up, and just got up onstage and played with no real rehearsal to speak of. They just got up there, and this energy and groove just sort of happened.”
Among Clarke’s favorite moments in the concert – and the DVD – is a segment wherein he’s joined by electric banjoist Bela Fleck and violinist Karen Briggs in “Song To John,” a composition written by Clarke and dedicated to jazz pioneer John Coltrane. Immediately afterward, drummer Stewart Copeland (formerly of the Police) settles in behind the kit and takes the foursome through “The Lochs of Dread,” a song penned by Fleck during his tenure in the short-lived bluegrass combo Strength in Numbers.
Throughout the DVD, the musical numbers are intercut with commentary from Clarke on the merits of Musicians Institute and the value of education for young and aspiring musicians. Likewise, various other musicians from the concert lineup also weigh in with high praise for Clarke, his scholarship, his commitment to education in general and his contribution to the jazz tradition and the role of the bass within it.
The tone shifts to the orchestral when a full string section takes the stage to perform a series of compositions from Clarke’s vast catalog of film scores. The segment includes “Frequent Flyer” from Passenger 57; the theme from Boyz ‘N the Hood; and “Anna Mae,” from the 1993 Tina Turner biopic What’s Love Got To Do With It?
The energy level ratchets up several notches in a “The Big Jam,” featuring bassist Flea (from Red Hot Chili Peppers), Briggs, Copeland and drummer/percussionist Sheila E. Stevie Wonder follows with “Every Day I Have the Blues” and Coltrane’s “Giant Steps,” two classics delivered with an ensemble that includes Clarke, Briggs, keyboardist Rodney Franklin (on “Blues”) and drummer Gerry Brown.
The finale is a monster jam that Clarke himself characterizes as “way off the hook.” The free-for-all features Clarke accompanied by an army of no less than 10 bass players – including Flea, Wayman Tisdale, Marcus Miller and a host of other axemen – each taking a turn riffing on an extended version of Clarke’s landmark hit “School Days.”
Sometimes thundering, sometimes understated and thought-provoking, Night School is an eclectic affair, but one that holds together because of a universal willingness by everyone present to reach out to future generations of musicians and lend a helping hand. “I don’t care what kind of music you’re into – jazz, R&B, country, or whatever – there’s a certain point in your life when you decide that you want to make it as a musician,” says Clarke, who began teaching bass at age 16 and continues to do so forty years later, despite a perennially hectic recording and touring schedule. “That feeling is something that you never really forget, and you recognize it in other people. I think the common thread among everyone in this performance is that they’re all looking to somehow help a kid or a couple kids attain their goals. The individual genre or style doesn’t really have anything to do with it.”
He adds: “I guess I really have a soft spot for that kid in school who’s just trying to make it, or that kid who isn’t in school but wants to get into a good program that will help him really maximize his potential. If there’s anything I can do to help that kid, I’m there, and I will probably always be calling on a lot of people to help me in that regard.”
Night School is the precursor to a Clarke’s yet-to-be-titled CD project scheduled for release on Heads Up in June 2007.
Night School (DVD)
Release Date: March 27, 2007
DVD Chapter Listing:
1. The Floor
2. Wild Dog
3. Goodbye Porkpie Hat
4. Song to John
5. The Lochs of Dread
6. Frequent Flyer
7. Anna Mae
8. Theme from Boyz 'N The Hood
9. Big Jam
10. Every Day I Have The Blues
11. Giant Steps
12. School Days