Modern Man: A Night With Stanley Clarke

timthumbLast night the wife and I went to a local music/dinner club called The Birchmere in Alexandria, VA. It’s a great venue with a great reputation that books acts ranging from jazz greats to blues masters to Americana roots rock. You walk in, grab a seat at a communal table, order over-priced but decent dinner fare, and watch the artists perform to a room full of attentive spectators.  It’s a music club for people who don’t mind sitting down while watching music. It offers you the ability to enjoy an artist without the distractions that come with most rock clubs.

That is why I was somewhat amazed last night on a few levels. We went to see the legendary (and way too under-appreciated) Stanley Clarke. If you don’t know who he is, well, go find out. Before the show I knew of Stanley Clarke, “heard of him” but never actually listened to any of his music knowingly. He’s done work on movie soundtracks, played with some of the all-time jazz greats, and is generally well-regarded in the musical community. He’s a bass player that transcends classification. A true “artist” of his craft. Funk, jazz, blues, rock, hip-hop, salsa, etc. etc. etc. Stanley Clarke has played it and played it better than 99.99% of anyone else that ever has.

What amazed me first and foremost during the show was his scaled-down band: Stanley on bass, a drummer, and a piano player. I thought, “Ok, this is going to be ‘good’ but probably end up repetitive and boring as the set goes on. I mean, how much can you do with a trio like that?” Of course I was wrong (it’s happened before and depending on whom you ask the numbers vary). The drummer was 19 and the piano player (from the Republic of Georgia) was 17! Let me say that again: 17! (As of this posting Stanley Clarke is 62).

I think it’s pretty wise for an old-timer like Clarke to select young, extremely talented musicians to surround him. They brought an exuberance that helped keep the set fresh and improvisational. They were both spectacular at their respective instruments. The drummer’s arms on some of his solos looked like humming birds wings and the piano player played with a passion and soul you seldom find in someone so young. They both received more than one standing ovation.

And Stanley Clarke? Well, I will say this without any hesitation: he is one of the greatest musicians to ever walk the face of the earth. His bass playing (funky, soulful, jazzy, avant garde) impressed the audience non-stop. What really makes him stand out besides his fast fingers? The fact that he could go from playing frantic Coltrane-esque solos to strumming his bow across the upright bass with such delicacy you could hear a pin drop in a room full of hundreds of people (well, most of the time, read below). In a word, his playing is mesmerizing.

Which leads me to the other amazement of the night: people talking through performances. It’s nothing new. It happens every time I go to see a movie. But there were moments last night where I was sitting there thinking to myself: I am witnessing one of the greatest musicians of all time right now. He’s 20 yards away from me and this fuckin’ douchebag a table over prefers to spend this moment blabbering with his wife and friend about how the piano player is “from The Republic of Georgia? Should be Atlanta, Georgia.”

Imagine during the most quiet of moments in the music having to hear this. Everyone around us looked at this guy, no one said a word. I daydreamed of walking over to him and saying something in his ear Christopher Moltisanti style and him immediately walking out but I was too busy trying to enjoy an amazing musical moment.

Sorry, but I just don’t get people like this. This ticket was not cheap, Clarke isn’t on a never-ending tour like Bobby Dylan is, and you are obviously the only person in the room talking! Show some mother fucking, god damned respect for not only the people around you trying to enjoy themselves but the musicians as well. Did this guy think we paid money to hear his opinions or Stanley Clarke and his band knock it out of the park?

But I digress. I won’t allow one asshole to ruin the night. And since most of it was upbeat, funky, jazzy, poly-rhythmic jamming this douche canoes voice was only heard sparingly.

I am not here to preach about the merits of jazz and instrumental music or assholes that annoy us during concerts, plays, films, games, or other social events. I suppose the point of this post was to 1. share with you my experience seeing Stanley Clarke at a local club and 2. hoping that I can turn you on to this absolutely amazing musician.

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