Saturday, May 25, 2019

Klook: Kenny Clarke and The Beginnings of Modern Jazz Drumming

© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

How did the Jazz world get from Gene Krupa to Philly Joe Jones?

The answer to that question is as central as asking how it got from Benny Goodman to Charlie Parker, or from Louis Armstrong to Dizzy Gillespie or from Earl “Fatha” Hines to Bud Powell or from Jimmy Blanton to Charlie Mingus.

Melodically and harmonically, Parker, Gillespie, Powell and Mingus created the basic musical structures of modern Jazz.

Kenny Clarke who acquired the nickname of “Klook-mop” which was later shortened to “Klook” created the rhythmic foundation over which the convoluted and fast moving Bebop lines - melodies- could ride unimpeded by the thump-thump-thump of the swing drum beat with its heavily accented 4-beats to the bar bass drum beat.

[Klook-mop was derived from the sound of the snare-to-bass-drum chatter that early Bebop drummers played behind the ride cymbal beat.]

Kenny’s modern style of drumming seemed to spring forth as a fully formed conception during the early jam sessions at Minton’s Playhouse from about 1941 onwards.

In fact, Kenny was piecing his approach together over a four year period from about 1937-1941.

In probing for the sources of modern jazz styles, one is not likely to come upon a more influential figure than drummer Kenny Clarke.

Without Clarke's creative drum developments, there is a good possibility that the bebop phase would not have attained its musical importance and gone on to contribute to contemporary jazz forms. Two European critics have succinctly evaluated Clarke's importance. England's Max Harrison: "He built the rhythmic foundation of the new music." France's Andre Hodeir: "His rhythmic imagination has stimulated the melodic genius of others."

More than a decade ago, Max Roach, considered by many the greatest of the modern drummers, pointed out that a drummer should be able to compose, and he mentioned Clarke as an example. Roach said, "Clarke knows his harmony, melody, and has a million ideas." In the 1959 Down Beat drum issue Roach again spoke of his friend as follows: "I've been partial to Clarke. He doesn't borrow; you don't hear the way he plays anywhere else. It's not African or Afro-Cuban; it's unique."

Kenneth Spearman Clarke's conceptual individuality came to the fore early in his career. He was born Jan. 9, 1914, in Pittsburgh, Pa. His father was a trombonist, and Kenny had a younger brother, Frank, who played bass. Kenny studied piano, trombone, drums, vibra-harp, and theory in high school. His knowledge of keyboard harmony, obtained in those early years, was to be an important aspect of his future development.

His first professional job was with Leroy Bradley's Pittsburgh band for about five years. This was followed by a time with the Eldridge brothers, whose home also was in Pittsburgh. Trumpeter Roy had come in from the road about 1933 and with his late brother, Joe, an alto saxophonist and arranger, had formed a home-town band. It worked out well because if Clarke missed a date, Roy could take over on the drums, which he loved to do.

Clarke made his first trip out of town to join the commercial dance band organized by James Jeter and Hayes Pillars during 1934 in St. Louis, Mo. It is interesting to note that both Christian and Blanton served with the Jeter-Pillars Band about that time too.

Early 1937 found Clarke in New York City with Edgar Hayes' big band. He made his first recording, with Hayes, in March, 1937, and was to record regularly with the band on Decca for more than a year.

One interesting 78-rpm that they made was Decca 1882, Star Dust and In the Mood. It was Hayes' version of Star Dust, performed at a slow to medium tempo, that revived the Hoagy Carmichael song, first recorded in 1927, and started it to the top of the hit list. The reverse side, written by saxophonist Joe Garland, then with the Hayes band, went along for the ride, no one paying it much notice. Two years later Glenn Miller's Bluebird record of In the Mood made it a best-seller.

While on tour in Europe (Sweden, Norway, Finland, Denmark, Belgium, and Holland) during early 1938 with Hayes, Clarke made some quintet sides in Stockholm under his own name.

This Hayes band was a forward-looking swing aggregation. Clarinetist Rudy Powell did some arrangements for the group, and several years later, young Dizzy Gillespie was to mention he was interested in Powell's work. The band recorded quite a few swinging originals such as Stomping at the Renny (Renaissance Ballroom in Harlem).

Tenor saxophonist Budd Johnson, while with Earl Hines in 1937, has recalled a battle of bands Hines had with Hayes in Dayton, Ohio. At that time, Johnson said, he noticed some unusual drumming by Clarke.

Clarke himself has said, "I was trying to make the drums more musical. Garland would write out trumpet parts for me to read, and I would use my discretion in playing things that I thought would be effective. These were rhythm patterns superimposed over the regular beat."

After returning from Europe, the drummer and Powell joined the long-established Claude Hopkins Band. Clarke stayed eight months with Hopkins and then went with the Teddy Hill Band, in which he first met Gillespie.

By this time Clarke was well along in evolving a style of his own. The Hayes, Hopkins, and Hill bands played frequently at the Savoy Ballroom. Clarke has said it wore him out trying to keep up the fast tempos required.

One of the numbers in the Hill repertoire that he gives as an example was The Harlem Twister (also known as Sensation Stomp).

To get relief, Clarke fell back on experiments he had been making with his top cymbal. He developed a technique whereby he transferred his timekeeping chore from the bass drum to the top cymbal, riding it with his right hand. His right foot was then free to play off-beat accents on the bass drum, a sort of punctuating function to become known as "bombs." He devoted his left stick to the snare drum, sometimes using it for accents and other times using it to help the cymbal carry the rhythm.

All this confused leader Hill, and Clarke was fired, but he was in the band long enough to make an impression on Gillespie. The trumpeter said he found it stimulating to improvise around Clarke's off-rhythms.

From the Hill band Clarke followed Panama Francis into Roy Eldridge's big band at the Arcadia Ballroom on Broadway. None of these bands — Hopkins, Hill, Eldridge — recorded while Clarke was with them.

In the summer of 1940 Clarke was working with Sidney Bechet's quartet at the Log Cabin in Fonda, N.Y. During the fall of that year Teddy Hill took over the management at Minton's and asked Clarke and trumpeter Joe Guy to bring in a small group. The astute Hill wanted to make the spot a hangout for musicians, and in this setting he was sympathetic to Clarke's experiments. Hill said the drummer's unique figures sounded to him like "kloop" or "klook," and he told Clarke they could play all the "klook-mop music" they wanted at Minton's. I guess it followed naturally that Clarke became known as Klook.

Several writers in discussing the Jerry Newman acetates made in May, 1941, at Minton's have pointed out that actually the only suggestion of the things to come emanated from Clarke's drums. Marshall Stearns, in mentioning the Newman sides in his Story of Jazz, said, ". . . drummer Clark is playing fully matured bop drums."

Clarke worked with Charlie Christian, Thelonious Monk, and Dizzy Gillespie in developing unusual chord changes. The drummer has a long list of original compositions registered with Broadcast Music, Inc., including Klook Returns; Blues Mood; Roll 'Em, Bags; I’ll Get You Yet.

Before he left for the service in 1943, Clarke was a regular at Minton's when in town. During that period he spent a short time in Louis Armstrong's big band, from which he was soon fired, and Armstrong begged Big Sid Catlett to return; five weeks with Gillespie in Ella Fitzgerald's orchestra, which the two joined together and from which they were fired together; Benny Carter's sextet on 52nd St.; and a comparatively long run with Red Allen's small band at the Downbeat Room in Chicago.

At the time Clarke went into service, the new music had not as yet acquired the name bebop. Like Charlie Parker, he was later to disapprove of the appellation and attendant jargon heartily.

For those with a taste for discography, you can hear Kenny evolving the modern style of Jazz drumming on the following recordings, assuming you can find them!

New York City, March 9, 1937
Edgar Hayes and His Orchestra—Bernie Flood, Henry Goodwin, Shelton Hemphill, trumpets; Bob Horton, Clyde Bernhardt, John Haughton, trombones; Stanley Palmar, Al Sherrett, Crawford Wetherington, Joe Garland, saxophones; Hayes, piano; Andy Jackson, guitar; Elmer James, bass; Kenny Clarke, drums. MANHATTAN JAM (201)
..........Variety 586, Vocalion 3773

Stockholm, Sweden, March 8, 1938
Kenny Clarke's Quintet — Goodwin, trumpet; Rudy Powell, clarinet; Hayes, piano; George Gibb, guitar; Coco Darling, bass; Clarke, drums, vibraharp; John Clay Anderson, vocals. ONCE IN A WHILE (6317)
..............Swedish Odeon 255509
I FOUND A NEW BABY (6318).........
..............Swedish Odeon 255509
..............Swedish Odeon 255510
SWEET SUE (6320)
..............Swedish Odeon 255510

New York City, Feb. 5, 1940
Sidney Bechet and His New Orleans Feetwarmers—Bechet, soprano saxophone, clarinet, vocal; Sonny White, piano; Charlie Howard, guitar; Wilson Myers, bass, vocal; Clarke, drums. INDIAN SUMMER (46832). .Bluebird 10623 ONE O'CLOCK JUMP (46833)
.................RCA Victor  27204
.....................Bluebird  10623
SIDNEY'S BLUES (46835).. .Bluebird 8509

New York City, May 15, 1940
Mildred Bailey and Her Orchestra— Roy Eldridge, trumpet; Robert Burns, Jimmy Carroll, clarinets; Irving Horowitz, bass clarinet; Ed Powell, flute; Mitch Miller, oboe; Teddy Wilson, piano; John Collins, guitar; Pete Peterson, bass; Clarke, drums; Miss Bailey, vocals. How CAN I EVER BE ALONE?
(27302).............Columbia 35532

....................Columbia 35532
I'LL PRAY FOR You (27304)
....................Columbia 35589
....................Columbia 25589

New York City, Sept. 12, 1940
Billie Holiday and Her Orchestra—Eldridge, trumpet; Georgie Auld, Don Redman, alto saxophones; Don By as, Jimmy Hamilton, tenor saxophones; Wilson, piano; Collins, guitar; Al Hall, bass; Clarke, drums; Miss Holiday, vocals. I'M ALL FOR You (28617)
................Okeh-Vocalion   5831
I HEAR Music (28618)
................Okeh-Vocalion   5831
......Okeh-Vocalion 5806, V Disc 586
.................Okeh-Vocalion 5806

New York City, March 11, 1941
Slim Gaillard and His Flat Foot Floogie Boys—Loumell Morgan, piano; Gaillard, guitar, vocals; Slam Stewart, bass; Clarke, drums.
AH Now (29913)...........Okeh 6295
.........................Okeh 6135
SLIM SLAM BOOGIE (29915).. .Okeh 6135
BASSOLOGY (29916)..........Okeh 6295

New York City, March 21, 1941
Eddie Heywood and His Orchestra— Shad Collins, trumpet; Leslie Johnakins, Eddie Barefield, alto saxophones; Lester Young, tenor saxophone; Heywood, piano; Collins, guitar; Ted Sturgis, bass; Clarke, drums; Miss Holiday, vocals.
LET'S Do IT (29987)........Okeh 6134,
Columbia 30235, CL 6129, Blue Ace 206 GEORGIA ON MY MIND (29988)
Okeh 6134, Columbia 30235, C3L-21, Blue Ace 206, Jolly Roger 5020 ROMANCE IN THE DARK (29989)
........Okeh 6214, Columbia C3L-21,
Blue Ace 205, Jolly Roger 5020
ALL OF ME (29990)
.......Okeh 6214, Columbia CL 6129,
C3L-21, Blue Ace 205

New York City, May 8, 1941
Minton House Band (with guests)— Joe Guy, Hot Lips Page, trumpets; Ker-mit Scott, Don Byas, tenor saxophones; Thelonious Monk, piano; Charlie Christian, guitar; Nick Fenton, bass; Clarke, drums. UP ON TEDDY'S HILL (HONEYSUCKLE
ROSE)   ...............Esoteric ESJ-4,
AT THE SAVOY).........Esoteric ESJ-4
New York City, May 12, 1941
Same, except Scott, Byas, and Page are out. ^CHARLIE'S CHOICE (TOPSY)
.......Vox album 302, Esoteric ESJ-1,
Counterpoint 548 STOMPING AT THE SAVOY
......Vox album 302, Esoteric ESJ-1,
Counterpoint 548
* SWING TO BOP is the title on the Esoteric and Counterpoint LPs.

New York City, June 2, 1941
Count Basie and His Orchestra—Ed Lewis, Buck Clayton, Al Killian, Harry Edison, trumpets; Dicky Wells, Dan Minor, Ed Cuffey, trombones; Earl Warren, Jack Washington, Tab Smith, alto saxophones; Don Byas, Buddy Tate, tenor saxophones; Basic, piano; Freddie Green, guitar; Walter Page, bass; Clarke, drums. You BETCHA MY LIFE (30520)
.........................Okeh 6221
DOWN, DOWN, DOWN (30521)
.........................Okeh 6221

New York City, Oct. 6, 1941
Ella Fitzgerald—Teddy McRae, tenor saxophone; Tommy Fulford, piano; Ulysses Livingston, guitar; Beverly Peer, bass; Clarke, drums; Miss Fitzgerald, vocals.
JIM (69784)...............Decca 4007
THIS LOVE OF MINE (69785). .Decca 4007

Downbeat Magazine

March 28, 1963


  1. One of the best post that i've read today. Really amazing. Thanks

  2. Fantastic post, very informative. I wonder why the other specialists of this sector do not notice this. You must continue your writing. I'm confident, you have a great readers' base already!
    ส่วนลด Air Asia


Please leave your comments here. Thank you.