How would one define a musical legend? There are many talented musicians out there, so in order to make the status of legend as exclusive as possible we are going to have to make the criteria a bit more stringent. You need to be influential in your genre, you need to create music that would define zeitgeist, and your musical achievements need to stand the test of time. In the world of bass guitar, jazz and of course jazz fusion, Stanley Clarke is a musician that ticks all of the designated boxes.
Clarke’s predecessors, the likes of Mingus and Carter, defined the bass quite well, but they always relegated their instrument to the background. Clarke knew how to fit into the rhythm section of a band, but he also knew, before anyone else, that the bass guitar could serve as a fine lead instrument as well, and indeed could provide its own unique spin to melody and groove that was pretty much unprecedented. Thus was born jazz fusion, a musical genre where, for the first time, the bass was seen as a potential lead instrument.
When you think of a musician that specializes in bass guitar, you would imagine that he would be good at slap bass. That is just the sort of musicianship you would expect from a bass player. However, Clarke was the one that defined just how good slap bass could be. As one of the very first to actually use this now extremely popular technique, Clarke was responsible for popularizing and legitimizing it and turning it into the art form it now is today.
One of Clarke’s most important contributions to music comes from his incredible ability to merge genres. Prior to his arrival, genres were strict. People rarely ventured beyond certain aspects of their specific genre which is why Clarke had such a great time mixing things up. His genius lay in how effortlessly he was able to bring elements of different genres together as harmoniously as if they had always been this way.
In spite of the fact that Clarke was primarily a leading man, he was never afraid to pull back and allow himself to be a sideman, which is an admirable quality that a lot of musicians failed to implement at the heights of their careers. If there is one thing about Clarke that stands out most of all, it is the fact that he is still humble after having achieved so much. After all, when you are great enough to be able to not only get offered by the Doors themselves to join their band but to actually reject that offer, some pig headedness is not exactly unexpected. In spite of all this he remains humble, a calming influence for people that are still starting out in the music industry. If one thing is for sure, it is that Clarke is still just as innovative as ever, bringing out music that would still blow everyone’s minds.