Clarke, Kenny [Kenneth Spearman; Klook; Klook-mop; Salaam, Liaquat Ali] (Pittsburgh, 9 Jan 1914 - Montreuil-sous-Bois, near Paris, 26 Jan 1985)


Drummer and bandleader


A member of a musical family, he studied several instruments in high school and began performing as a professional drummer with Leroy Bradley's band in Pittsburgh when he was still a teenager. He later joined Roy Eldridge, and then played in the Midwest and the East in several major jazz groups, including, in St. Louis, the Jeter-Pillars Orchestra, and, in New York, the bands of the tenor saxophonist Lonnie Simmons, Edgar Hayes, Claude Hopkins, and Teddy Hill. While a member of Hill's group (1939-40) he and his fellow sideman Dizzy Gillespie began to experiment with new rhythmic conceptions. In the early 1940s he was in the house band at Minton's Playhouse, where his association with Gillespie, Thelonious Monk, Charlie Christian, Bud Powell, and others in an extraordinary series of jam sessions led to the development of the many innovative improvisational techniques that characterized the bop style. Clarke's nicknames Klook and Klook-mop were given to him at this time because he observed the then novel practice of interjecting off-beat accents ("klook" and "klook-mop") on the snare and bass drum against the steady pulse.


After military service in Europe (1943-6) Clarke returned to the USA and recorded with Gillespie, Tadd Dameron, Fats Navarro, and many others. In 1951 he became a founding member of the Milt Jackson Quartet, the forerunner of the Modern Jazz Quartet; he played with the group until 1955. The following year he moved to Paris, where he worked with several groups, notably Powell's trio (1959-62). From 1960 to 1973, with Francy Boland, he led the Clarke-Boland Octet and the Clarke-Boland Big Band; the members of these groups included the American expatriates Benny Bailey, Johnny Griffin, Sahib Shihab, Zoot Sims, and Idrees Sulieman, and such European performers as Derek Humble, Dusko Goykovich, Åke Persson, and Ronnie Scott. Clarke also played for the film Ascenseur pour l'échafaud (1957), appeared in Les liaisons dangereuses 1960 (1959), and wrote music for On n'enterre pas dimanche (1959) and La rivière du hibou (1961). Although he made occasional concert tours of the USA, Clarke continued to perform, record, and teach in Europe until his death.


Clarke enjoyed a reputation as one of the most sensitive and innovative jazz musicians. During his years with Gillespie he revolutionized the drummer's technique by shifting the steady 4/4 pulse from the bass drum to the ride cymbal, thereby allowing the use of the bass and snare drum for independent counterrhythms in support of the improvising musicians. This resulted in a polyrhythmic background that complemented the asymmetrical phrasing of the soloists, an ideal that became standard for modern jazz drumming. Among Clarke's compositions are the well-known Salt Peanuts (written with Gillespie) and Epistrophy (with Monk).


 Olly Wilson


The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz, © Macmillan Reference Ltd 1988