Stanley Clarke acknowledges an ambivalent relationship with "School Days" -- both the song and the 1976 album.
But his friend, famed guitarist Larry Carlton, offered a useful perspective. "He was telling me that everyone's not lucky enough to have what I guess you would call a 'career' song," recalls the bass virtuoso. "Most jazz musicians don't have that. they're known for just their playing skills.
"But Larry said, 'You have that, man. You shouldn't dismiss it or diminish it in any way.' And, you know, he's right."
With his new outlook, Clarke and his band are re-embracing "School Days" on the road this year, playing a critical mass of at least four of its songs for the first time, probably, since it came out and bookending with tracks from predecessors such as 1974's self-titled effort and 1975's "Journey To Love." For Clarke -- a Philadelphia native who established his reputation with the likes of Horace Silver, Art Blakey, Stan Getz and others before joining chick Corea`s Return To Forever during the early 70s -- it's a chance to embrace a pivotal moment in his career and a seminal time for jazz's crossover into more commercial territory.
"('School Days') was a pretty significant album for me and for bass players, too," Clarke, 62, says of the six-song set, which hit No. 34 on the Billboard 200 -- rare territory for a jazz album -- while the driving title track received some airplay beyond the usual jazz stations. "It's an unusual record, a guy playing a solo on a whole record. So that's significant, and I guess I've learned to live with that, so I'm actually kind of excited to go out and play those songs again."
The three-time Grammy Award winner's ambivalence came from a kind of typical jazz snobbery. His work to that point had primarily been the product of formal training at the Philadelphia Music Academy; he didn't pick up the electric bass guitar until Corea's "Return To Forever" album in 1972, which subsequently led to the band bearing that name.
"Electric bass wasn't something you went and studied or went to school to learn how to play, like you can do now," Clarke explains. "So what happened when I picked up the electric bass was I didn't want to play jazz. I liked to play only funky music on the electric bass, 'cause it was fun.
"It was a style. I describe it as out-front-bass-in-your-face. I basically wrote songs with melodies on the electric bass; it was just something I thought I would try and I did it and it was successful and it became a language."
The upside was that it made Clarke famous. But the downside was that it...well, made him famous.
"The problem with it was that everyone forgot, or they didn't know, that I played acoustic bass," Clarke says. "I felt like that whole part of my career was jsut washed up, and I got pinned with guys like John Entwistle from The Who, even though I had nothing to do with those guys. That wasn't me -- or not the whole of me. And it used to freak me out.
"So after 'School Days' I tried to get away from that -- and I've still been trying to get away from that, 'cause I still see people today who have no clue I play acoustic bass. The last couple years I've been mainly playing acoustic bass live, and sometimes I have some really upset fans who come up after the show and tell me, 'Man, I came here to hear blah, blah, blah, blah...' You can't win."
Clarke is hoping the "School Days"-focused shows will feed that appetite, as will his next solo album, which he describes as "really funky, really rocking, really hard...like an old school Stanley Clarke record." He's also co-producing an all-star tribute album to the late keyboardist George Duke, who also played on "School Days," which will feature Al Jarreau, Diane Reeves, Chaka Khan, Sheila E. and many others.
"It's a pretty big thing," Clarke says. "I'm happy we're doing this for George. He was known as a keyboardist and pianist, and he kind of created his own language doing that, but he produced so many people and wrote so many songs. So it's going to be a very nice thing. It's interesting listening to those songs; it brings back a lot of memories we'll share with people."
Stanley Clarke performs Sunday, March 2, a the Majestic Theatre, 4140 Woodward Ave., Detroit. Doors open at 7 p.m. Tickets are $38 in advance, $40 day of show. Call 3123-833-9700 or visit www.majesticdetroit.com.
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