Pianists Nick Tomalin and Simon Whiteside have recently created a podcast series about Sonny Clark. They tell Mary James what it’s all about.
London Jazz News: Can you tell us how you got interested in Sonny Clark?
Nick Tomalin: I first really became aware of Sonny Clark when I was trying to grapple with bebop. A knowledge of the bebop style is fundamental to playing modern jazz, but it is quite a hard language to learn and takes a lot of time to absorb. One way of doing it is to transcribe phrases from solos and begin to incorporate these into your improvising language.
When listening for piano players to transcribe I was drawn to Sonny Clark because his playing is so clear and logical. Everything makes sense and everything fits, and like all the best jazz players nothing seems extraneous. The more I investigated his playing, the more impressed I was with the beautiful melodic flow he achieved. Each phrase seemed to build on the last phrase in an almost inevitable way, and created a sense of propulsion and forward motion.
Simon Whiteside: Like many people I have been enjoying Sonny Clark without really thinking about it. I guess my way in was when I focussed on Dexter Gordon’s Blue Note albums. My favourite two albums are “Go” & “A Swinging Affair”, both of which have Sonny on piano, and I have transcribed some solos from those albums. The first transcription I did was way back; Sonny’s solo on All the Things You Are from “Blue Serge”, a Serge Charloff album which I found really compelling, energetic and logical.
LJN: What sparked the idea for the podcast?
NT: A few years ago I began writing some blog posts about areas of jazz I was interested in, and thought that it would be a good opportunity to delve a little more into Clark. I re-listened to all of his dates as leader, and wrote some thoughts and observations on the recordings. Sometime after I received a call from Simon. I knew he shared my interest in Sonny Clark, and he said he also had a few transcriptions and maybe we could think about publishing them, and also perhaps doing a podcast about Clark.
SW: Nick and I seem to have a good mix of overlap but with enough outside the Venn diagram to make our conversations interesting and we are both learning small nuggets from each other.
LJN: So the pandemic has had one good side effect in that this project has come to fruition?
NT: Yes, when the lockdown happened at the end of March we had all the pieces in place, and thought it was the perfect time to initiate something. Due to the social-distancing measures we had to figure out the best way to record it remotely and we then proceeded to record the first episode, where we discuss Clark’s life and short career. In later episodes we will talk about his musical relationships with other players as well as his own recordings as leader. We will also delve a little more into his playing style using the transcriptions we’ve done.
Our plan is to perhaps continue with other series looking at underrated/underexposed pianists from that era. And maybe develop a series of ebooks.
SW: Looking into his career further I haven’t found a recording I dislike. As we dig deeper I’m liking Sonny Clark more and more and I hope we can spread the word on this under-appreciated composer, sideman and leader.