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Kenny Clarke


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Kenny Clarke (born Kenneth Clarke Spearman, later aka, Liaqat Ali Salaam, on January 9, 1914 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania-died January 26, 1985 in Paris, France) was a jazz drummer and an early innovator of the bebop style of drumming. As the house drummer at Minton’s Playhouse in the early 1940’s, he participated in the after hours jams that led to the birth of modern jazz. He is credited with creating the modern role of the ride cymbal as the primary timekeeper. Before, drummers kept time on the snare drum (“digging coal”, Clarke called it) with heavy support from the bass drum. With Clarke time was played on the cymbal and the bass and snare were used more for punctuation. For this, “every drummer” Ed Thigpen said, “owes him a debt of gratitude.” Clarke was nicknamed “Klook” or “Klook-mop” for the style he innovated.

Clarke was a founder member of the Modern Jazz Quartet (as the Milt Jackson Quartet) in 1951 and also participated in many recording sessions as house drummer for Savoy Records. Connie Kay took his place in the MJQ in 1955 and from 1956 Clarke was resident in France where he regularly worked with visiting American musicians in Paris, in particular forming a working trio, known as “The Bosses”, with Bud Powell and Pierre Michelot.

Later in 1961, with Belgian pianist Francy Boland he formed a regular big band featuring leading European and ex-patriate American musicians, including among many others, Johnny Griffin and Ronnie Scott on tenor saxes. The big band, which had been the idea of Italian producer Gigi Campi, lasted for eleven years.


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