Like Fats Navarro and Charlie Parker before him, Sonny Clark’s life was short but it burned with musical intensity. Influenced deeply by Bud Powell, Clark nonetheless developed an intricate and hard-swinging harmonic sensibility that was full of nuance and detail. Regarded as the quintessential hard bop pianist, Clark never got his due before he passed away in 1963 at the age of 31, despite the fact that it can be argued that he never played a bad recording date either as a sideman or as a leader.
Pianist Sonny Clark was a consummate hard-bopper who made only a handful of recordings as a leader, but appears on literally dozens of albums as a sideman. It can be argued that he never played a bad recording date either as a sideman or as a leader.Most of Clark’s recordings as a leader were made for the Blue Note label, and all of them were solidly within the hard-bop tradition established by label-mates Art Blakey and Horace Silver. His impressive list of credits includes sessions with John Coltrane, Charles Mingus, Sonny Rollins, Billie Holiday, Stanley Turrentine and Lee Morgan to mention a few. His style was largely informed by that of Bud Powell, yet showed a great deal of originality.
His playing, which was both lyrical and complex, had been much in demand. Clark was a remarkably adaptable musician, able to work in any number of settings. During his short career, which lasted less than a decade, Clark made a significant contribution to the New York City jazz scene, and although he was not recognized outside of a small circle of knowledgeable jazz listeners at the time, his fame and his influence have spread considerably throughout the years.
Clark was a close friend of fellow pianist Bill Evans, who dedicated a composition (“NYC’s No Lark”) to him following Clark’s sudden, unexpected drug related death at the age of thirty-one. Clark’s death, like the passing of trumpeters Clifford Brown and Booker Little, and that of alto saxophonist Eric Dolphy, left a void in the jazz scene that was difficult to fill.