Conrad Yeatis “Sonny” Clark was born on July 21, 1931 in Herminie, Pennsylvannia and passed away on January 13, 1963 in New York City.
Clark was born and raised in Herminie, Pennsylvania, a coal mining town southeast of Pittsburgh. At age 12, he moved to Pittsburgh. When visiting an aunt in California at age 20, Clark decided to stay and began working with saxophonist Wardell Gray. Clark went to San Francisco with Oscar Pettiford and after a couple months, was working with clarinetist Buddy DeFranco in 1953. Clark toured the U.S. and Europe with DeFranco until January 1956, when he joined The Lighthouse All-Stars, led by bassist Howard Rumsey.
Wishing to return to the east coast, Clark served as accompanist for singer Dinah Washington in February 1957 in order to relocate to New York City. In New York, Clark was often requested as a sideman by many musicians, partly because of his rhythmic comping. He frequently recorded for Blue Note Records, playing as a sideman with many hard bop players, including Kenny Burrell, Donald Byrd, Paul Chambers, John Coltrane, Dexter Gordon, Art Farmer, Curtis Fuller, Grant Green, Philly Joe Jones, Clifford Jordan, Jackie McLean, Hank Mobley, Art Taylor, and Wilbur Ware. He also recorded sessions with Charles Mingus, Sonny Rollins, Billie Holiday, Stanley Turrentine, and Lee Morgan.
As a band leader, Clark recorded albums “Dial “S” for Sonny” (1957), “Sonny’s Crib” (1957), Sonny Clark Trio (1957), with Paul Chambers and Philly Joe Jones, and Cool Struttin’ (1958). Sonny Clark Trio, with George Duvivier and Max Roach was released in 1960. Clark died of a heart attack in New York City in 1963.
Clark’s albums are generally upbeat affairs. His solos crackle with electricity, while he lends solid support to the horns (Clark stated in interviews that he enjoyed comping almost as much as he enjoyed soloing). On only a few occasions did Clark record in a trio setting, the most notable of which was the Sonny Clark Trio album.
Close friend and fellow jazz pianist Bill Evans dedicated the composition “NYC’s No Lark” (an anagram of “Sonny Clark”) to him after his death, included on Evans’ Conversations with Myself (1963).