Kenny Clarke is born in Pittsburgh and studies several instruments
as a child before settling on the drums. He plays with several
groups in his early years, including Roy
Eldridge and Teddy Hill, where he first meets Dizzy
With Milt Jackson (vibrophone) and John Lewis (piano) the Modern
Jazz Quartet is formed, but he leaves in 1955, and in 1956 he
moves to Paris for studio and club work. In the late-1950s he
plays with Bud Powell and Oscar
Pettiford (The Three Bosses).
He works intermittently with Francy Boland leading a big band,
freelances and makes occasional returns to the United States.
He stays in Europe for the rest of his life.
Clarke is known as 'KLOOK'
a name derived from his off-beat accents - usually on the snare
or bass drum - a percussive trademark he developed playing in early
Kenny leads the house group at Minton's Playhouse,
a New York club, alongside Thelonious Monk
in 1941, where Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie
Christian and Charlie Parker join him
for after hours jam sessions, and the early
seeds of bebop are
sown. He experiments rhythmically
by shifting the pulse from the bass drum to the ride cymbal,
leaving the bass and snare drums to become more rhythmically adventurous,
and with Max Roach and Art
Blakey, lays the foundation for modern
jazz drumming. From 1941-42 Clarke joins Benny
Carter's band, and in 1943 he plays in various settings, with
Coleman Hawkins and others. There is
a military interlude in Europe, and on his return he has a stint with
the Dizzy Gillespie big band, thereafter
a return to New York with Tadd Dameron.
As his career progressed, Clarke seemed to disentangle himself from
his bebop roots and his drumming became more straightforward and in
approach. His real inspiration was the big band drumming of Jo Jones
(who played with the Count Basie band
for many years)