Born: March 2, 1968
Clarence Penn ranks high among drummers who are versatile and savvy enough to play any style of music. Having played in a semi-professional capacity since the age of 15, Penn has toured, performed and recorded with a veritable who's who of musical stars, including Betty Carter, Ellis Marsalis, Wynton Marsalis, Jacky Terrasson, Roberta Flack, Dizzy Gilespie, Dianne Reeves, Cyrus Chestnut, Stephen Scott, Steps Ahead, Mike Stern and Rachel Z. He is probably one of the most sought after drummers of his generation on the scene.
Growing up the second of three children in his native Detroit Michigan, Penn got his first drum set as a third grader, picking the drums as his instrument of choice rather by chance. My neighbor played the drums, remembers Penn. And I would hear him practicing everyday when I came home from school. Although Penn admits to not wanting to practice, he nevertheless continued taking drum lessons, eventually reaching a level of competence on the drums that afforded him the opportunity to spend his last year in high school at Michigan's prestigious school of fine arts, Interlochen Arts Academy. There Penn toyed with the idea of pursuing a steady classical career, but was quickly drawn to the ultimately rigorous routine of a free-lance musician ....
He has a way of pushing and filling-in and giving you the right kick to push you to the next level of playing. John Swana, trumpeter
He's classically trained, and knows a lot of music...he has the total package. Tim Warfield, saxophonist
A soft drummer, full of thoughtful choices...A revelation. Harriet McLeod - News Leader staff writer
His use of space was masterful, mind blowing. Ryan Vertner - Indiana Daily News
...stroking rather than thumping the kit, he played one of the most musical solos I've heard... Keith Bruce - The Herald Glasgow
“Clarence is the kind of musician who leaves his judgments of music and musicians aside to provide the best support and complement. He really cares that everyone on stage sound as good as they can. That explains why the results are so great with the extraordinary musicians he brings into his projects. Fireworks!”—Dave Douglas
“Clarence is a charismatic player, with great dynamic range and drama and musicality. He’s an intricate and heady drummer who thinks compositionally, but uses his gut and instincts towards the end result of making something exciting, that feels alive, and is full of energy and passion. He doesn’t have a limited conception of what the drummer is. Of course, he drives the band and pushes the time, but he also knows how to stop and allow things to happen—to be a colorist.”—Maria Schneider
“I think Clarence is a natural leader. He listens like a producer. He has clarity and vision. He hears everything—the bass, the high voices, the middle. He understands harmony. He understands lyrics. He has the will to solve problems and figure them out. He doesn’t stay traditional, but makes the music free and colorful. He understands that music is play. I’d play with him every day if I could.”—Luciana Souza
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