Born: July 21, 1931 | Died: January 13, 1963 Primary Instrument: Piano
Conrad Yeatis Sonny Clark was an American jazz pianist who mainly worked in the hard bop idiom. Contents
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, although commentators attribute the early death to Clark's drug and alcohol abuse.
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). John Zorn, Wayne Horvitz, Ray Drummond, and Bobby Previte recorded an album of Clark's compositions, Voodoo (1985), as The Sonny Clark Memorial Quartet. Zorn also recorded several of Clark's compositions with Bill Frisell and George Lewis on News for Lulu (1988) and More News for Lulu (1992).