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Kim Clarke - soulful, bass-playing woman

Kim Clarke is perhaps the only well-known bass-playing woman in Jazz - of her generation. While nowadays there might be ten female bassplayers in New York, she started as the Number One and stayed the only one for a long time. Defunkt is the band she has been a member in "on and off" for more than twenty years now - and it made her a little bit famous. - However: she was always the sidewoman there and stood in the shadow of the bandleader Joseph Bowie.

Today, she got her own band - and has been on tour with it in November. She also regularly performs with a ladies big band on events in New York City. Playing the acoustic bass is nothing unusual for her - Kim Clarke is one of the few well-known female instrumentalists in Jazz. Sometimes she feels this is a difficult position, because she is "not as well known in business as her male collegues". Most important: She is a sincere, peaceful woman, playing bass - and having her own ideas and dreams.

Before the Defunkt-concert at the Quasimodo in Berlin (Autumn 2000), Carina Prange and Kim Clarke had an interesting conversation:

Carina: You are a member of Defunkt for almost 20 years now - how has the music changed over the years?

Kim: Well, each individual brings a different thing to the music and Joe was usually pretty creative in fusing the talents of the various members to build the show. Right now, we are doing mostly his original music - and before, we used to do songs written by maybe some other people in the band or sometimes a cover tune and we changed it. But it is definitely changing and we have new people and new instrumentation. As before we used to have two guitars in the rhythm section and the last time - I think` 96 I was here - we had an organ and two guitars with the rest of the section. So the sound has changed every time we changed those instruments - there were three horns; it had a big sound.

Carina: You are well-known as the bass-player of Defunkt - are there other projects beside that?

Kim: Well, I am always trying to keep working as a musician - I worked with this group called "Kit McClure Big Band" at home, which is a women's all. We were in Germany a couple of years ago. And that´s my regular "steady" gig. We do a lot of parties, we do weddings, we have done inaugurations of presidents and different things. It is a different kind of a group, ´cause of course it´s all women in. It is kind of interesting to watch people´s surprise when they hear the ladies hitting that hard - and when they see the ladies are really good soloists.

But I also have my own group which is called "Magnets". And, actually I am co-leading this band with this saxophone-player naming Rob Scheps. He is a tenor-player - and when I come home from this tour, I am going on tour with him. Until the beginning of November.

So that´s basically the main things that I am involved with - plus people call me for all kinds of - like we had a little Harlem Concerts by the State Office Building. We do that once every week. And people call me for clubdates, club-gigs and all kinds of things. So, I am still pretty much freelancing as well.

Carina: But there are not so many bass-playing women in Jazz and Funk-Music. How does it feel to be a woman in this genre? Are you accepted the same way as a man or not?

Kim: I have no experience being a man - so I have no way to really give you the best kind of answer for that! But: It´s a pretty positive experience. When I started playing, I didn't think I would be a professional musician, but as I went through life I gravitated toward music. Because - I guess, it´s something that I love, and something I have been doing quite a long time. So - women players, there are quite a few women showing up in the New York scene. I know - I know a lady in California and one in Detroit and - Chicago. I know about ten lady-bass-players in New York. More and more women are playing!

Carina: But - before, as you started playing, there weren´t so many women - would agree to that?

Kim: Actually historically there were a lot of woman-musicians: they had the "Sweethearts of Rhythm", that big band in the forties, and then what I was told by an older saxophone player: there was a lady that played with Charlie Parker. But the problem with the women being women in this industry is that you don´t always get a name. Female singers get names and they get notoriety and what-have-you. But as an instrumentalist it is very rare that a persons name will make it past the 'o.k. it´s a chick playing'-something - past the 'common' thing. I just haven´t seen it very often. If you asked about Cindy Blackman, all the people that know Lenny Kravitz would say: "Oh, yes, I know that Cindy Blackman!" They have seen her in magazines - plus she´s got a few albums out. That helps, if you have your own albums out. But it is - may be - a little bit "taboo". I don´t know how to say that any better, but it might be a little bit "taboo" for someone to really, really get out there like they could, like they were like a Britney Spears or a Janet Jackson. Like very celebrated singer-dancers.

A young lady from Harlem, Candy Dulfer, is making a pretty good name - but it never did "stick". She hit the States a few years ago - on the radio-station CD101 - Smooth Jazz - you can hear it every now and then - and they don´t make a fuzz over her! You know what I mean? You hear her and her CD is playing! And they´re not making a big fuzz, and you don´t hear interviews on the radio and that kind of thing. - I wonder what does it take?

Carina: How did you start on the bass - self-taught or did you take lessons?

Kim: I was self-taught in the beginning. My "really first bass" was indeed a guitar somebody dug out of a closet. My babysitter dug it out of a garage when I was little. She said: "I know that there´s a guitar, there is an electric guitar back in there!" - and so she dug and pulls this guitar out! I was not making any sense out of it, but I liked playing and fooling around with it - never made any sense.


In my neighborhood back then, we were not stuck to the computer
and video games and all stuff like that. They had musicians!

Years later, a friend of mine, whom I was hanging out with - he was a guitar player and singer - said: "I know somebody who wants to sell a bass for 15 bucks! You want to buy this?" And I said: "Yeah!" So I sold Christmas cards and stuff, and gave him 15 dollars and got this little bass and started playing. Because - really! -in my neighborhood back then, we were not stuck to the computer and video games and all stuff like that. They had musicians, they were playing - the people that I met had basement bands.

You go by somebody's house and you hear some playing and stop! And it is not a record player, you know - rehearsing! It was that kind of atmosphere. So, I used to walk around and hear people. Some of my first friends that I met - when I was old enough to walk outside, like fifteen, sixteen years old - were musicians. My grandfather played, so I also have it in the blood. He was a trombone player in the Vaudeville. So maybe his bass-clef transferred to me somehow ...

Later some of my friends in college introduced me to the Jazzmobile Workshop, The National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship and the Barry Harris workshops. These influences shaped my first formal training before I obtained a degree in music from Long Island University in 1990.

Carina: I found only a few interviews or comments about you - what do you think is the reason for this?

Kim: Interviews with me personally? - Well, because most of the time you never see me leading the band, I am always playing a sidepersons role. And I mean, unless you don´t stand up and sing or something - for the audience it´s just "someone behind the star", you know - the rest of the band. They say: "I know that´s a drumset, because that´s different!" But from a guitar to a bass - most people don´t even know whether it is a bass or a guitar half of the time! They must be really listening - it´s just a "general sound coming from some people on the stage". I don´t know, may be I am not giving the people enough credit!

I am still developing, I haven´t been playing a long time and I feel like I am still breaking out of the egg. And I hope to keep on to be able to play - that the universe grants me a few more moments to get some good notes out, shuffle up chords the correct way for a change ...

Carina: What does it mean for you to be a musician?

Kim: When I´m working it means it´s wonderful. When I´m not working and I´m positive and I can write, it´s still wonderful. But I also know when you´re not working and you´re not writing and nothing is happening, it´s not a great feeling. Especially when you´re at home.

For me, my "karma" is to learn business better. Which is something I don´t think women - generally of my age - are not really trained in. Unless you go into business as a study in school - then you can really take charge. I don´t think I´ve been that kind of a person. I´m gonna say "No!" - I´m sensitive. - I´ve maybe been a little too sensitive to step out and say: "Okay, I´d like to have this for my own!"

I have made mail-packages and sent them out, but it doesn´t seem to work. So I decided, for my life - not because I´m anything else, but because I am who I am - it might be better to work with other people rather than trying to do it all by myself. But some people can and some people can´t! Some people just can only be alone and cannot work with anybody else - but I´m not one of these persons.

I still do want to learn the business and I want to be able to make some things happen in that way too. And help some people! Because people are always helping, me it´s a great thing! A lot of wonderful people I´ve met, a lot of great friends. And I´m also very grateful to my mother Mrs. Remonia G. Clarke for being an arts supporter - and for being there for me and my son Michael Clarke. It´s kind of important to give thanks ...

Carina Prange

Fotos: Carina Prange

Kim Clarke im Internet: kimclarke.8m.com

© jazzdimensions2000
erschienen: 19.11.2000
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