Sonny Clark

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Sonny Clark
Sonny Clark.jpg
Background information
Birth nameConrad Yeatis Clark
Born(1931-07-21)July 21, 1931
Herminie, Pennsylvania, U.S.
DiedJanuary 13, 1963(1963-01-13) (aged 31)
New York City, New York, U.S.
GenresJazz, hard bop
Years active1953–1963
LabelsBlue Note
Associated actsCurtis Fuller, Jackie McLean, Lee Morgan, Hank Mobley, Grant Green, Dexter Gordon, Paul Chambers, Philly Joe Jones, Serge Chaloff, Max Roach, George Duvivier, Dinah Washington, Billie Holiday, Wardell Gray, Bennie Green, Clifford Jordan, Buddy DeFranco, Oscar Pettiford

Conrad Yeatis "Sonny" Clark (July 21, 1931 – January 13, 1963) was an American jazz pianist and composer who mainly worked in the hard bop idiom.[1]

Early life[edit]

Clark was born and raised in Herminie, Pennsylvania, a coal mining town east of Pittsburgh.[2] His parents were originally from Stone Mountain, Georgia.[2] His miner father, Emery Clark, died of a lung disease two weeks after Sonny was born.[2] Sonny was the youngest of eight children.[2] At age 12, he moved to Pittsburgh.

Later life and career[edit]

While 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 United States 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 as one of their house musicians, 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 leader, Clark recorded albums Dial "S" for Sonny (1957, Blue Note), Sonny's Crib (1957, Blue Note), Sonny Clark Trio (1957, Blue Note), Cool Struttin' (1958, Blue Note), Blues in the Night (1979, Blue Note, also released on Standards), and a second piano trio album titled Sonny Clark Trio (1960, Time Records).

Clark died in New York City on January 13, 1963 (aged 31). The official cause was listed as a heart attack, but the likely cause was a heroin overdose.[3][4][5][6]


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).


As leader[edit]

Year recorded Title Label Notes
1955 Oakland, 1955 Uptown Trio, with Jerry Good (bass), Al Randall (drums); recorded in concert.
1957 Dial "S" for Sonny Blue Note One track trio, with Wilbur Ware (bass), Louis Hayes (drums); most tracks sextet, with Art Farmer (trumpet), Curtis Fuller (trombone), Hank Mobley (tenor sax) added
1957 Sonny's Crib Blue Note Sextet, with Donald Byrd (trumpet), Curtis Fuller (trombone), John Coltrane (tenor sax), Paul Chambers (bass), Art Taylor (drums)
1957 Sonny Clark Trio Blue Note One track solo piano; most tracks trio, with Paul Chambers (bass), Philly Joe Jones (drums)
1957–58 Sonny Clark Quintets Blue Note Quintet with either Clifford Jordan (tenor sax), Kenny Burrell (guitar), Paul Chambers (bass), Pete LaRoca (drums) or Art Farmer (trumpet), Jackie McLean (alto sax), Chambers (bass), Philly Joe Jones (drums)
1957–58 The Art of The Trio Blue Note Some tracks trio with Jymie Merritt (bass), Wes Landers (drums); some tracks trio with Paul Chambers (bass), Philly Joe Jones (drums)
1957–59 My Conception Blue Note Quintet, with Donald Byrd (trumpet), Hank Mobley (tenor sax), Paul Chambers (bass), Art Blakey (drums); released 1979; reissue added tracks from Sonny Clark Quintets
1958 Cool Struttin' Blue Note Quintet, with Art Farmer (trumpet), Jackie McLean (alto sax), Paul Chambers (bass), Philly Joe Jones (drums)
1958 Blues in the Night Blue Note Trio, with Paul Chambers (bass), Wes Landers (drums); released 1979
1960 Sonny Clark Trio Time/Bainbridge Trio with George Duvivier (bass), Max Roach (drums)
1961 Leapin' and Lopin' Blue Note Five tracks quintet, with Tommy Turrentine (trumpet), Charlie Rouse (tenor sax), Butch Warren (bass), Billy Higgins (drums); one track quartet, with Ike Quebec (tenor sax) in place of Turrentine and Rouse


As sideman[edit]

With Tina Brooks

With Serge Chaloff

With Sonny Criss

  • Go Man! (Imperial Records, 1956)
  • Sonny Criss Plays Cole Porter (Imperial, 1956)

With Buddy DeFranco

  • In a Mellow Mood (Verve 1954)
  • Cooking the Blues (Verve 1955)
  • Autumn Leaves (Verve 1956)
  • Sweet and Lovely (Verve 1956)
  • Jazz Tones (Verve 1956)

With Lou Donaldson

With Curtis Fuller

With Dexter Gordon

With Bennie Green

With Grant Green[7]

These albums were recorded in 1961-62 for Blue Note, but not released until 1980. They have since been reissued as The Complete Quartets with Sonny Clark.

With Johnny Griffin

With John Jenkins

With Philly Joe Jones

With Clifford Jordan

With Jackie McLean

With Hank Mobley

With Lee Morgan

With Ike Quebec

With Sonny Rollins

With Frank Rosolino

With Howard Rumsey's Lighthouse All Stars

  • Mexican Passport (Contemporary 1956)
  • Music for Lighthousekeeping (Contemporary 1956)
  • Oboe/Flute (Contemporary 1956)

With Louis Smith

With Cal Tjader

With Stanley Turrentine

With Don Wilkerson


  1. ^ Palmer, Robert (March 18, 1987). "The Pop Life; Recalling Sonny Clark". The New York Times. Retrieved on September 1, 2007.
  2. ^ a b c d Stephenson, Sam (January 13, 2011) "Notes from a Biographer: Sonny Clark". The Paris Review.
  3. ^ Blue Note Records: the biography By Richard Cook
  4. ^ Bebop By Scott Yanow p. 252
  5. ^ The rough guide to jazz By Ian Carr, Digby Fairweather, Brian Priestley. p. 117
  6. ^ Kelly, Robin (November 2, 2014). Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original. Simon and Schuster. p. 331. ISBN 978-1439190463.
  7. ^ Reid Thompson. "Grant Green Quarter Recordings with Sonny Clark, reviewed by All That Jazz". Retrieved 2009-06-23.

External links[edit]