Sonny Clark – The Complete Sonny Clark Blue Note Sessions – Mosaic Records

by | Jul 29, 2023 | Jazz CD Reviews, SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews | 0 comments

Mosaic Records honors short lived, but influential, pianist, Sonny Clark….

Sonny Clark – The Complete Sonny Clark Blue Note Sessions – Mosaic #MD6- 276 – 6 CD  Box Set, 1957-1961: ****1/2

Sonny Clark, (born Conrad Yeatis Clark), a brilliant jazz pianist, had a very short life, dying at age 31, of a heroin overdose. His recording career as a sole leader covered approximately five years, but doing those years (1957-1962), he was in much demand due to his talents, for both his compositions and his fluid piano skills, covering both bop and the much loved hard bop idioms. He either led or served as pianist for 20 sessions just in a ten month period (June, 1957- April, 1958) and then again for 17 sessions (from Aug, 1961- Oct, 1962). Besides a brief period with Time Records, Sonny made his name and reputation with the iconic Blue Note Records, noted by record collectors as the dream label for jazz during the 1950s and 60s.

Alfred Lion, the co-owner of Blue Note, recognized Clark’s talents, and he became the “go-to” pianist for the label for this five year period. Sonny Clark’s talents (much recognized in “jazz crazy” Japan) but certainly only known by only the most knowledgeable jazz aficionados (during his life) in the USA, are now being honored by the boutique label, Mosaic Records, in a 6 CD tribute box set.

Sonny would have been more well known, and hopefully more long lived, if he had not had a serious heroin addiction. Whereas, many jazz musicians of that time, had brief but troubling periods of drug addiction (arguably beginning with Charlie Parker’s influence), Sonny Clark could not control and escape his addiction. His three year hiatus (1958-1961) from Blue Note was likely due to his drug habit.

However short, his recording output for Blue Note was significant. Alfred Lion kept him beyond busy playing with the esteemed Blue Note roster of jazz greats on many recordings, and as leader on at least six sessions (including partial releases in Japan), as the leader.

Clark just seemed to just fit in everywhere. He began his career on the West Coast (1953-1956), in Los Angeles, and San Francisco, playing with musicians both based there, and traveling through from New York. He also served as Buddy DeFranco’s pianist for a period of time. He served capably during this period, but longed for the more assertive and aggressive jazz coming out of New York, feeling that the “cooler” chamber music jazz of the West Coast was not for him.

Making a quick name for himself in the Big Apple, he caught the attention of Blue Note Records, who recognized that his bluesy style would fit right in with the emerging hard bop scene. Clark had both the creative edge of Bud Powell, along with the blues influenced gospel based “soul” of pianists like Horace Silver. Plus Clark had the compositional skills to lead dream team trumpet and tenor sax titans like Donald Byrd, Art Farmer, Hank Mobley, and Charlie Rouse. Take a gander above at the artist list of drummers that propelled the sessions that Clark led. In addition, Clark was lead instrumentalist on piano trio sessions, featuring primarily his own compositions, and his interpretations of standards.

This is toe-tappin’, head-noddin,’ feel good music. With a bit more promotion and a longer life span, Sonny Clark’s songbook could have captivated a much larger jazz audience. His title track on the Cool Struttin’ LP, had the same potential commercial magic to me as Lee Morgan’s “The Sidewinder.” Sonny wrote to the strengths of his sidemen, as evidenced on “Dial S for Sonny,” where Hank Mobley’s soulful tenor, Curtis Fuller’s burnished trombone, and Art Farmer’s brashness are all on full display. Then there is Clark’s “Blues Blue,” to me hard bop nirvana, with Art Blakey laying down a steady beat for Hank Mobley’s solo, and Donald Byrd’s “testifying” brashness, all backed by Sonny’s piano lines.

Clark is often understated, bluesy and easy going, in the pocket, yet inquisitively probing, content to let his sidemen solo on his charts.

Other highlights include his bop credentials on “Shoutin on a Riff,” his interaction with guitarist, Kenny Burrell, on “Minor Meeting,” and his sublime “My Conception,” where his romanticism is so intense that you’d wish your partner was there to share a kiss.

If you love the hard bop genre, you’d be hard pressed to find an equal set that would bring you the joy that this glorious 6 CD box set will elicit. Mosaic Records is only pressing 5000 copies, and they won’t last long. In addition, as always, Mosaic includes their LP sized liner book, this one (16 pages) boasting archival photos from label co-owner, Francis Wolff, and a comprehensive essay from jazz historian, Bob Blumenthal, outlining Clark’s life, and the music presented in this set. 

Also I would be remiss if I did not mention the sparkling crystal clear acoustics on this set, mastered from the hi-res files of the original analog masters by Andreas Meyer and Nancy Conforti at Swan Studios in New York City.

—Jeff Krow

This limited issue set can be purchased through the Mosaic Records website

Sonny Clark – The Complete Blue Note Sessions

Sonny Clark – piano;
Art Farmer, Donald Byrd, Tommy Turrentine – trumpet;
Curtis Fuller – trombone;
Hank Mobley, John Coltrane, Charlie Rouse – tenor sax;
Jackie McLean – alto sax;
Kenny Burrell – guitar;
Wilbur Ware, Paul Chambers, Jymie Merritt, Butch Warren – bass;
Louis Hayes, Art Taylor, Philly Joe Jones, Pete La Roca, Wes Landers, Art Blakey, Billy Higgins – drums

Album Index:
Dial S for Sonny
Sonny’s Crib
Sonny Clark Trio
Cool Struttin’
Leapin’ and Lopin
Sonny Clark Quintets
Blues in the Night
My Conception
The Art of the Trio

—Jeff Krow

Album Cover for Sonny Clark Blue Note Sessions


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