Cool Struttin'

Clark, Sonny

album cover

Peerless Perambulating from 1958

One of seven albums pianist Sonny Clark recorded under his own name between 1957 and '58, Cool Struttin' is a master class in the (nearly lost) art of jazz accompaniment. Clark's piano solos are cogent and calm, a thoughtful amalgam of Bud Powell blitheness and Red Garland poise cut with a touch of Thelonious Monk's harmonic impulsiveness. But the late-night looseness of this session springs from what Clark and the rhythm section play in the background, behind saxophonist Jackie McLean and trumpeter Art Farmer. Concentrating on providing apt rejoinders (as opposed to conjuring brand-new horizons), Clark frames the solos using tidy chordal jabs. His accompaniment nicks the fine edges of the beat, syncopations caught (and deftly rein-forced) by master drummer Philly Joe Jones. At times during McLean's enthusiastic romp through "Sippin' at Bells," the solo lines are the direct outgrowth of this rhythm section's active teasing and prompting.

The knack for goading soloists made Clark (1931–1963) a favorite of musicians and one of the first-call pianists of the Blue Note roster, despite the fact that his own recordings were rarely big sellers. In the original liner notes, Farmer, an astute jazz appreciator, tells critic Nat Hentoff that Clark's approach has "no strain in it." That's key. Like Philly Joe Jones and all the great jazz support players, Clark knew that his cohorts would sound good if everything around them felt good. And this certainly does.

Genre: Jazz
Released: 1958, Blue Note
Key Tracks: "Cool Struttin'," "Blue Minor," "Sippin' at Bells."
Catalog Choice: Sonny's Crib
Next Stop: Wynton Kelly: Kelly Blue
After That: Red Garland: At the Prelude
Book Page: 172

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