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MANY SPLENDID THINGS: Artist Profile

Walter Clark - The man behind the music

Pianist, singer, and multiple keyboard player appearing in some of the finest hotels, night clubs, restaurants, and cruise ships in America and the Far East since 1980 with a repertoire of over 500 songs Covering music that has a positive message timelessness and staying power.  Through a wide variety of musical genres and original arrangements Walter imbues every performance with a jazz ambience delivering relaxing renditions of ballads and love songs. He also teaches, studies jazz, lectures on human rights and occasionally works with juvenile delinquents in the Japanese school system.

 

Born in Brooklyn, New York, Walter first began his musical study in Philadelphia at the age of 5. Most of the focus of his study throughout high school was on classical and early American composers, but during his teenage years he began to take an interest in pop, jazz, and rock and roll. He began teaching himself, jamming with other students, and working occasionally as a professional. He attended Settlement Music School and graduated from Central High School in Philadelphia, the only high school in America that confers a Bachelor of Arts degree.

He attended Temple University in Philadelphia, where he formed The Last Musicians, an avante-garde group of poets, actors, and musicians who produced films, soundtracks, concerts, and appeared in radio programs for the university for two years.”It was a time of sublime madness. Sure, we played some standard tunes, but we were outrageously cosmic, political and theatrical. It was like a marriage of The Last Poets, Hendrix, Sun Ra, Ramsey Louis, Roland Kirk and The Doors. We used all manner of weird instrumentations, snake charmer's flutes, any kind of flutes or recorders we could get our hands on, harmonica, violin, clarinets, built around a basic core of piano, bass, drum and saxophone. Concerts were often the scene of new compositions being written right on stage, so we kept a tape recorder running, with our film art being shown in the background and poetry readings being done during the quiet interludes of the music. Byard Lancaster used to come by and occasionally sit in, but I remember one of our last concerts when he came and brought his horn, but just sat and listened in awe. We kind of took that as a sign that we were at our peak...but we never could make enough money to eat.” When the political climate at Temple changed, support for The Last Musicians dried up.

Walter found Philadelphia a difficult place to find steady work, especially since most of the music which he was writing at the time was what would probably be categorized today as “New Age Music.” He had all but given up on a musical career until a fateful meeting with John Lennon and Yoko Ono in the early 70's at the Drake Hotel in Philadelphia. After talking, drinks, and an impromptu jam session in the lounge John fervently urged him, “Don't give up on your music, man.” But it was a long road back, and he spent most of the 70's surviving by working various jobs: truck driver, taxi driver, construction worker, armed guard, and occasionally finding work on weekends with the local R&B bands. Walter eventually relocated to the Washington, D.C. area in 1979, and decided after the death of Lennon to put all of his energies into becoming a full time musician.

“From the moment I made that decision, everything changed. Before that, I had been content to work a day job and gig at night, but now Lennon's words came back to haunt me. I realized that over 7 years had passed since the meeting and I still had not made a firm and complete commitment to my art, and had made no progress. It was time to make a choice. It was very scary to just up and quit my job, but little by little, positive things started happening to me.” During the early 1980's he performed as a lead vocalist, backup vocalist, and multi-keyboard player in a variety of Top 40, Rock, Soul, Reggae, and Jazz groups. In 1983 a talent scout saw him performing in a group, and invited him to become the regular entertainer at former Washington Redskins' quarterback Joe Theismann's Restaurant in Bailey's Crossroads Virginia. There he began his solo career and worked for two years, building up his repertoire, fans, and his confidence as an artist. He then moved on to the Washington, D.C. hotel circuit, first with a full time position entertaining at the Holiday Inn Crowne Plaza, a 5 Star hotel in Rockville, Maryland, and then at the Olde Towne Holiday Inn, in Alexandria, Virginia, and the Ramada Hotel in Oxon Hill Maryland, where he entertained for a period of three years. On October 3, 1986 he appeared at the Smithsonian Institute, Washington, D.C. in a noontime concert entitled “Portraits in Jazz” sponsored by the National Portrait Gallery of Washington.

In 1989 a friend submitted one of Walter's tapes to Quincy Jones. Although Quincy was reportedly very excited about his fresh and original sound he was too busy with other projects to get involved with Walter, but sent the word back that he should get out of the hotel circuit, and do some traveling, preferably internationally in order to expand his horizons. “ I wasn't expecting to hear anything from Quincy. The fact that one of my idols had actually took the time to listen to my demo, that he liked it and had even offered some advice was a stupendous event to me. I immediately decided to make some international connections and see what would come of it.” And in November 1989, Walter decided to do just that and to try his luck on the road. After several trips to the Far East he settled in Japan.

Why Japan?

My interest in Japan started at a young age. In my pre-teens I studied judo from a Japanese sensei in Philadelphia. Then later in college I continued judo and also took up an interest in Japanese cooking and adopted their macrobiotic diet. So when the gig in Japan came up, I jumped at the chance to see this country. The Japanese audiences' level of sophistication, respect and knowledge of jazz here was a big surprise to me. The people have been very kind and supportive. Its peaceful, clean, safe and quiet here, and I love the food. Since 1992 it has been his base of operations, and between international engagements, he has worked there in Tokyo, Kobe, Osaka, and Fukuoka in various clubs, restaurants, and 4 star hotel's numerous dinner shows, concerts and special events .

The warm and relaxing quality of his vocal intonation has enabled him to work in a variety of fields, including that of a narrator for Universal Studios, Japan, and Fujitec International. There was also a national television appearance by Mr. Clark on the popular “Ninki Mono” celebrity TV program in Japan. From 2000-2001 Clark also appeared in a TV commercial for Genova jewelry in Japan's Kobe/Osaka area. In the year 2001, in spite of a rigorous performing schedule, he produced and released two CD's which featured live and multitrack recordings. In February 2002 Clark appeared as an actor several times on NHK's TV series “Sono toki rekishi ga ugoita,” roughly translated as “This was a turning point in history.” It was also a turning point for Walter. After that TV project, and with the birth of a new child, Clark began to spend more time at home. The focus for the remainder of the year was on research and development of new songs, new techniques of recording, and personal growth. The 2002 year end release of Perfect Love was the product of the years efforts and rewards. It was also the first CD to feature Original songs, and the first CD to be marketed commercially in Japan.

In July 2006 he completed recording of a new solo CD entitled Many Splendid Things, a jazz fusion collection of uniquely arranged standards. “During regular performance I play many styles of music but my aim in producing this CD is to showcase a few of my favorite standard tunes for the enjoyment of the more adult listeners.” Usually I sing and accompany myself on piano, with my left hand playing a bass synthesizer, and right hand playing horns, strings, guitar, reeds, and other sounds on other synths that are mounted on top of the piano, along with a drum machine which I play with hands and foot pedals. If an audience closes their eyes and listens it sounds like a 4 or 5 piece band and singer. Nothing is pre-recorded or sequenced. Everything is live, and the arrangements change with every performance, which, as Billie Holiday once said is one of the prerequisites of jazz. I often switch instrumentation, sometimes just singing vocals with piano and bass, to give a pure acoustic sound. This was done on quite a few songs in the upcoming work. In this fashion, the basic 8 tracks of the rhythm section, and vocals were all recorded live on this CD. Later, we added other tracks to fill out the sound and make it more interesting. To be perfectly honest with you, I am probably not what one would call a pure jazz player. It is an album of standards but part of my style is just to present music in different lights and genres. My preference is to make the emotional quality of music more important than technical aspects. I did, however, my best to faithfully serve the original writers of the songs. My goal as an artist is to create music that is healing, in whatever form possible."

   Andre Black appeared in a couple of great trumpet solos, but other than that, Clark performed, arranged, recorded, and mixed this entire CD.

In 2011, after almost three years of study, trial and error the third CD was completed.  It was entitled Best Thing to Come. In some ways it represented a departure from the previous CD

What was your aim in producing The Best Thing to Come?

 Many Splendid Things  was a success, in terms of allowing the public to hear my performances  and arrangements of their favorite jazz standards, but, in a lot of people's minds it immediately put me in the category of a "jazz player," and I dislike labels.  As an album of standards, its appeal is rather narrow, so I wanted to do something that would be interesting to a younger crowd, or at least to a group with broader tastes.  I also wanted to incorporate some of my original songs.

Although I loved the arrangements on the CD, I was not satisfied with the way it had turned out sonically.  Part of it had to do with the bare bones budget it was produced on, and another part had to do with the mastering engineer.   So, I wanted to make a noticeably better product that would not fall so easily into any category.  Some of the songs on my Perfect Love could have been done better, especially the title song.  And songs like Amazing Grace and Honesty are still hugely popular in Japan. I wanted to present those songs in a better light.  As a result of these goals I had to make massive changes in my recording setup and I had to do a lot of studying and just listening...again and again. I wanted to make sure that when listeners heard  this CD it would live up to its name as being The Best Thing to Come from me, and would stand out as a definitive work. 

 

What musical instruments were used on this album and how was it recorded?

 

The basic core is piano, bass and vocals, all recorded live and in real time. But there's plenty of flute, sax and guitar as well as some light string orchestration. And Tony Spruill came over and laid down a couple of nice sax solos.

Have you always been solo performer? Not at all. Its just something I evolved into. Partly the result of me wanting to do things my way. Once I get an idea about how something should be done I don't like to compromise. I just take it for granted that others will either help me do it or leave me alone to do it myself.

 

Who were your musical influences?

Long before school age, my earliest influence was Nat King Cole. Miles, Monk and the classics as I was growing up. I liked to listen to Motown, The Beatles and pop music. One day I heard Ramsey Lewis' version of 'The IN Crowd,' and decided I wanted to learn to play like that, so I started teaching myself jazz. I met Edgar Brown, who was a DJ at Temple University's jazz radio station. He gave me an album. It was John Coltrane's "Favorite Things." Listening to what Coltrane and the piano player were doing on the title cut seemed to open the door to a whole new world for me. Of course the piano player turned out to be McCoy Tyner. In the early 70's when I had all but given up on a musical career John Lennon encouraged me not to quit. He was a big inspiration to me, and even more so after he died. Quincy Jones. was a huge influence. He heard one of my demo tapes and encouraged me to do some traveling, preferably internationally in order to expand my horizons. And that's how I came to live in Japan.

And what's that like?

My interest in Japan started at an early age. In my pre-teens I studied judo from a Japanese sensei in Philadelphia. Then later in college I took up an interest in Japanese cooking. So when the gig in Japan came up, I jumped at the chance to see the country. The Japanese audiences' level of sophistication, respect and knowledge of jazz here was a big surprise to me. Its peaceful, clean, safe and quiet here, and I love the food.

 

What is your goal as an entertainer?

Constant improvement, service and love.  To create music that is healing and uplifting, mentally stimulating and physically relaxing...and to make folks feel something positive.

Lately I have noticed a change in my way of hearing sound and have become less forgiving of audio recordings which sounded okay to me before.

So I have been really concentrating on making a better sound with my recordings.  That entails a lot of studying of recording techniques as well as the acquisition of much more expensive but sonically excellent components.  At the risk of becoming a bit of a gear slut and losing my way in the extremely difficult technical aspects of recording, I'm improving the sonic quality of my offerings.I've taken some time off from hotel work and I'm delving deeply into this field with enthusiasm.  

What's in the future for Walter Clark?

Reaching a wider audience and showcasing my talent as a well-rounded performer, who can cut it without special studio effects or computer magic.  Before the end of the year 2013 I will release another CD which will be a collection of live recordings at my current venue, Sandaya.  ("Handmade" CD-Released in Japan August 2013)

And before the end of 2013 there will finally be some video available for folks who want to experience some of my live shows.  Also, in 2013 I will be doing shows and networking more in Tokyo.

2013 was a year of expansion in multiple fields and especially networking with audio professionals worldwide. 

2014 goals: Youtube presence. Remastering and re-release of Best Thing to Come, New Album, Christmas Album 

  album cover