10 Questions For Vermont Jazz Great Ken Clark
Goldmine Magazine Auguest, 2003
BEVERLY, MA. - Ken Clark has been fronting his jazz trio since 1992 and developed quite a unique sound and vibe over time. This B-3 organ and guitar-led group - which also includes Mike Mele on guitar and Steve Chaggaris on drums - have been performing throughout New England and the East coast for years with their unique brand of "swing-funk," much in the same vein as the old-school trio sounds of Big John Patton and Jimmy McGriff, meshed with the more "happenin'" grooves of Medeski, Martin and Wood.
Photos courtesy of Ken Clark Trio
Originally from South Hero, Vermont, (and now residing in Beverly, Ma.) Clark began playing the organ at an early age through the influence of his mother, a gifted pianist in her own right. Yes, Clark's dexterous footwork is clearly evident throughout his music.
While attending Berklee School Of Music in Boston, Clark met guitarist Mike Mele, who had moved to Boston from New York in the mid 80's to study with jazz greats Charlie Banacos and Garrison Fewell. While at school they also met drummer Steve Chaggaris, who has degrees from both Berklee and the New England Conservatory Of Music.
They formed the Ken Clark Trio, producing a deep and soulful groove which shines brightly on their new release Eternal Funk on the Severn jazz label. Their approach combines a sound and feel that shows class and elegance, while at the same time finding a groove that evokes this smokey jazz bar vibe.
Clark has also appeared on blueswoman Michelle Wilson's CD Wake Up Call and as a sideman on Green Street with the John Stein Trio, who Clark also met at Berklee. Goldmine correspondent Joe Milliken recently caught up with Mr. Clark for a chat.
Joe Milliken: I read that your earliest influence was your piano playing Mom. When did you first start playing?
Ken Clark: I started on piano when I was five and at age nine. I started playing the organ after my parents had bought one. I started to get more serious around age 15 when I started playing organ at a nearby church, while at the same time listening to a lot of 60's music.
JM: What other forms of music do you enjoy besides jazz?
KC: I enjoy many types of music. I listen to and professionally play R & B, blues, funk, rock and classical music. I really enjoy Herbie Hancock and George Benson, who cross over the lines from R & B to jazz.
JM: Who were your early jazz influences?…. and now?
KC: Some of my early jazz influences were Thelonius Monk, Herbie Hancock and John Coltrane, and I am still influenced by all three. Lately I have been listening to some of Mccoy Tyner's post Coltrane recordings.
JM: Were you involved in any other bands before forming your trio?
KC: I was involved with and led several bands before this trio. Probably the most notable being blues singer Michelle Wilson. Mike and I are on her latest CD Wake Up Call.
JM: How did you meet your guitarist Mike Mele?
KC: I first met Mike at a session at Berklee College in Boston. I didn’t see him for years after that until I met him again at a music store near where I was living. We had a few meetings and did a few sessions and it went from there.
JM: How did your connection with drummer Steve Chaggaris come about?
KC: Steve and I had played on a few recordings together although we were never in a room recording at the same time. We eventually wound up as sidemen on a gig. Later on we needed a drummer and Steve sounded great so we picked him up.
JM: What would you consider to be your first professional breakthrough or meaningful gig?
KC: My first breakthrough gig was when I was 15, when I decided then to become a professional musician.
JM: How did your record deal with Severn Records come about?
KC: I landed the record deal through Darryl Nulisch who was also on the label. He turned label owner David Earle on to my music and we developed a good relationship from that point on.
JM: I've heard the Miles Davis cover of "Blue and Green" on your current CD. Do you perform other covers in your live set?
KC We do a few jazz covers and R & B tunes as well. We also covered "Airegin" and "Pent Up House" by Sonny Rollins on our first, self-titled CD.
JM: Name a musician whom you admire and you would like to collaborate with?
KC: Herbie Hancock