Renowned trombonist Eddie Clark isn’t exactly thrilled with the state of Louisville music. He says it is a case of “acceptance of the mediocre.”
Clark, who grew up in Simpsonville but now lives here, started out playing trumpet in the Southside Elementary School Band, working his way up to trombone and then bass trombone. He played his first jazz gig at 15, and has been giving private music lessons since he was in high school. Most of his college career was spent at North Texas State University, where he landed a spot with the world-famous One O’Clock Lab Band in his first semester. He recorded numerous albums with the band and eventually toured Australia.
After college, Clark moved to Atlanta, where he lived for 12 years and recorded hundreds of songs for media companies, then to New York, where for six years he performed on several blockbuster Broadway shows, including “The Lion King,” “42nd Street,” “Beauty & the Beast” and “Fosse.”
And there’s more: Clark has sat in with Lee Konitz, Billy Taylor, Phil Woods, Al Hirt, Ray Brown, Tom Scott, Louis Bellson, the Moody Blues, Whitney Houston, Aretha Franklin, Carly Simon, The Temptations, Lee Greenwood and Rosemary Clooney.
Getting a gig here should be a no-brainer for Clark, but it isn’t. He says it all goes back to money, and the acceptance of what is “just OK.” It’s not just the jazz scene that suffers, he says, but the music scene in general. From his experience, Clark says many club owners are more willing to hire inexperienced musicians because they would play for less, or even for free. When asked whether club and bar owners do this because they are unaware of the talent that is really out there, Clark drops another bombshell: “Oh, they know. They just don’t care.”
What’s more, Clark argues that musicians accept these gigs because they are afraid they can’t pass them up.
But it’s more than the venues, he says. It’s also the quality and/or lack of musical education in schools and our fast-paced, impatient culture, which Clark refers to as the “microwave kids.” To learn, understand and appreciate music, he says, takes a lot of time, and people are just not willing to put forth the effort. “They want it now,” he says.
He argues this is one main reason the jazz scene in Louisville is gasping for air, with the closure of The Jazz Factory earlier this year and the lack of other jazz clubs in the area. “I’ve just been bored to death,” Clark says.
Which is why he and his ensemble, the Louisville Jazz Collective, are grateful for Comedy Caravan owner Tom Sobel, who is now booking jazz.
Clark says there is a lack of knowledge about how jazz performances actually work.
“Sometimes I’m afraid that people don’t really know what’s going on in a jazz piece,” he says. “But there’s improvisation going on, and it requires listening. It’s not just background music to have a steak dinner over.”
Clark thinks the future of jazz in Louisville is not necessarily doomed, but some changes have to be made. For one, media coverage of jazz artists who play in town needs to improve (wink, hint, nod). He also says music education, particularly jazz studies, gets shoved to the side. “Oh, they hate when I say this,” Clark says, laughing. “I think that the education system, both high school and college, for the most part, never does jazz justice.”
Young jazz musicians don’t know the history of their business, he says, and have not researched famous jazz musicians, or are even aware of the resources right in front of them.
“Many of the students that I see at U of L don’t take advantage of, and have no idea, who John LaBarbera is and what he’s done,” he says. “If I were a student there, I’d be almost a stalker at his door every day, asking questions.”
John LaBarbera is a music professor at U of L and is one of the most respected composers in the business. He says there is still hope for young players, and he sees it in some of his own students.
“I can see the way their eyes light up when they first play in a jazz band,” LaBarbera says. “They learn how to swing, and think, ‘Oh damn, this is great.’”
And he wants to ensure that jazz students can understand the roots of their studies. “My hope is that (jazz instructors) have those few students who have that sparkle in their eyes and say, ‘Hey, I heard this.’”
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& The Louisville Jazz Collective
Jazz Factory Orphans’ Series
Monday, June 16
1250 Bardstown Road
$8; 7:30 p.m.