Sonny Clark

I just read an interesting piece on Sonny Clark at the Paris Review website. Check out the striking picture of him as a little boy in an all-white class. There’s also this absolutely sickening, heartbreaking story about his heroin addiction:

“In the wee morning hours of September 25, 1961, while packing to leave for Japan from Idlewild Airport later that day, Smith turned on his tape recorder and let it roll until dawn. He had live microphones in the hallway and stairwell. He captured Sonny and his friend, the saxophonist Lin Halliday, arriving at the building and walking up the bare wood stairs with Lin’s seventeen-year-old girlfriend, Virginia “Gin” McEwan. Sonny and Lin had been playing at the White Whale in the East Village earlier in the evening with bassist Butch Warren and drummer Billy Higgins. Sonny sticks his head in Smith’s door and says to the notorious pack rat, “You’ve got a lot of shit in here.” Smith responds, “I’ve been shitting for a long time.” They laugh. Sonny and Lin then go into the hallway bathroom on the fourth floor and shoot heroin. Smith’s tapes catch Sonny moaning to near unconsciousness. Lin grows anxious and then frightened. He sings to Sonny to try to keep him awake. Earlier that summer, Gin had saved Sonny’s life with amateur CPR after an overdose. But now, when Lin calls out for her—“Gin? Gin? Gin?”—she does not respond; she had already moved somewhere else in the building.”

Sonny was dead a few months later. He did make some good music. I tend to think Cool Struttin’ is a little overrated. But I love Sonny’s Crib, with Byrd and Coltrane playing some inspired stuff, especially with Clark’s bizarrely reworked version of Weil’s “Speak Low.” And Leapin’ and Lopin’ is pretty sweet too, especially “Voodoo.”

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