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Song To John

“Song To John” by Stanley Clark Arrangement by Rite of Strings

This month I’d like to focus on one of the great masters of the bass and one of only a few who is equally adept at both the electric and acoustic bass and that’s Mr. Stanley Clarke. And it’s Stanley’s acoustic playing and more importantly his composing that I’d like to focus on via a composition Stan wrote dedicated to the great jazz giant, John Coltrane. Stanley is a bassist in a long lineage of great bassist from the city of “Brotherly Love” Philadelphia, PA. Victor Bailey, Christian McBride and Alphonso Johnson are just a few names that come mind.

Song To John
Before Victor Wooten, before Marcus Miller, and yes before Flea, there was one god of the funk bass and that was Stanley Clarke. Inspired by Larry Graham’s groundbreaking innovation with the thumb, Stanley took the technique to a whole new level in the early seventies and inspired a generation of thumb slingers. Having studied classically in Philadelphia for several years Stanley possessed amazing chops and faultless time. He cut his teeth playing jazz with legends like Joe Henderson Dexter Gordon, Gil Evans, and a young Chick Corea. When Chick formed his seminal fusion juggernaut Return To Forever, (which by the way has REUNITED AND IS CURRENTLY ON TOUR!) he tapped Clarke to be his bass player. Stanley, Chick, Al Di Meola, and Lenny White shook the world as Return To Forever for five years. Stanley recorded many solo albums throughout the 70’s and 80’s including his classic “School Days”.

Clarke originally recorded “Song To John ” on a record with Chick Corea and John McLaughlin on his “Journey To Love” album. This transcription however is from another amazing group that Stanley put together was an all-acoustic trio with guitarist Al Di Meola and violinist Jean Luc Ponty called The Rite of Strings.

I’ve left out the rubato intro as it is not necessary to always play it. The cord progression is very simple but the unison line is extremely challenging to play especially at a fast Samba tempo. I use a C Lydian scale for the first two chords of the song (Cmaj7(#11) and Amin9) and then just a plain F Dorian for the Fmin9 chord. This song looks easier than it is and it will definitely help you get your modal playing in shape and the unison line will force you to come up with your own fingerings which I feel is best. Practice along with the CD until you can play it up to speed. When you can burn through the unison part and the solo section, you’ll have made some real strides in your bass playing. Good luck.

Click below to download the Song to John transcription


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