“I do ridiculously long instrumental cuts,” says Grant Clarkson, “usually starting with improvising on drums and bass, and then I attempt to be a ‘composer’ by rounding it out from there.”
In 2009, the electric/acoustic bassist made a 60-minute video of his original music, set to footage from the original Twilight Zone and subtitled with the writings of Friedrich Nietzsche, to create his jazz-rock DVD Ever So Much Fun. He named the visual operetta after a line in the 1960 Zone episode “The After Hours,” with Anne Francis as a department-store shopper who discovers that (spoiler alert) she is a mannequin.
“Being a lifelong Twilight Zone fan, I decided to put in a few little bits of dialogue from various other episodes into the songs,” says Clarkson. “All the bits of spoken word fit into this two-act play I was working on, telling a Zone-ish kind of time-travel story. But who wants to produce a play? Why not just put Zone footage against the music and see how it fits?”
As Clarkson matched music to video on his computer (“I used iMovie; it was a bitch”), the one-time philosophy student had another inspiration.
“Why not have Nietzsche’s writings as subtitles for the narrative? His big idea of eternal recurrence is central to this story. Basically, it’s the idea that all your life and all your choices will repeat over and over again…because of this, all your creative contributions to the universe are, in a sense, indestructible.”
The resulting 18-track music video unfolds its sci-fi narrative using scenes from several dozen Twilight Zones, opening to the strains of “Come Wander with Me,” a tune central to one well-regarded episode of the series. The DVD cover was provided by Anne Francis herself, inscribed with her line from “The After Hours” that serves as the project title.
However, the TV series content has limited his sales options to self-marketing. “Carol Serling wrote me a very nice letter saying she loved the music, but she couldn’t assist any promotion of the video since they had sold the Twilight Zone rights to CBS in 1975.”
In early 2011, he released his album Famous Cats in Literature, featuring songs about famed felines like Pywacket (Bell Book & Candle), Mouschi (Diary of Anne Frank), and Rumpleteaser (T.S. Elliot).
“This album was composed and recorded in its entirety with myself on all the instruments; fretless electric bass, rhodes piano, guitar, MIDI organ, and MIDI horn, along with flute, baritone sax, trombone, oboe, trumpet, and tenor sax for each track respectively. There was a drum program replaced with a click track, then Richard Sellers recorded the drum part in a studio.”
Dearly Beloved, his album of acoustic jazz trio standards (upright bass, piano, drums), was recorded “in the very traditional style during one session on March 15, 2011, [with] no computer bullshit,” according to Clarkson, who recorded the album at Flight 19 Studios with Sky Ladd (piano) and Richard Sellers (drums). It was mixed and mastered in March 2011 at Chef’s Soul Kitchen.
Over the course of 2011, Clarkson landed gigs in a half-dozen theater productions, including I Love a Piano, Jesus Christ Superstar, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Forever Plaid, Smokey Joe’s Café, and Little Women.
The busy bassist also landed two weekly residencies, playing Fridays at the Wine Encounter with the Mark Augustin Trio and Sundays at Spaghetteria with the KSDS House Band, as well as playing over a hundred local jazz gigs in 2011. However, his aspirations have included several careers even less likely to earn income than playing music. “I have a master’s in philosophy from SDSU, which has never led to any professional or career opportunities. I do have several volumes of poetry and topical essays, which I think I’m ready to put into a more organized form, though I’m not a blogger.”
“I’ve also done about 30 paintings over the years. Even though I think I suck, people whose taste I trust tell me, with real sincerity and conviction, that my paintings are good. I even had my first [artwork] sale last year.”
In 2012, Clarkson released three new full-lengths: Free Quartet, Meditations, and Ups and Downs.
Free Quartet is an all-acoustic and all-improvisational double album recorded January 16, 2012, at Flight 19 Studios, featuring Richard Sellers (drums), Sky Ladd (piano), Derek Cannon (trumpet and flugal horn), and Clarkson on acoustic upright bass. “I would recommend this one to those who appreciate acoustic jazz...or just want a real ensemble album without any studio trickery. Despite the avant-garde quality, it is smooth and romantic in places.”
Meditations sports traditional jazz and Latin flavors, from sessions mixed down at Richard Sellers' studio, the Soul Kitchen. “I compose and perform all the parts, starting with electric bass, then my Rhodes piano, guitar, and then organ and horn section by way of MIDI bass. Then I hand off the master tracks to Richard to perform and record his drum and percussion parts.”
As for Ups and Downs, “For years I’ve been building what I call my commercial reel,” says Clarkson. “These are excerpts generally ranging from thirty seconds to two minutes long which are cut from longer compositions, with music and sound libraries in mind...the earliest pieces in this ever-growing reel date back to about 1998, and so far there are 151 pieces in there.”
So why release a full-length with 47 of these? “There’s a lot of stuff that works well in there, and putting the tracks in the right order made it take fun shape as an album. Also, my online distributor has recently made a deal with a placement curator, so all these tracks stand a fresh chance for licensing and royalties by releasing them this way.”
Not that the collection wouldn’t interest casual listeners. “I would recommend it for anyone with short attention spans.”
In 2015, Clarkson assembled an all-star trio for his album Gleaming, featuring Richard Sellers (drums), Sky Ladd (piano), Derek Cannon (trumpet and flugelhorn), and John Rekevicks (tenor and soprano sax, flute). Mixed, mastered, and co-produced by Richard Sellers at Chef's Soul Kitchen, "This album for me represents three threads coming together," says Clarkson, "the first being Richard and my collaborative improvisations in the studio, beginning with 'A La Carte' in 2009."
"The second thread is the evolution of the acoustic band, which began with the trio with Sky [Ladd, Dearly Beloved in 2011], then to Free Quartet  with Derek Cannon, and culminating in Hearts Of Light  with John Rekevicks."
"The third thread is taking that Hearts Of Light quintet beyond just my compositions and into group improvisation and composition, which is what we have here in 2015 with this album. It is the layering of parts that I have done countless times performing the overdubs myself now performed instead by this real band that this album signifies."