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“I do ridiculously long instrumental cuts,” says jazzy multi-instrumentalist Grant Clarkson, “usually starting with improvising on drums and bass, and then I attempt to be a ‘composer’ by rounding it out from there.”

Clarkson has three new full-length releases for 2012: 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.

Meditations sports full-length cuts with traditional jazz, progressive, and Latin flavors, from sessions mixed down at Richard Sellers' studio, the Chef's Soul Kitchen, using methods the duo has developed over the last few years of working together.

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."

Commercial television has long been a major influence on Clarkson. 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 the late 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 before she passed away, 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, Clarkson released his full-length 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 collection 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.

Last year, 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 player 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.”

Here's a sample of Clarkson's Twilight Zone/jazz/Nietzsche mashup "Ever So Much Fun," with Anne "Honey West" Francis getting into the zone...



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