Sonny Clark was born Conrad Yeatis Clark on July 21, 1931 in Herminie, Pennsylvania, learned to play the piano and by age 12 was living in Pittsburgh. When visiting an aunt in California at age 20, he decided to stay and began working with saxophonist Wardell Gray. Clark went to San Francisco with Oscar Pettiford and after a couple months, began working with clarinetist Buddy De Franco in 1953, subsequently touring the U.S. and Europe until 1956. It was then he became a member of The Lighthouse All-Stars, led by bassist Howard Rumsey.
Wishing to return to the east coast, Clark served as accompanist for singer Dinah Washington in 1957, allowing him to relocate to New York City. He became an often-requested sideman partly because of his rhythmic comping. Frequently recording for Blue Note Records, Sonny held a sideman chair for such luminaries as Kenny Burrell, Donald Byrd, Paul Chambers, John Coltrane, Dexter Gordon, Art Farmer, Curtis Fuller, Grant Green, Philly Joe Jones, Hank Mobley, Charles Mingus, Lee Morgan and Billie Holiday among a host of others.
As a leader Clark recorded albums Dial “S” For Sonny, Sonny’s Crib, Sonny Clark Trio with Paul Chambers and Philly Joe Jones, Cool Struttin’ and Sonny Clark Trio with George Duvivier and Max Roach.
Pianist Sonny Clark, who mainly worked in the hard bop idiom, died of a heart attack in New York City on January 13, 1963. It is thought by some commentators that his drug and alcohol abuse contributed to his premature death.
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