Kenny Clarke was a pioneer in modern jazz drumming and one of the founders of bebop jazz. He introduced the technique of keeping time on the high hat and using the bass drum for dramatic accents, known as "dropping bombs." Clarke played with other innovative jazz artists including Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk, Milt Jackson, and Miles Davis. In 1956 he moved to Paris permanently where he played with other expatriates such as Dexter Gordon and Bud Powell. He co-led the Clarke-Boland Big Band with pianist Francy Boland for 11 years until the band broke up in 1973. Clarke continued to perform, record and and teach until his death from a heart attack in 1985 at the age of 71.
Kenny Clarke's nickname was "Klook" after sound of one of his signature drum licks. Part of the reason Clarke is not as well known as some other bebop artists was because he was drafted into the army in 1943, just as bebop recordings started being released. Kenny Clarke was named an NEA Jazz Master in 1983.
Kenny Clark Spearman was born in Pittsburgh in 1914. Growing up he played vibraphone, piano and trombone in addition to the drums. He played in local dance bands and was hired by the Leroy Bradley Band at age 17. In 1935 he dropped his last name and moved to New York City as Kenny Clarke. He found work quickly and in 1941 he was hired to be a member of the house band at Minton's Playhouse in Harlem, along with Thelonius Monk.