Playin’ Around With Playbook: Colleen Clark

Hey everyone! This past week on Playin’ Around With Playbook, we had the chance to break up the slew of saxophonists and have on drummer and educator Colleen Clark. 

Drummer, composer, educator and bandleader, Dr. Colleen Clark is the first drummer and woman to earn a Doctor of Musical Arts degree in Jazz Performance at the world-renowned University of North Texas, the oldest jazz institution in America. 

As a player, Clark has been described as “someone to watch” and “someone who will be turning heads in jazz for years to come.” 

Clark was invited by the ASCAP Foundation to lead her band, the Colleen Clark Collective, at the Kennedy Center. Dr. Clark has performed in prominent NYC venues including Jazz at Lincoln Center, Birdland and the 55 Bar. Her debut album, consisting entirely of her original music, Introducing Colleen Clark, was produced by Gordon Stout and engineered by ten-time Grammy Award nominee/winner, Brian Dozoretz. Clark proudly joined the Sisters in Jazz Collegiate Combo on their premiere performance at the Jazz Education Network in 2019. Clark can most recently be heard playing on SteepleChase record #900, Allegra Levy’s Lose My Number: Allegra Levy Sings John McNeil. 

Below are some snippets of our conversation on February 17th, 2022. Click here to view the full interview. 



TRISTA FORD: What have you been listening to lately?

COLLEEN CLARK: I’ve been listening to a lot of Basie, because we’re going to do a Basie tribute concert with my big band at school. So we’re getting into that, you know, basically straight ahead, really learnin how to swing and play in an ensemble, understand your role.

SM: Why do you think it’s such a challenge? 

CC: They have to listen to it, but actually getting getting kids to be excited about listening to it is more of the challenge. The lessons that I remember the most was when we listened to stuff together. And he’s like, listen, here, right? That right there, that’s what’s up. You hear that? Rewind, do it again, and I’m like, oh, yeah, that’s how you listen. So that’s what I do with them.

Can you actually hear what the rhythm section is doing in the shout chorus and the solos just in general? Because that’s really the identifying factor when we talk about Basie. 

TF: Was there a particular educator or drummer that made you go, oh, I want to do this?

CC: I was really lucky. I’m still supported by that my middle school band teacher who had programmed Sing Sing Sing, which is like, kind of a terrible idea, but it changed my life. I had the great Gene Krupa, and I was inspired by Buddy Rich. Of course, as well, my first mentor was Alexander Leepac. Mr. Leepac founded the percussion department at the Hart school of music. He was the timpanist in the Harper Symphony for 50 years, but he was a big band drummer, too. So that was my, that was my first mentor.

SM: You’ve done some incredible research in the drum sphere. How has that affected when you go back to teach?

CC: My big research was on the evolution of the ride cymbal pattern. I was really curious to find out how it evolved on the drumset, because it went from different instruments on the drumset. Right, we’re talking woodblock, oriental Tom then Sock Cymbal, then hats, and then ride Cymbal, but we call it the ride cymbal pattern, right? Obviously, when I play after listening to hundreds of records, where I’ve been obsessed. When I go and teach a jazz history class, it inspires me in a different way, because I can say to them, I listened to hundreds of hours of these things. I can confidently say, yeah, you can hear it migrate, and you can hear different bands and different styles, but it overtook the entire music. I want to want to highlight those things like a little light bulbs go off? Oh, jazz started before bebop.

TF: Do you have a favorite experience or one that stands out to you the most?

CC: The Kennedy Center was super fun. Making a record, it’s always exciting too, of your own music, so that was that was quite an experience. I think nowadays, it’s as long as multiple guys on the bandstand are present with me, I’m having a blast.

TF: During your time at USC, do you have a favorite memory from that experience?

CC: We did our very first Jazz Girls Day, which we still proudly hosted in January. We had 14 girls from middle school and high school here in South Carolina. Someone’s mom drove three hours one way to come and play. Playing with them was so much fun, because they were like “Dr. Clark, I never played with another girl before, like on the same stage.” Number two, they’re like, “I never saw a girl drummer.” Two other girls who were like, they had never played the drumset. I had 30 minutes with them, and we got patterns down, and we played a gig. That’s what it’s about. That was so special. 

TF: Do you have any mantras for when you’re feeling low?

CC:  Man, my thing is always. And guys from North Texas, remember, take the boxes. Whatever you have to get done in order to pass that level. It could be in school, it could be doing your laundry. Tick that box. You’re going to start feeling better. You tick those boxes? You’re good to go.

TF: Why do you think platforms like playbook are so important in today’s classroom?

CC: We need to remind people that jazz is an inclusive music, and it’s a fun music. It’s not hard. It’s fun. It’s got some rules, but all music has rules. Right? Even free jazz has rules. So programs like these are important because they have access to excited people like Sammy and all the cats, right? They are in love with the music and are so in love with the music that they feel the need to share it at the highest possible level because they respect the music. And that’s the goal, right? We do all these things because we respect the music and we want more people to understand how special it is. And if we don’t do it, it’s gone. So, you know, of course, I want to thank Sammy for all, and Trista, you know, you guys are doing such great work and you’re exposing our music, which is everybody’s music to more people. 


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