Tulsa musician Earl Clark passed away unexpectedly Monday night after band rehearsal. He was 58.
Clark was a Tulsa music constant for years, opening for Spyro Gyra, B.B. King, Tito Puente and Blood, Sweat & Tears, as well as playing with locals like Flash Terry, Ray D. Rowe, Jimmy Strader, Valentino Pena, John Rigney, Bill Raffensperger, Steve Munson and more.
Clark and his band Spectrum performed for former Presidents George H. Bush and Bill Clinton in May 2009.
Clark spent several years in the Tulsa Public Schools teaching jazz bands, with his last stop teaching part-time at Central High School. He was inducted into the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame in 2002.
““Earl was well-liked, jovial, fun, infectious human spirit. Everybody, in the music community and beyond, loved Earl. He was a great ambassador for the Jazz Hall of Fame.” - Chuck Cissel, artistic director with the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame
“Earl Clark will always be for many of us a great patron & teacher of the music arts that he loved for so many years. He always had a smile for his friends while giving us who knew him a part of his infectious spirit that always made us laugh while bouncing on the dance floor. His steady bandmates are a great bunch of guys and we share in the loss of a good friend. Thank You Earl for all you gave us!” - Tulsa musician Bill Davis
Our thoughts and prayers go out to his friends and family.
Funeral services will be at 11am Saturday at Morning Star Baptist Church in Tulsa.
There will be a tribute concert for Earl on Friday at 7 p.m. at the Jazz Depot in Tulsa. The line-up includes Eldredge Jackson, Ray D. Rowe, Chuck Cissel, Darell Christopher, Rick Fortner, Tavis Minner, the Central High School drum corps and jazz band, Clark’s drummer Spike Gore and other performers. Admission is free, but a $10 donation is encouraged. Proceeds will go toward the establishment of a music scholarship in Earl Clark’s name for local students.
From Clark’s Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame biography:
WILLIE EARL CLARK — Jazz Inductee
Willie Earl Clark, born in Tulsa, Oklahoma, attended Tulsa Public Schools, graduating in 1969. He was a member of the marching band, the Young Tulsans All City Band and started playing clubs in 1968 with a local band called the “Imperial Sounds,” a band much like the James Brown Review. After graduation, Clark missed his first semester in college and studied the style of Coltrane, Dexter Gordon, Sonny Fortune and some of the local blues artists such as Flash Terry and Ray D. Rowe. He then went to Northeastern A&M in Miami, Oklahoma, where he formed his first band, “6 Plus,” later moving to Tahlequah where he attended Northeastern State University and became a serious follower of the late, great Grover Washington. It was there that Clark played in the jazz band as lead alto-sax. He also does a great impersonation of Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong.
Years after graduating NSU, Clark formed the “Earl Clark and Spectrum Band” which has played most local festivals including Juneteenth on Greenwood and Jazz on Greenwood. Clark and Spectrum Band have two CD’s to their credit. He and his band entertain often at the Third Tuesday at Gilcrease Museum to a packed house. Clark has made several appearances at the Osage Million Dollar Elm Casino and many other spots.
Clark has spent several years in the Tulsa Public Schools teaching jazz bands and now teaches at Central High School, where he is an Artist-in-Residence, teaches on a part-time basis. He is exceptionally proud of his “students.” Clark’s love of teaching and love of youth are displayed through workshops, private and public lessons, and master classes. Clark conducted the OJHF Summer Institute program for several years and has appeared many times at the Hall on stage. Clark took the students to NSU for a day at the NSU Jazz Department, as well as took students on different appearances to develop stage presence.
For the better part of the past two decades, saxman Earl Clark has been the go-to guy to Tulsans seeking rousing, first class entertainment. Whether it’s a club owner looking for an act to get the turnstiles moving, a group of movers and shakers needing quality music for a black tie event, a promoter wanting an exciting and reliable performer to open for a touring star, or even a person in need of an authentic New Orleans-style musical procession – in every instance, Earl Clark delivers.
Technically a jazz fusion act, Clark and his Spectrum band define the word “versatile.” In the space of just one set, they may move from ‘60s soul standards to classic Dixieland to inventive, intriguing mixtures of blues, rock and straight ahead jazz. The list of international stars Clark’s opened for indicate the variety of colors on his musical palette – Spyro Gyra, B. B. King, Tito Puente and Blood, Sweat & Tears.