Clarke was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Having graduated from the Philadelphia Musical Academy, he moved to New York City in 1971 and began working with famous bandleaders and musicians including Horace Silver, Art Blakey, Dexter Gordon, Joe Henderson, Pharoah Sanders, Gil Evans, Stan Getz and Al Di Meola.
Return to Forever
During this period he joined the jazz fusion group Return to Forever led by pianist Chick Corea. The group became one of the most important fusion groups and released several successful and musically highly varied albums. Clarke also started his solo career in the early 1970s and released a number of albums under his own name. His most famous album is School Days (1976), which along with Jaco Pastorius's self-titled debut is held up as one of the greatest bass albums in the history of Jazz Fusion.
His albums Stanley Clarke (1974) and Journey to Love (1975) are also notable.
Clarke's electric bass style is a combination of many factors.
Equipment - Clarke has always been very strongly associated with Alembic basses and the vast majority of his recorded output has been produced with one model of Alembic or another, particularly a dark-wood-colored custom bass in the Series I body style. These basses are handmade neck-through instruments made from a mixture of exotic woods and a proprietary active pickup system that is powered from an external preamplifier. Clarke also utilizes full-range amplification for his basses, more in keeping with a keyboardist's rig than a bassist's or guitarists. As a result, Clarke's tone is full-bodied and woody-sounding, with an organic flavor.
Physical size - Clarke is a slim 6'3" and his Alembic basses tend to be short-scale (in this case, 30-3/4" versus a typical 34"), so in his hands, the Alembic seems almost like a toy. As a result, having large hands and powerful musculature in his arms and hands gives him extra command over the instrument in terms of power, range, and speed. Many of the figures that Clarke plays are very difficult for a smaller bassist to play on a larger bass.
Right-hand technique - The classic Clarke right-hand posture has his fingers approaching the strings much as they would on an upright bass, but rotated through 90 degrees. To achieve this, his forearm lies above and nearly parallel to the strings, while his wrist is hooked downward at nearly a right angle. For lead and solo purposes, his fingers partially hook underneath the strings so that when releases, the strings snap against the frets, producing a biting percussive attack. In addition to an economical variation on the Larry Graham-style pop-n'-slap technique, Clarke also uses downward thrusts of the entire right hand, striking two or more strings from above with his fingernails (examples include "School Days," "Rock and Roll Jelly," "Wild Dog," and "Danger Street").
Stanley Clarke is commonly considered among the most important bassists of the jazz-fusion era (c. 1972-1982).
He formed Animal Logic with rock drummer Stewart Copeland, after the break-up of The Police, and singer-songwriter Deborah Holland. The trio had success with their first album and world tour but the follow-up sold poorly, and the band did not continue.
He continues to work and has several film scores as well as a string of albums to his name. In 2005 he started the Acoustic Fusion Supergroup TRIO! with Béla Fleck and Jean-Luc Ponty, which toured the Eastern U.S. and played all of the major Jazz Festivals.
Stanley Clarke is also the first influential bassist to use piccolo bass prominently. (A piccolo bass is a bass guitar, tuned one octave higher - Clarke's are usually short scale (30.75"), four string, Carl Thompson or Alembic.)