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Garnet Clark

"Relaxin' at Camarillo" would be the most appropriate theme song for the short, tragic career of this jazz pianist, whose first name comes complete with one or two of the letter "t" at the end, all depending on the generosity of the typesetter. The composer of that song, Charlie Parker, is one of several jazzmen to commit themselves to mental institutions. This is what happened to Clark, but unfortunately he never came back out, spending the remaining years of his life in a French mental hospital. He was only 24 when he died and had been a professional musician since the age of 16 when he began working in Washington D.C. in a band fronted by drummer Tommy Myles. In 1934, the pianist had headed up the coast to New York City and became a regular at several different clubs. He recorded with Alex Hill and joined up with the Charlie Barnet group during a period when the superb saxophonist and arranger Benny Carter was also greenhorning his way into the same band.

Carter liked this pianist just fine: they decided to jump the Barnet, ship despite some fine music, and head for Europe at the beckoning of Willie Lewis, an early American expatriate jazz ambassador. Backing up Django Reinhardt was one of the career moves made by this circle of musicians that ensured a respectable discography. This collaboration only lasted a brief time, however, with Clark drifting away from both Lewis and Carter, seeming to prefer the discipline of solo piano. In the mid-'30s he performed in Switzerland quite a bit, often backing up the vocalist Adelaide Hall. He suffered a mental breakdown in 1937 and never performed again. ~ Eugene Chadbourne
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