Stanley Clarke traded his bass for a conductor’s baton — at least for some of the night on Sunday (Sept. 1) — as he presented music from his score for John Singleton’s 1991 film Boyz in the Hood to close out the 40th annual Detroit Jazz Festival.
It marked the first time, Clarke, the festival’s Artist in Residence, had given this kind of treatment to any of the 75 films he’s written music for, combining scenes from the film with 10 selections from the soundtrack, some played to accompany full scenes with dialogue, others on their own as stills from the movie were shown on a side-stage screen.
“I’ve scored a lot of movies that were box office successes, but for some reason Boyz in the Hood, internationally, seems to resonate with people,” Clarke — whose credits also include Romeo Must Die, What’s Love Got to do With It, the Transporter series and three others by Singleton — told Billboard before the performance. “It’s got kind of a cult following.
“I’ve had orchestras around the world approach my agent, ‘Can we do something with Stanley and Boyz in the Hood, get rappers’ and everything?’ I held off on it ’cause I didn’t have it organized in my head. Now it’s organized.”
Clarke, who switched between conducting and playing both upright and electric base throughout the 50-minute show, was assisted by a full string orchestra as well as an ensemble that included Lenny White III on drums, Wallace Roney on trumpet, Emilio Modeste on saxophone and Bill Meyers on keyboards. Dee Dee Bridgewater, who played her own show at the festival the night before, provided guest vocals for one of the selections, “That Kind of Situation.”
Though the pace was occasionally halting, the technology was impressively synced throughout the show — particularly effective whenever the orchestra was accompanying actual scenes.
The program was announced in April, nearly two weeks before Singleton passed away on April 28, at the age of 51, which made Monday’s show something of a memorial celebration for the director. As he took the stage, Clarke told the crowd about meeting Singleton backstage at the Arsenio Hall Show when the fledgling director was 21 and told Clarke “you’re going to do the music for my film;” Two years later Clarke found himself in a meeting with Singleton, who was “sitting on a couch playing a Gameboy.” “John was a guy that was really trying to make a different,” Clarke told the crowd. “He wanted American to take a glimpse of how he grew up, and how many of us grew up.” Clarke also paid tribute to Singleton at the end of the performance, urging the audience to “not just keep the peace, increase the peace” and thanking Singleton. “Wherever John is, we bless him,” Clarke noted.
Singleton was nominated for two Academy Awards for Boyz in the Hood, Best Director and Best Original Screenplay; He was the youngest person and the first African-American to be nominated in the former category. The film starred Cuba Gooding Jr., Angela Bassett, Laurence Fishburne and Ice Cube.
“It was shocking,” Clarke, who performed one of his pieces from Singleton’s Poetic Justice during the memorial service for him in Los Angeles, told Billboard. “I don’t think I’ve fully digested John’s passing. It came so quick. I heard he was sick, was in a coma and all of a sudden he passed. I just couldn’t believe it — he had such an unusually invincible type of personality. He was a real passive, quiet guy but he was one of those characters where you thought, ‘Oh, God, he’ll live 500 years or something.'”
While Monday’s show was Clarke’s first foray into a movie-themed concert, he promised that it won’t be the last. “I’m sure it will develop into something I’ll probably do more of in the future,” he said, adding that he’d like to incorporate all of his Singleton collaborations into a single concert. “Those were very significant movies,” Clarke recalls. “I don’t know whether people could tell, but (Singleton) was an intellectual, a strange kind of intellectual. He was a real thinker, and way ahead on a lot of issues that are still important today. I’d like to keep those films alive, if I can, through the music.”