The heavy-hitting quintet lineup on Sonny Clark’s 1958 classic Cool Struttin’ says much about the pianist’s stature among musicians of his day. Bassist Paul Chambers and drummer Philly Joe Jones were the rhythm section for Miles Davis at the time; they’d already joined Clark for the Sonny Clark Trio session in October 1957. Chambers played on Sonny’s Crib as well, and trumpeter Art Farmer played on Dial “S” for Sonny—with Cool Struttin’, that makes four enduring albums in Blue Note’s 1500 series, recorded in the span of roughly seven months (not counting still more sessions that remained in the vault until the late ’70s).
Though Clark was plagued by addiction and gone by age 31, he achieved a measure of immortality on these records. Cool Struttin’ is particularly representative, with its potent mix of bluesy, slow-grooving hard bop and mid- to uptempo bebop. Jackie McLean, one of the great alto saxophone heirs of Charlie Parker, is prominently featured alongside Farmer. Clark and the band stretch out on long takes—the new norm in this first decade of the LP era—tackling originals, standards, and modern bop staples, setting a high bar of virtuosity and deep, soulful expression. Clark’s beautifully burnished swing conception and agile improvised lines (check out the flourish from 1:18 to 1:20 on “Sippin’ at Bells”) place him in the top tier of hard bop stylists of the era.