For anyone who's been in Tulsa for an extended period of time, Earl Clark's name was one you'd easily recognize. Even if you weren't a jazz fan or particularly involved in the local music scene, Clark's presence and generous spirit made him well known in the community.
For many, Clark was the face and sound of our local jazz scene, one that even a younger generation of players who has seen even more success -- such as Grady Nichols, Eldredge Jackson and the late Wayman Tisdale -- respected and paid tribute to. Whether playing on the main stage at Mayfest, in a nightclub, at the Jazz Hall of Fame or at a wedding, Clark had a presence and musical voice that set him apart from the rest and endeared him to Tulsa.
Above all else, Clark was a showman and an amazing musician who could sing as well as play the saxophone. He was always warm and inviting with his peers; mentoring young players such as Grady Nichols in his formative years and sharing the stage and spotlight with his band members showed a musical grace.
Beyond his musical abilities, however, Clark's legacy will stand as a man of generous spirit who gave back to his community.
For years, he taught the Tulsa Central High School jazz band and worked with youth programs at the Jazz Hall as well as other school programs. He also donated his time and talents as a member of Morning Star Baptist Church, either playing or working sound for countless church events, as well as donating his services playing a number of charity benefits throughout the years.
Although he was honored with many awards throughout the years, none openly meant as much to him as his induction into the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame in 2002.
Not only did he wear his induction medal proudly at the event, he has worn it at multiple ceremonies since and has remained active with the Jazz Hall.
On Monday, June 28, Tulsa lost a music legend, icon and local hero. After spending the afternoon in the recording studio with his band, Clark suffered a fatal heart attack that evening and passed away at the age of 58. Although a tribute concert was held at the Jazz Hall on July 2 and memorial services were held on July 3, not enough can be said or done to honor his memory.
Mere words are not enough to express our condolences to his family, the asset he was to our community or the loss that will be felt. Nevertheless, we at Urban Tulsa as well as the rest of the community are at a loss and will dearly miss the man who has meant so much to Tulsa as whole as well as its jazz scene.
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