Clarence Penn can make a drum set walk and talk, dance and sing. Just check his playing in the video below.
Penn’s hands seem to float around the kit like a pair of ballet dancers. It’s an impressive feat of gymnastics, but you may not notice it at first because he makes it look so easy. Penn also coaxes a kaleidoscope of chirps and chatter from his snare drum, giving the normally one-note instrument a sense of human breath. And while Penn’s drumming is always rooted in a rock-solid swing, he always peppers the groove with unexpected slips and hiccups—joyful surprises for listeners and bandmates alike (just look at bassist Yasushi Nakamura’s expression at about the 1:40 mark).
Penn also drums like a composer, using a huge range of percussive colors (including a Brazilian tamborim and trashy special effects cymbals) to shape a piece from one section to the next. This approach is a big reason why Penn has been the drummer of choice for leading jazz composers like Dave Douglas and Maria Schneider.
This past year, Penn released a new solo album with his group Penn Station featuring contemporary reimaginings of Thelonious Monk tunes. Writing in the New York Times, Nate Chinen noted how Penn and company retrofitted the Monk material “…with new flourishes: stutter-step accents, gospel harmonies, hip-hop swagger.” Check out their lush, R&B take on Monk’s classic ballad “‘Round Midnight” below.
The Jazz Gallery is proud to present Clarence Penn and Penn Station this Friday and Saturday, April 3rd and 4th. Whether playing jazz standards or new originals, the music is sure to swing and surprise.
Clarence Penn and Penn Station play The Jazz Gallery on Friday, April 3rd and Saturday, April 4th, 2015. The group features Mr. Penn on drums, Yasushi Nakamura on bass, Chad Leftkowitz-Brown on saxophone, Shai Maestro on piano, Mike Rodriguez on trumpet, and special guest vocalist Chelsea Jackson. Sets are at 8 and 10 p.m. each night. $22 general admission ($12 for members). Purchase tickets here.