A Jazz Great I Met: Clifford Jarvis

Posted: February 7, 2015 in Institutions
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Clifford Jarvis, Dance for Life State of Emergency

It was an autumn evening in 1996 when I visited up and coming French jazz bassist Collard Romain at his flat in Camberwell, London. Collard shared the flat with an up and coming pianist, Javier. Theirs was a flat of jazz music. I had met Collard and saxophonist Christian Brewer a few months earlier at one of the evening jazz duo sessions at Café Boheme in Soho and we became friends.

As I knocked on Collard’s door a black guy in jeans trousers and jeans shirt opened the door and asked me who I was looking for in an American accent. A quick and apt description of the guy was that he looked like the father or older brother of rap artist Snoop Doggy Dogg. On entering the flat Collard warmly welcomed me as usual and then enthusiastically introduced Clifford Jarvis to me. I was amazed.

“Is this the Clifford Jarvis who was drummer for Freddie Hubbard and Big John Patton?” thinking aloud. In a very resigned voice he quipped, “That’s me. You even know my music”. When Clifford saw the smile on my face he asked me, “which stuff of my music do you like?” “Cry, Me Not” was my reply to which he sharply said “That was Philly Jo Jones [on drums]”. Then I quickly went on to mention the tracks Open Sesame, Outer Forces, Hub-Tones and I Want to Go Home. He simply nodded his acknowledgement. I had recovered well. Clifford sitting on the sofa abruptly lied down and turned his back to Collard and I.

Clifford had looked more like a rebel activist to me than a musician and there was this reluctance to interact about him. We did not shake hands. I did not stay for long and Clifford was still sleeping when I left. At the time of my visit Clifford was facing some financial difficulties and was crashing out on Collard’s sofa. When I insisted Clifford Jarvis was a great musician, Collard said Clifford would very frequently say “I missed it all” meaning he missed his chance to be wealthy and remain a big star.

From my later research he might have been talking about his many years with Sun Ra who treated his musicians ruthlessly and who were never commercial successes. For example, the saxophonist John Gilmour would have definitely been a jazz superstar had he not stayed loyal to Sun Ra. When I met him Clifford was teaching some drumming lessons in London and playing drums in mostly minor jazz combos. A few years later I heard he had died on the radio.

Clifford Jarvis (1941 – 1999) an American, was a true genius when he held the sticks and his playing endures. A graduate of the prestigious Berklee College of Music, he played with many jazz greats such as Freddie Hubbard, John Patton, Yusef Lateef, Chet Baker, Grant Green, Pharaoh Saunders and Sun Ra.

Grimot Nane

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