RIP: Jey Clark

I started out writing a post about Nels Cline’s new tribute to the music of Andrew Hill, but stumbled on some sad news along the way. Sax player and local Berkeley saxophone/reed store owner Jey Clark died back in August of last year. Jey introduced me to Nels Cline’s music when I was in college.

I lived in Santa Cruz in the late 80′s/early 90′s, where Jey owned a saxophone/reed instrument store called 4 Winds. Having been inspired by Eric Dolphy and Ben Goldberg, I took clarinet lessons for a short time, and bought my clarinet from Jey’s store. From hanging out at 4 Winds before and after my lessons, I became friends with Jey, and introduced him to a circle of young, fired-up musicians who were beginning to explore free jazz. Jey played with our group euDecide on a few occassions. One of the best tapes I have from that era features Jey on sax.

When Anthony Braxton was playing at the Kuumbwa Jazz Center, he brought his horns in to Jey’s shop for a tune-up the afternoon before the show. Braxton’s clarinet had some keys held on with rubber bands! Jey and his repairman at the time, Norm, spent the whole afternoon getting Braxton’s horns in shape because of their love of Braxton’s music. Braxton also fell in love with a rare and beautiful C-melody sax that Jey had in his shop — Jey let him play it that night at the show, and Braxton spent the first 15 minutes of his set really giving that horn a workout!

I moved away from Santa Cruz in 1993. Around that time Jey had moved 4 Winds over to San Jose, because the Santa Cruz school system wasn’t supporting a music program, which led to less business for his shop. After a short time in San Jose, Jey sold his store to Starving Musician and left California to travel and teach Tibetan Buddhism. He practiced in the Dzogchen tradition, and was one of only 3 certified teachers in the U.S. of Yantra Yoga.

I lost track of Jey between about 1995 and 2004, when I saw a new saxophone store in Berkeley that turned out to be owned by Jey and his friend Erik.

After 9 years of not seeing him, Jey was as friendly as ever, inviting me to a BBQ at his house the following weekend, which I wasn’t able to attend. I’ve walked by Saxology a few times over the last two years – a lot of times Erik would be in the shop working late. I wanted to be respectful of their business and not bother Erik & Jey, but now I wish I would’ve bothered them more. Jey was always a person who radiated warmth and good vibes in an understated but infectious way. You don’t meet too many people like that in the world — it’s good to appreciate and learn from the people who are able to have this type of energy. I’ll miss you Jey. Rest in peace.

5 thoughts on “RIP: Jey Clark”

  1. Hey Joe,

    I have some recollections about Jey and the Santa Cruz 80′s scene that intersect at various points with yours.

    Some friends and I, when we weren’t squeezing oranges for a living, had a band in Santa Cruz 1982-88 variously called The Stance or Circumstances. Jey played with me at least once (i have a tape) and kept my friend Greg supplied with horns and reed accoutrements. I remember a giant double-belled euphonium he had in his garage — a real beast.

    Sometime in the late 80′s Jey played a gig with Bill Horvitz’ band in Berkeley. It was a fine night of original, visionary free jazz/fusion. Or was it Jey’s band?

    My pals and I were at that Kuumbwa gig where Braxton played. What a night! Walking on air — the band and the audience. Did you know both sets were released on a Hat Art CD? Out of print now, I guess… Anyway, it was not a C-melody but an even rarer F saxophone he borrowed from Jey!

    I saw Jey a few times at his Berkeley store when I lived there from 1988-1996… he was always so nice and as you say, warm and enthusiastic in a very understated and really disarming way. May he rest in peace.

  2. Hi Djll! You weren’t squeezing oranges with any of the Odwalla people were you? I remember Jey telling me those guys were into free jazz.

    In the early 90′s, Jey and I drove up to Oakland to jam with Bill Horvitz at drummer Joe Sabella’s warehouse. I’d seen Bill play before, and as a young whippersnapper I was nervous – but had a good time. I was doing a lot of arco playing on the upright bass with a Morley wah wah pedal and I think it freaked them out though.

    I have the Hat Art double CD set from the Braxton show if you want to borrow it sometime. Thanks for setting me straight on the F sax, and for sharing your memories of Jey.

  3. Yep, Odwalla was the name of that organization. My stints: 1980-84, 1993-99, 2002-04.

    Joe’s in New Mexico now, teaching kids math or something. And Bill’s got some big band gigs coming up soon. I might go to one of those…

  4. hi joe,
    it’s not altogether unlikely that we ever met before, though i have not lived in Santa Cruz, or N.Cal and the bay area for a long time.
    i knew jey from the mid-seventies when i first met him at an impromptu jam at what was the good fruit juice company at mission & pacific. he, a bassist and i lived together in a beachside aptos bungalow and we were very good friends (that’s the significance i give it) for many years after. we played together some (i am primarily a guitarist) and did a lot of other things together and with other compatriots including studying the dharma, taken in every jazz related, esp. free improv, performance we could get to in and around the bay, hanging out at a couple of rainbow gatherings (forgive me for mentioning them my brother!) and much more.

    jey helped me out on two occasions when i needed to lay my head somewhere (musical roadentistic days i used to belong to) and was pretty damn straight with me – something hard to find in any era

    i want to play his music on an upcoming program her in west florida and have no clue as to where to look. i’d also like to get more info on his latter years.
    … hope we can “talk”
    peace and the best in all you do

  5. I knew Jey the last few years of his life.He was my”Root Guru”in the dharma.
    Imet him at a Yantr
    Yoga class he was teaching in the Oakland hills studio of a sand tray therapist.He was just begnning to gather his own students and I was just realizing how much Iwas connected to dharma.Iused to go sit on the couch at Saxology His Berkeley store.One time Iwas alldown etc and he just picked one of the
    Horns off the wall and blew a solo that left us both blown away He grinned at me after we had caught our breath and said:
    “I could’ve been a contender….”
    No lie!
    He taught the dharma straight from the Tibetan translating free stye into a hip
    Jargon that captured the meaning more compleatly than the traditional translator could.
    I would love to hear tapes…

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