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.