Clarence Penn is one of the busiest jazz drummers in the world, a leader of multiple bands, a composer, a prolific producer, and an educator.
Since 1991, when he arrived in New York City, Penn has placed his unique blend of mega-chops, keen intellect, and heady musicianship at the service of a staggering array of A-list artists—a chronological short-list includes Ellis and Wynton Marsalis, Betty Carter, Stanley Clarke, Steps Ahead, Makoto Ozone, Michael Brecker, Dave Douglas, Maria Schneider, Luciana Souza, Richard Galliano, and Fourplay. Penn’s impressive discography includes several hundred studio albums (including the Grammy Award-winning recordings 34th N Lex by Randy Brecker and Concert in the Garden and Sky Blue by Maria Schneider) representing a 360-spectrum of jazz expression, and he’s toured extensively throughout the United States, the Americas, Europe, Japan, and Southeast Asia. He’s composed music for films and commercials, and produced tracks for numerous singers in the pop and alternative arenas. He earned a “Ten Best of 1997” accolade from the New York Times for his first leader recording, Penn’s Landing.
A graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University, where he was a protégé of Ellis Marsalis, Penn is active as an educator and drum clinician. From 2004 to 2012, he taught on the faculty of the Banff International Workshop in Jazz and Creative Music. He’s also served on faculty at the Stanford Jazz Workshop, the Saint Louis College of Music in Rome, Italy, and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Intensive Jazz Institute.
Penn currently leads several ensembles. His most recent “rhythmically intoxicating” recording is 2014’s Monk: The Lost Files arrangements of the music of Thelonious Monk. Released on the Origin record label, an amazing quartet comprising saxophonist Chad Leftkowitz-Brown, pianist Gerald Clayton/Donald Vega, and bassist Yasushi Nakamura performing the music of Thelonius Monk with today’s modern jazz sensibility. Near completion is a “world music” studio project of songs and instrumentals that melds background voices—including his own—with a world class band.
Whether Penn is leading his own band or performing as a sideman, he brings to the table unfailing versatility and professionalism, an ability to find creative ways to interpret a global array of styles and idioms, and a stated intention “to play music that’s warm and organic for the people and for myself.”
His motto: “When people hear my name, I want them to think, ‘I don’t know what band he’s playing with tonight or what he’ll be doing, but it’s going to be good, it’s going to be musical.’”