He's William, he's Bill, it's "Clark" with or without an "e" at the end, he's even William E. Clark in the most detailed of liner notes. These many spelling variations are still far outnumbered by the possibilities in approaches to jazz drumming, which is what this William Clark dedicated his life to. He worked so consistently between the '40s and '60s, and with such itemized finesse in contrasting settings, that skeptical discographers as well as casual listeners could be forgiven for assuming there would have to be more than one jazz drummer named William Clark. If a net was cast to include any and all local or minor league players, such would certainly be the case. But if the prize fish is the William Clark credited on records by leaders such as trumpeters Freddie Hubbard and Dizzy Gillespie, in piano trios fronted by such contrasting players as Mary Lou Williams and George Shearing, accompanying big bands and organ trios alike, then these are all the same guy, a product of the same Arkansas music scene from which also sprang forth much heavy duty blues and rock & roll.
Some critics have suggested that this drummer had a particular affinity for female bosses, especially in the early years of his career. By the time he was 20-years-old, Clark had established excellent credits with Williams, as well the marvelous organist Hazel Scott and the superb vocalist Lena Horne, but he'd also laid down the freewheeling tempos required by tenor saxophonist Lester Young. This was the background where he learned the dynamics necessary to sustain force behind two of the loudest trumpeters in the history of this genre, both previously mentioned, as well as the gently tinkling Shearing. In the late '50s a modernist edge developed in the drummer's approach, perhaps inspiring maximum use of the "Clarke" spelling as well as the middle initial. Again he was a regular part of Williams' trio; he also joined forces with European piano experimenter Rolf Kuhn. Working with bandleaders such as Eddie Harris and Les McCann in the '60s and '70s, Clark began bringing various percussion instruments, including the party wrecking bongos, to recording sessions. A high point in his later credits is McCann's dreamy opus titled Invitation to Openness.