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Nigel Clark Biography

Europe has been abuzz for the last decade about a stunning guitarist from the misty highlands of Scotland. Delighting audiences around the globe with his fiery yet fluid sound, Nigel Clark has emerged as one of Europe’s top guitarists.  The Scottish native has worked with some of the biggest names in jazz and pop throughout the last 15 years and has toured the world as a leader, sideman and accompanist. Nigel made his US debut on Arkadia Jazz with Grand Hotel Europa, bridging the gap between straight ahead acoustic and contemporary smooth jazz in a way that surprised audiences of both genres. The Spanish nylon string guitar is unusual in mainstream jazz, but the lines Clark plays are more akin to Jim Hall or Django Reinhardt in their conception. Blended with the silky sound of the nylon strings and spiced with tinges of flamenco, Brazilian, Indian and other world music, Clark creates a new hybrid in the jazz melting-pot. The result is a truly contemporary conception that is planted deeply in traditional roots.

Born in Glasgow, Scotland in 1957, Nigel was drawn to the guitar in the early 1970’s. Influenced by the rock music of the day, Nigel’s exposure to the gypsy genius Django Reinhardt made an equally lasting impression. The guitarist continued to absorb both rock and jazz for the rest of the decade, and played in numerous bands that reflected his broad range of interests. His natural talent was honed on many tours through the highlands, the UK, France, Holland, and Germany. In the mid 80’s, Nigel moved to the seaside town of Brighton, England where a bustling bebop community flourished.

Embraced by the jazz musicians he met, Nigel began to make an impact on the local scene. Nigel returned to Glasgow in 1987 to join the jazz/pop band Hue & Cry, and became their arranger and guitarist for the next 4 years. An opening act for arena rock artists U2, Madonna and Simply Red, the band also employed some of the biggest names in jazz on their own recordings including Ron Carter, John Scofield, Tito Puente, Michael and Randy Brecker.

Nigel’s visibility in the pop world led to high profile collaborations with Maire Brennan (the singer with Clannad and older sister of Enya) and Scottish singer-songwriter Carol Laula. Ultimately it lead to the formation of his own acoustic jazz group and album, Worldwide Sound, featuring Brian Kellock, Tim Garland and Mike Bradley, which climbed to #4 on the UK charts.

In the 90’s, Nigel made prodigious leaps in the jazz world, both as a sideman and soloist. He performed with Carla Bley and Steve Swallow at the Glasgow International Jazz Festival, and later become a worldwide representative of that festival. Another lasting musical connection was made with legendary Scottish vocalist Carol Kidd, recording many albums and touring the Far East extensively with her. In 1997, he appeared with Jan Akkerman and Spanish guitarist Ximo Tebar at the North Sea Jazz Festival. Later that same year, in Cannes, Nigel performed with Akkerman and Norwegian Terje Rypdal, and separately with a big band that featured 11 guitarists!  The decade also marked adoption of the nylon string guitar as Clark’s primary instrument, and he would explore the instrument’s unique sound through his ballad accompaniments with Kidd.

The 11 guitar spectacle in Cannes was witnessed by Arkadia Records CEO Bob Karcy, who was immediately struck by Nigel’s deft playing. Over the next several years, the two kept in contact, ultimately leading to an exclusive recording contract with Arkadia Jazz.  The originals on Grand Hotel Europa illustrate the influence of Nigel’s “complete world” sensibility. “East of the Sun,” starts as a ballad, but soon launches into a mix of samba-meets-Spanish bullfighter, the blistering runs reminiscent of Paco De Lucia. Similarly, the haunting “Sakura Samba,” shows the distinctive and passionate amalgamation of gypsy, jazz and latin music in a way that had not been seen or heard previously.

Of course, Nigel’s renditions of the jazz classics such as “Dolphin Dance,” and “How Deep Is The Ocean,” don’t disappoint either, as Nigel literally redefines the standards. The presence of Nigel’s longtime drummer Mike Bradley and bassist Ewen Vernal give Grand Hotel Europa a relaxed, natural feel.

All in all, Nigel’s career has seen the stadium heights of pop stardom and the rewards of intimate jazz venues. He has chosen the latter, preferring the quiet candle flame of the Grand Hotel Europa over the roar of Bic lighters. The reasons are purely artistic, and hearing believing.