Clifford Carter

Clifford Carter's Biography

Music played a starring role in Carter's life from the very beginning. Born and raised in New York, he began taking piano lessons at six and formed his first band at eleven. He initially performed in public as a singer until he got his first electronic keyboard when he was 13. After playing in numerous bands and writing instrumental and vocal music in his high school years, Carter attended the University of Miami's School of Music. During his college years, his talent attracted the attention of the Miami music scene. His full-time professional career began at that time as he worked playing Miami clubs with local and national artists, among them Bobby Vinton, the Coasters and Motown's legendary Four Tops.

An offer to tour with The Four Tops took him on the road for the first time. He spent a year with the Tops and recorded three albums with them. He next joined R&B artist Phyllis Hyman's band and returned to New York City in the mid-1970s. Quickly discovered by the New York session player elite, Carter became an invaluable keyboardist playing on numerous record dates, film/television scores and commercial sessions. Some of the artists whose recordings he played on during that period include Eddie Palmieri, Ray Barretto, Joan Armatrading, Yusef Lateef, Don Cherry, Hank Crawford, and Idris Muhammed. Already a favorite freelance keyboardist of many jazz and pop artists, Carter was hired by Herbie Mann to tour with him, culminating in a performance at the 1977 Montreux Jazz Festival.

With friends Steve Jordan, Hiram Bullock and Will Lee, Carter formed the 24th Street Band in 1978. He was one of the principal songwriters in the band, which made three records, played regularly in New York City clubs and embarked on a successful series of tours in Japan.

After the band broke up, Carter continued working with many different artists throughout the 1980s. Some of the highlights included touring, recording and writing with singer/songwriter Michael Franks and touring with British art-rocker Bryan Ferry.

In 1982, Carter joined drummer Danny Gottlieb, bassist Mark Egan and saxophonist Bill Evans in a new jazz-fusion quartet, Elements. They recorded five critically-acclaimed albums, performed and toured. Carter also worked with Evans (a former Miles Davis sideman) playing on several of Evans' solo recordings, often contributing as producer and writer, including The Alternative Man, Push, Big Fun, and the 2005 Grammy-nominated Soulgrass.

In 1990, Carter began a long association with singer/songwriter James Taylor as a member of his touring and recording band. Carter's long-time friend and colleague Don Grolnick was keyboardist and musical director for the band at the time, and after playing a supportive role to Grolnick as the second keyboardist, Carter became the sole keyboardist when Grolnick tragically passed away in 1996. He remained in the band through 2001, playing acoustic piano and electronic keyboards. He worked on eight Taylor releases, including the 1997 Grammy-award-winning Pop Album of the Year, Hourglass.

Carter recorded Walkin' Into the Sun, his only solo recording to date, which was released in 1993 and described as "one of the most engaging surprises of the year" by Jazziz Magazine and "a showcase for the keyboardist's excellent musicianship" by Jazz Times. The CD, a jazz/pop hybrid, features Carter's vocal and instrumental songs with a top supporting cast of musicians including Steve Rodby, Will Lee, Mark Egan, Bob Sheppard, Luis Conte and producer-guitarist Tim Weston.

Aside from Carter's busy schedule with James Taylor, other highlights of his work throughout the 1990s included recording with singer/songwriter Martin Sexton, touring and recording with Rosanne Cash, and recording with long-time friend and E Street Band member Patti Scialfa.

A favorite of Late Night with David Letterman bandleader Paul Shaffer, he often sits in with the band to accompany the show's guest artists, and he's subbed for Shaffer as well. He has accompanied a variety of artists on television programs ranging from The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, Saturday Night Live, The Oprah Winfrey Show, The Today Show, Regis and Kathy Lee, Late Night with Conan O'Brien, The Ellen DeGeneres Show and The View to Rosie O'Donnell's 1999 Christmas special and VH1's Storytellers and Live By Request. Among these artists are Al Green, Jewel, Christina Aguilera, the Black Crowes, Smokey Robinson, the B-52's, Rufus Wainwright, the Temptations, Little Richard, BB King, Lyle Lovett, Cher, LeAnn Rimes, Vanessa Williams, Michael McDonald and many others.

Carter has played at star-studded music events such as the 1985 reopening of the Apollo Theater ("Motown at the Apollo"), tributes to artists including Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson and Chuck Berry at the Kennedy Center Honors, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Sting's Rainforest Benefit in New York City, and Oprah Winfrey's "A Bridge To Now" celebration honoring 25 legendary African-American women.

His keyboard work has contributed to numerous film scores including You've Got Mail, A Chorus Line, The Object of My Affection, The Muppets Take Manhattan, and the recent remake of Shaft.

Every year since 1993, Carter has been a featured pianist in the performance of "Too Hot To Handel," an innovative gospel/jazz adaptation of Handel's Messiah with several orchestras. He has performed this work with the Colorado Symphony Orchestra conducted by Marin Alsop for the last eight years, and a live recording of the 2004 performance was released in 2005.

Most recently, Carter has toured Europe with Bill Evans, appeared with the Ralph MacDonald Band at the Pan Royal Festival in Trinidad, performed a three-week engagement at the Oak Room at the Algonquin with Broadway star Melissa Errico, recorded with Nashville singer/songwriter Suzy Bogus, recorded and arranged for Kiss drummer Peter Criss, and toured the Czech Republic and Slovac Republic with Czech singer-songwriter Richard Muller.

He also appeared on Patti Scialfa's critically acclaimed 23rd Street Lullaby, released in 2004 and toured with her that same year. In 2005, he made numerous television appearances with Dolly Parton, performed in concert with Betty Buckley and trumpet player Chris Botti, and toured Australia with Bette Midler. He was also the musical director for Decca recording artist Russell Watson's concert at the Nokia Theatre in Times Square in October of 2005.

In 2006 to date, he has recorded with virtuoso violin player Mark O'Connor and also Kate Taylor in a release to benefit Katrina victims.