Surveying the month of August from the perspective of its fourth day, I believe I can say without fear of contradiction that the next four weeks offer Northern California jazz fans an abundance of riches.
The Stanford Jazz Festival wraps up this week with such towering talents as Kenny Barron and Chick Corea; Tony Bennett and David Benoit are set to perform at Sonoma State; and Yoshi’s welcomes a number of marquee players including John Pizzarelli, Keiko Matsui, Bobby Hutcherson and Roy Hargrove. And then there’s San Jose Jazz’s SummerFest with its lineup featuring Marc Cary, Donald Harrison, David Sanborn and so many others.
That said, I tell you the gig to catch this month takes place August 17 at the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society, when the Clayton Brothers Quintet will be in the (Douglas Beach) House.
In addition to the unique ambiance and seaside wonders that have made the Half Moon Bay series a regional favorite for half a century, the afternoon will feature two generations of premier jazz talent in Jeff Clayton (saxophone), John Clayton (bass), Gerald Clayton (piano), Terell Stafford (trumpet) and Obed Calvaire (drums). How can it fail to provide an invigorating exploration of jazz, this lineup that blends family members and friends, wily veterans with younger talents?
Jeff and John Clayton have decades of experience and certainly need no introduction here. I interviewed Jeff Clayton a few years ago and it became immediately evident that his passion for the music has not dimmed an iota.
"In the beginning, jazz was everything," Clayton told me. "Jazz is so wonderful and so complex.”
Like virtually every jazz player of note, Clayton takes an active role in promoting jazz education, particularly through his involvement with University of California, Los Angeles, and the University of Southern California. For all that, however, he notes there's no teacher like experience.
"We always tell (students), 'Please don't learn jazz in school and then go back to school,'" Clayton said. "'Go out and become a jazz musician.' No one can tell a person what it's like to be a jazz musician unless you were a jazz musician."
Born in the Southern California beach town of Venice, Clayton's initial music education came through the local Baptist church, where his mother was pianist and choir director. He began playing reed instruments, including clarinet and oboe, before turning to saxophone.
Clayton's career got under way after he dropped out of college to go on the road with Stevie Wonder. He would later tour with the likes of Michael Jackson, Gladys Knight, Kenny Rogers and Frank Sinatra before gravitating back to jazz. Among Clayton’s credits are stints with the Count Basie Orchestra under Thad Jones, Woody Herman, Lionel Hampton, Diana Krall and Ella Fitzgerald.
The Clayton brothers began working together in 1978 and their discography includes “Music” (1991), “Expressions” (1997), “Siblingity” (2000), “Back in the Swing of Things” (2005) and the Grammy-nominated “Brother to Brother” (2009). So what keeps Hamilton playing with his "original childhood group," his brother?
"The fact that we never talk to each other," Clayton said, only half joking. "I don't want him calling my house.
"I have no idea," he added. "Do we get along? We get along; we're OK."
Just turned 30, Gerald Clayton – John is his dad, and Jeff his uncle – is among my favorite young jazz pianists. His three albums as leader – “Two-Shade” (2009), “Bond: The Paris Sessions” (2011) and “Life Forum” (2013) – are required listening. I once asked him about the impact of growing up surrounded by all that jazz.
Question: It's been my experience that people who grow up amid musicians either become players themselves or go in an entirely different direction, i.e. "Dad's a famous guitar player so I'll become an electrician." As you look back, what led you to embrace a music career as opposed to trying something else?
Clayton: Well, I think a lot of kids look up to their parents, so some of it was just me trying to be like my dad. Growing up in a musical family, I was privileged to be exposed to the love behind the music. I remember going to rehearsals and sound checks with my dad and seeing grown men giving each other hugs, laughing and telling jokes. It was just a warm environment. I think that attracted me to the lifestyle of a musician. Ultimately, though, I think the music pulls us in. I always enjoyed playing along with the radio and CDs at home.
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