Clayton Brothers: The jazz brotherly love

Kyle Simpson

Tonight at 8:00 p.m. in the Memorial Chapel, the musical stylings of John and Jeff Clayton will be featured as part of Lawrence University’s jazz series. John, the bassist, and Jeff, the alto saxophonist/flutist, will be Lawrence’s last big jazz event this academic year. They will be coming with drummer Jeff Hamilton, Bill Cuniffe on piano, and Terrell Stafford on trumpet.

This group makes for a really dynamic show with strong ties to the more traditional jazz concept. That does not mean, however, that it is going to be the same old boring jazz.

The two brothers have been nurtured through many years of shared experience and their musical communication can be stunning. They have been working professionally together since the founding of the Clayton-Hamilton big band in 1985.

This big band has always had a great reputation for their stunning performances in the big band idiom. With the release of their quartet album in 1997 entitled Expressions, the Clayton brothers developed a new concept of sound for their group. After that album they were asked to do more small group work, which lead to the forming of this quintet.

John and Jeff Clayton grew up in Venice, Cal., and their childhood was filled with music.

Jeff remembers his past: “My uncle had a jazz collection and he would sit us down and play stuff for us. Some of it was a bit too far out for us, initially, like John Coltrane, but I immediately liked Les McCann’s ‘Compared To What.’ That was right out of our upbringing in the church. But the thing that really caught my ear was Cannonball Adderley.”

John, who is two years older, also recalls his beginnings: “In junior high school I took music as my elective in the arts. I walked into the band room and asked the director if I could play the ‘big thing over there’ and he said ‘Oh sure.’ He wrote down my name and put ‘tuba’ after it.

“As I was walking out of the room I saw these four gorgeous brown objects standing in the corner and I asked if I could play ‘one of those’ instead. He said ‘Sure.’ He crossed out ‘tuba’ and put in ‘bass.'”

When discussing his brother’s musicianship, John Clayton comments, “Jeff has such great command of all of the horns he plays. I particularly love Jeff’s ballad playing. Although I can hear the influences of Cannonball Adderley and Johnny Hodges buried in my brother’s solos, he always sounds like Jeff Clayton.”

Jeff counters, “John’s timing and his choice of notes makes it great to play at all times.” With the musical dedication of both brothers coupled with an all-star cast of incredible sidemen, Friday night’s concert is sure to be exciting.

Quotes used from The All Music Guide by Scott Yanow.