The brothers are heading for Johannesburg this month for the Standard Bank Joy of Jazz. It will be their first trip to South Africa and they hope to conduct workshops with local musicians while here.
The Clayton Brothers is the brainchild of saxophonist Jeff Clayton, who performs with his brother, Grammy Award-winning bassist John, John’s son Gerald on the piano, trumpeter Terrell Stafford and drummer Obed Calvaire.
They are one of the big attractions at this year’s annual Standard Bank Joy of Jazz at the Sandton Convention Centre, from September 28 to 30, and claim to be one of music’s longest surviving groups, having formed in 1977.
“We are delighted to be coming to South Africa to perform. It will be our first trip there and it has always been a dream of mine. As people have not heard much of our material, we will be performing music from our older repertoire as well as new material,” John Clayton said in an interview from Los Angeles.
John has a vision and it’s to guide young musicians in workshops he intends setting up while in Johannesburg. He wants to use his knowledge and experience to teach them their craft. “I want to inspire them and let them be creative within the jazz context. Ray Brown, who was my mentor and inspiration, once said to me that he was helping me because somebody had helped him and wanted me to help somebody further down the line.”
John is a world-class bassist, as well as a composer, arranger and conductor. He worked for the Los Angeles Philharmonic as the artistic director of jazz and has been nominated for multiple Grammy awards. He won one for instrumental arrangement accompanying vocalist(s) on Queen Latifah’s I’m Gonna Live Till I Die in 2008.
Over the years he has written and/or arranged music for such jazz luminaries as Milt Jackson, Nancy Wilson, Ray Brown, Regina Carter, McCoy Tyner, Carmen McRae, Quincy Jones and Diana Krall. The list is endless and also includes Gladys Knight, Natalie Cole and the late Whitney Houston.
But what we are talking about now is their impending visit. John believes the material they will perform at Joy of Jazz will serve as a perfect example of The Clayton Brothers’ work.
“Our plan is that when people leave a concert, they feel they got to know what we are all about musically.”
Discussing the first album, It’s All in the Family, John said it started as a quartet, but he wanted to add another musician. “I heard Terell Stafford play trumpet and I thought his sound would go beautifully with us. So I got his number and we met, and it was like we were made for each other. That has been a wonderful association.”
When Jeff decided to pursue music with his own trio, John searched for new musicians. One was his pianist son Gerald Clayton, also a Grammy nominee, who was finishing university. “I asked him to join The Clayton Brothers. I did not want to pressure him to join, but he said one of his dreams was to make his dad very happy and join the band.”
Jeff, together with Jeff Hamilton, formed the Clayton Hamilton Jazz Orchestra, and this year John was commissioned to write a piece for a jazz festival.
“There will be the large ensemble for the jazz and a smaller trio. So we will have both bands coming together to perform and I am working very hard on that, which will be premiered towards the end of the month. It will be a 40-minute piece. I’ve been writing like a mad man.”
Asked how he relaxed, John said he found music very relaxing. “I’m so happy doing what I do musically that I don’t think I need a big vacation. My wife and I like to do things together. I also like to fish, as does Jeff, and I like to hike.
“I also like to study music by looking into the work of other composers. I like to cook. I do all those things alongside my music. I usually take three weeks off every year and practise my music.”
He admits he is inspired by people. “It might sound corny, but that’s it. People give energy and their energy sparks my creativity, emotion and empathy. All those things really touch me. I also enjoy moments of solitude - that’s why I like hiking.”
John heard music for the first time at home when he was a child. His mother played the piano and the organ and conducted the church choir. “At 13 I could choose an instrument to play at school and I said I wanted that big thing over there. It turned out to be a tuba. But as I was walking out the room, I saw four gorgeous brown things in the corner. It was a bass. I didn’t even know what it sounded like. Somebody once said you don’t choose the instrument, the instrument chooses you.”
When John was 16 the new band director at high school said he need private lessons. He then went on to describe how he saved up $65 for private lessons and how, through Oscar Peterson, he met his hero Ray Brown, who helped change his life. “He let me follow him around after the course and I discovered the music within me.”
The event will be hosted on four stages and there will be over 30 performances.
Audiences can buy a two-day festival pass for Friday and Saturday. Tickets are on sale at Computicket at R795 for a day pass and R1350 for a two-day pass.
Webpage: www.joyofjazz.co.za and www.standardbank.com/sponsorships