[JPL] Re: Jazz fest closes with Clayton's nod to jazz heroes of Detroit

Arturo Gomez arturo at kuvo.org
Wed Sep 9 14:13:25 EDT 2009

The Clayton Brothers were at the annual Vail Festival and Jazz Camp they conduct for 10 days every year that concludes with the 4-day music spectacular.  This was a special year as it was the 15th edition and it returned to their original location which they left about 10 years ago. John is not only a tireless enthusiastic performer with amazing skills, but he is also a fan sitting in the audience throughout performances he was not part of.

KUVO had an important role this year as we will commence broadcasting in Vail Valley/Eagle County in less than 90 days and the anticipation is gaining momentum.  Sunday night at 2am MTN time, Jeff,  John and drummer Obed Clavaire-Brian Lynch's timekeeper were sitting in the hotel lobby awaiting their transportation to Denver Int'l Airport(about a 2 hr drive) to catch a 6:30am flight to Detroit to play the gig reviewed here, they must've been extremely exhausted when they took the stage that night

Thanks for sharing this Doc


Jazz fest closes with Clayton's nod to jazz heroes of Detroit




The Detroit International Jazz Festival has not previously been in the

business of commissioning composers to create new works, but it invested

heavily in the idea this year in honor of its 30th anniversary.

The festival, which came to a close downtown on Monday night, brought

two significant large ensemble works to life. Gerald Wilson's "Detroit,"

a six-movement suite for big band, was heard on Sunday. (The piece has

already been recorded for Mack Avenue Records and is scheduled for a

Sept. 29 release.)

But the most eagerly anticipated work was "T.H.E. Family, Detroit,"

composed by 2009 artist-in-residence John Clayton and given its world

premiere Monday in the featured closing slot at Hart Plaza. The

three-movement suite pays homage to Thad, Hank and Elvin Jones, the

iconic brothers from Pontiac who became legends of jazz. The commission,

which played into this year's celebration of family, was underwritten by

a $50,000 grant from the Joyce Foundation of Chicago that also supported

related residency and education activities.

It's hard to overstate the importance of such an ambitious commission to

the artistic growth of the festival. It sharpens the aesthetic profile,

putting the festival into the mode of curating the art form rather than

simply booking acts. Of course, there is no guarantee that the results

will pay off with a great piece; you pays your money, and you takes your

chances. But there's no need to worry about Clayton's piece. He has

delivered one of his strongest works - a major, 30-minute suite, forged

from the soil of Detroit, by a composer feasting on the marrow of the

city's jazz legacy.

The piece is cast as a concerto grosso with a small ensemble of soloists

(Clayton Brothers Quintet) paired with a large ensemble (the 18-piece

Scott Gwinnell Jazz Orchestra from Detroit). Each movement is a

character portrait of a Jones brother - Thad (1923-86), a trumpeter who

became a major influence as a big band composer, arranger and leader;

Hank, the sole surviving brother at 91, an elegant pianist who performed

at the festival on Friday; and Elvin (1927-2004), one of the great

drummers in jazz history, whose animalistic intensity and rhythmic

innovations have entered the music's DNA. The piece also opens with a

splashy fanfare in honor of the Guardian Building, an art deco downtown

landmark that symbolizes the city's golden age.

What was most striking about Monday's premiere was hearing how

effectively Clayton has managed to distill the personality of the Jones

brothers without sacrificing his own voice. Hearing the piece was like

holding up a mirror and always seeing a reflection of Clayton and

whichever brother he was channeling at the moment. The bravura boogaloo

strut and dense harmony of the brassy fanfare immediately conjured up

Thad. So did the pixieish saxophone section with soprano lead that

scampered through the "T" movement.

Actually, Thad, a longtime influence on Clayton, was a constant

presence, even in the movements dedicated to other brothers. In "H," the

hymn-like cadences and stately melody carried by Jeff Clayton's debonair

alto saxophone perfectly suited Hank's refined élan and spirituality.

Yet the pastel colors created by four clarinets, bass clarinet and the

brass section in bucket mutes was a vintage bit of Thad's orchestration.

The finale, "E," was built on broken 12/8 rhythms and swirling triplets,

aggressive percussion and portentous modality - all ideas associated

with Elvin. Yet the imaginative way Clayton meshed the big band and

quintet, mixing and matching foreground and background and orchestrating

key moments with piquant details, kept his personality front and center.

While there was a logical arc and flow to the work, and the three

movements created a gestalt, they weren't linked by formal symphonic

development. Still, Clayton cleverly pitted the two ensembles in a game

of cat-and-mouse. They began as self-contained units, handing large

sections off to each like a relay baton. Then they began to court each

other, slowly working toward the integration of the third movement.

The players in both ensembles performed with focused expression, and

while a few transitions and other passages were not as polished as they

could have been, the music spoke clearly. The Clayton Brothers Quintet

was a huge asset. The band - with John on bass, his brother Jeff on

alto, Terrell Stafford on trumpet, John's son Gerald Clayton on piano

and Obed Calvaire on drums - snapped with pulsating swing and intensity.

Stafford's trumpet solos, full of fiercely articulated lines and a huge

sound that pierced the night sky, were highlights.

Jeff Clayton's sumptuous ballad playing and passionate, Johnny

Hodges-like vibrato came to the fore in "H," which opened with Gerald

Clayton's lovely a cappella turn through the song. Calvaire, an

exceptionally gifted young drummer was a dynamic presence whether

powering the quintet or engaging in a theatrical drum duet with Scott

Kretzer at the close of "E." John Clayton's bass was a solid anchor, and

he conducted both the opening and closing sections. Gwinnell conducted

the rest of the piece and the inspired orchestra did itself proud. So

did Clayton, who wrote a terrific piece, and so did festival executive

director Terri Pontremoli, who had the foresight to commission the work

in the first place.

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