Dualities play a prominent role in Gerald Clayton’s musical profile these days.
They’re present in the title of his debut disc, the Grammy-nominated “Two-Shade,” a term the album notes define as “a single color created when two colors are fused.” His current bio includes its own dose of the dual: “Tradition and innovation can peacefully coexist.”
More than that: thrive. That’s certainly the impression left by “Two-Shade’s” 12 tracks, which find the young pianist and the rhythm section of Joe Sanders (bass) and Justin Brown (drums) working their way through bracing Clayton originals and two standards, Dizzy Gillespie’s “Con Alma” and Cole Porter’s “All of You.” This is muscular, soulful jazz, firmly rooted in tradition but delivered with a fresh sheen and energy.
That the results are highly accomplished is a testament to the band’s talent and, at least in part, its leader’s background. Yes, Clayton is one of those Claytons – bassist-composer dad John and saxophonist uncle Jeff are among jazz’s most esteemed performers.
Genetics, then, is surely on his side. Of course, it takes more than choice DNA to make a formidable musician and in the interview below Clayton discusses why he decided to get into the “family business.”
The other thing to keep in mind about “Two-Shade” is that is was produced through ArtistShare, a web site where fans can donate money to finance their favorite artists’ recording career. The Vail Jazz Foundation is listed as the disc’s executive producer; a dozen names are down as bronze participants.
You can catch the trio on a rare visit to Northern California when they perform Monday at Kuumbwa Jazz Center in Santa Cruz and Tuesday at Stanford Jazz Festival. Check out the clip below of the band in action.
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.
Question: I interviewed Justin and Joe a few years back while they were at the Brubeck Institute and got to see them play on a couple of occasions. How did the three of you come together and what do you feel they bring to table, particularly when it comes to shaping your compositions?
Clayton: We met in high school. We were all chosen to be a part of the high school Grammy band. Even back then, those guys were monsters. I knew then that we’d definitely be playing together in the future. Our paths continued to cross through college and a few years ago we all moved to New York at the same time.
These guys are not just great players but also close friends, so the chemistry on and off the bandstand is very special. Both Joe and Justin have huge ears from having listened to a plethora of styles. You can throw just about any idea in front of them and they’ll turn it into gold. Often times, I’ll bring in an idea for a tune that may not be finished. We’ll play around with it and, after Joe and Justin put their vibe on it, the tune begins to take shape. So they make my job easy.
Question: “Two-Shade” is an ArtistShare project. How did you get involved with ArtistShare? In your opinion, is this method of funding recordings efficient?
Clayton: I had been hearing a lot about ArtistShare because so many of the musicians that I admire were starting to work with them. I think it’s a great new model for recording musicians. The first thing I value about ArtistShare is that they give their musicians complete artistic freedom. I can focus on making honest music without having anyone tell me what I should or shouldn’t play.
I also love how ArtistShare allows artists to be in touch with the people who are supporting them. We live in an age where social networking is so prominent in our culture. With sites like YouTube, Facebook and MySpace, it’s possible for anyone to sing a song to the world. It’s exciting to see a company that combines the traditional record label concept with newer social trends.
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