Rising jazz star Gerald Clayton back in Salt Lake City, this time as headliner

Published March 23, 2014 9:00 pm
Music • Grammy-nominated pianist Gerald Clayton returns to SLC.
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It can take years to establish a place in the music world, but 29-year-old pianist Gerald Clayton has already achieved more than people many years his senior.

With four Grammy nominations, three albums as a leader, and performances and recordings with some of the most prominent musicians (like Roy Hargrove and Diana Krall), Clayton has established himself as one of the premier up-and-coming musicians on the jazz scene today.

He will appear at the Capitol Theatre on Saturday as part of the JazzSLC lineup.

It's not his first time playing in Salt Lake; he was here earlier in the season as part of The Clayton Brothers Quintet with his father, bassist John Clayton, and uncle, saxophonist Jeff Clayton. But it's his first time here as a headliner. He's coming with his trio: Joe Sanders on bass and Pete Van Nostrand on drums.

"We play a lot of original music that is a culmination of all of our influences — not just my own, but the music that I grew up listening to, the music that Joe listened to, and Pete," Clayton said.

When asked to describe Clayton's style, bassist Sanders joked, "Fashion? Urban with a dash of business casual. Music? I wouldn't. Just listen."

"I really avoid using genre distinctions," Clayton said, "because I just don't believe in them and they don't really mean anything to us. With all styles of music, they're using the same 12 notes. Our goal is to express ourselves with honesty and react to one another in the moment. So I guess you could say it's improvised music, but maybe coming out of what people usually call the 'jazz tradition.' "

Sometimes, Clayton said, people have certain expectations of him because his father is such a well-known and well-respected musician. But "everybody has to deal with a certain amount of identity issues in terms of how people perceive you before they actually check you out."

In his case, he said, "I sort of enjoy that challenge in life. You sort of have to surprise people every now and then."

Besides, the benefits of being the child of a jazz great like John Clayton definitely outweigh the drawbacks. For example, Clayton said he enjoyed being exposed to the lifestyle behind the music at a young age.

"There was a lot of love with these grown men, just telling jokes and giving each other hugs. It was a labor of love — not like a job, so that was a really attractive thing for me at a young age."

Clayton now has a community of his own in professional musical circles. Take Sanders, for example. Clayton said they met in high school and played in the band organized by the Grammy Foundation.

"Immediately, we clicked due to our love of Ray Brown's Trio records and most especially, and coincidentally, Benny Green's 'Live @ The Village Vanguard,' " said Sanders, "which we both knew pretty much from beginning to end, including Benny's yells and rants on the record."

Since then, Sanders said, they have played together in so many contexts it's hard to remember them all.

As for Van Nostrand, Clayton said that he is "another great musician who has been on the scene for a long time and has a real connection to the history to the music."

"He has done really thorough research and worked to get inside the subtleties of the music, and you hear all that work just in his ride cymbal feel."

And then, of course, there's always Clayton's dad. "We still play together a lot," he said. If not playing with the Clayton Brothers, he said they also perform duo concerts. And recently, John Clayton released a record on ArtistShare that they recorded a few years back. "It's always nice to see my dad and make music with him." —

Gerald Clayton Trio

Up-and-coming jazz pianist Gerald Clayton and his trio perform as part of the JazzSLC series.

When • Saturday, March 22, 7:30 p.m.

Where • Capitol Theatre, 50 W. 200 South, Salt Lake City

Tickets • $24.50 general public, $10 students (ID required); http://www.arttix.org or 801-355-ARTS (2787)



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