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Vocalist Jay Clayton will appear live at the Vermont Jazz Center in Brattleboro at 8 p.m. Saturday as part of a tour celebrating her 80th birthday.

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BRATTLEBORO — Vocalist Jay Clayton will appear live at the Vermont Jazz Center at 8 p.m. Saturday as part of a tour celebrating her 80th birthday.

She will be accompanied by the Ray Gallon Trio with Ray Gallon on piano, Jay Leonhart on acoustic bass and Billy Drummond on drums. Clayton and Gallon are esteemed instructors who have taught for over a decade at the jazz center’s Summer Jazz Workshop. The jazz center will welcome a 50 percent reduced-capacity audience to their venue (120 people). Proof of vaccination and ID cards will be checked, masking and social distancing will be also be required. For those unable to attend in person, the concert will also be live streamed on the Vermont Jazz Center website and Facebook page.

Clayton is an adventurous singer whose training and repertoire are deeply rooted in jazz standards. Her dozens of recordings as a leader reveal a comfort with the Great American Songbook and an ability to swing like crazy. But when interpreting those standards, Clayton, a creative artist of the highest level, raises the bar. Her playful spirit and love of improvisation continually lead her on a quest to devise unique arrangements that feature her work in bold new settings that are filled with surprises. Clayton enhances her performances with wordless vocals, electronic loopers and the use of free, open forms. She sometimes uses her voice like an instrument as she demonstrates in Wayne Shorter’s “Footprints” (found on her duo album with Fred Hersch), preserving its essence but reimagining its sonic possibilities through the lens of her sound and imagination.

Clayton is quick to mention that horn players were important influences in her development. In an interview with JazzItalia she reminisced: “We listened seriously to jazz, I saw Coltrane at a tiny bar in Cincinnati. The way he connected every note — taking the melody and changing it ever so slightly, amplifying it or simplifying it — this amazed me. And what Miles was doing was singing through the horn— it was the horn players who got inside my soul.”

She moved to New York City after completing her music degree at Miami University in Ohio. In the city, she experienced free jazz as it flourished, listening voraciously to live performances of Coltrane, Ornette Coleman, Monk and Rollins when they were at their creative fulcrum. This exposed Clayton to powerful forces that helped her foster her own voice and sanctioned a new way for her to think about creating music. These experiences served as a bridge that gave Clayton a vehicle to bring together her love for jazz standards with her desire to explore new sounds.

Clayton and her former husband, drummer Frank Clayton, held sessions at their loft on Lispenard Street in lower Manhattan, welcoming kindred-spirit musical seekers like Joanne Brackeen, Sam Rivers, Dave Liebman, Bob Moses, and Cecil McBee to explore the fruits of thinking out-of-the-box. The young Clayton formed deep relationships with these spirited musicians and her reputation flourished; she was soon asked by free jazz pioneers Muhal Richard Abrams and Rashied Ali to join their groups.

Clayton arrived in New York as a young woman with a college degree in classical music; she could read music and understood chords and jazz theory, she also was well-versed in the Great American Songbook world. Once she joined the groups of Muhal Richard Abrams and Rashied Ali, she also became known as a singer willing to stretch the boundaries of cabaret-style singing and embrace the new directions that the music was heading. She is a team player and an eager collaborator. When it came time for Clayton to present her own concepts as a leader, her talents, abilities and musical choices attracted the attention of top-level musicians who enthusiastically joined her visionary projects.

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To this day at the age of 79 years, Clayton continues to explore new territory. One of her most recent releases is a 2020 voice-and-drum duo record (no piano, no guitar, no bass), with the remarkable drummer Jerry Granelli. This album demonstrates Clayton’s delight in embracing risky, musical challenges and reinforces the unexpected pleasures that ensue when chances are endeavored.

Clayton gravitated toward teaching as a way to complement her calling as a performer. She has taught at Cornish College in Washington State for 20 years, and at Princeton University and the Peabody Institute as well. She is on the faculty of numerous workshops in the States and abroad. Clayton’s book, “Sing Your Story: A Practical Guide for Learning and Teaching the Art of Jazz Singing,” was published by Advance Music in 2001.

Joining Jay Clayton in this celebration of her 80th birthday is the Ray Gallon Trio. Pianist Ray Gallon and Jay Clayton have been essential members of the Jazz Center’s summer workshop for over a decade.

Come to the Jazz Center on October 23rd to find out why All Music Guide calls Jay Clayton “…one of the most phenomenal vocalists in creative improvised music.” This concert will be a special, limited experience with many of Clayton’s students in attendance.

The jazz center is grateful for the generous long-term support of vocalist Beth Logan Raffeld and her husband, Philip Khoury. Beth is herself a wonderful singer and a mentee of Sheila Jordan and Jay Clayton. She is a dear friend and a dedicated community member of the Vermont Jazz Center who served on the VJC’s board of directors, providing valuable wisdom that helped structure the Center’s successful development program. Concert publicity is underwritten by The Commons and Brattleboro Reformer. The jazz center is also grateful to the Vermont Arts Council, the Vermont Humanities Council and New England Foundation of the Arts for their support and increased efforts to stabilize the existence of arts organizations, especially during the pandemic.

Admission to the in-person event is offered on a sliding fee scale from $20 to $40 per person and will be capped at 120 attendees. The online streaming of this concert will be offered free of charge but donations are welcomed and just a click away. Please give generously and support live music. Access to the on-line event can be found online at vtjazz.org and at facebook.com/VermontJazzCenter/live.

Tickets for the in-person show are available online on the website and by email at ginger@vtjazz.org. Handicapped access is available by emailing ginger@vtjazz.org.

Eugene Uman is the director of the Vermont Jazz Center in Brattleboro.


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