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Gerald Clayton

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“A stunning pianist, a gifted composer” — DownBeat

Gerald Clayton searches for honest expression in every note. With harmonic curiosity and critical awareness, he develops musical narratives that unfold as a result of both deliberate searching and chance uncovering. The six-time GRAMMY-nominated pianist and composer and recent Blue Note Artist formally began his musical journey at the prestigious Los Angeles County High School for the Arts (LACHSA), where he received the 2002 Presidential Scholar of the Arts Award. Continuing his scholarly pursuits, he earned a Bachelor of Arts in Piano Performance at USC’s Thornton School of Music under the instruction of piano icon Billy Childs, following a year of intensive study with NEA Jazz Master Kenny Barron at The Manhattan School of Music. Clayton won second place in the 2006 Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz Piano Competition.

“A young star” — Giovanni Russonello, The New York Times

Expansion has become part of Clayton’s artistic identity. His music is a celebration of inherent differences in musical perspectives that promote true artistic synergy. Inclusive sensibilities have allowed him to perform and record with such distinctive artists as Diana Krall, Roy Hargrove, Dianne Reeves, Terence Blanchard, John Scofield, Terri Lyne Carrington, Peter Bernstein, Ambrose Akinmusire, Gretchen Parlato, Ben Wendel, and the Clayton Brothers Quintet. Clayton also has enjoyed an extended association since early 2013, touring and recording with saxophone legend Charles Lloyd.

“Compelling and urgent”WBGO’s Nate Chinen on Happening: Live at the Village Vanguard

Clayton’s discography as a leader reflects his evolution as an artist. His debut recording, Two Shade (ArtistShare), earned a 2010 GRAMMY nomination for Best Improvised Jazz Solo for his arrangement of Cole Porter’s “All of You.” “Battle Circle,” his composition featured on The Clayton Brothers’ recording The New Song and Dance (ArtistShare), received a GRAMMY nomination for Best Jazz Instrumental Composition in 2011. He received 2012 and 2013 GRAMMY nominations for Best Jazz Instrumental Album for Bond: The Paris Sessions (Concord) and Life Forum (Concord), his second and third album releases. In 2021, Clayton earned nominations for Best Improvised Jazz Solo and Best Jazz Instrumental Album for his debut release on Blue Note Records Happening: Live at the Village Vanguard.

“A thoroughly enthralling album” — DownBeat on Happening: Live at the Village Vanguard

Capturing the truth in each moment’s conception of sound comes naturally to Clayton. The son of beloved bass player and composer John Clayton, he enjoyed a familial apprenticeship from an early age. Clayton honors the legacy of his father and all his musical ancestors through a commitment to artistic exploration, innovation, and reinvention. A mentor himself, he engages students at all levels of development. Most recently, Monterey Jazz Festival Artistic Director. Tim Jackson appointed Clayton Director of Next Generation Jazz Orchestra whose full-band rehearsals pivoted to Zoom during the pandemic. The prolific band leader also has served as Musical Director of the Monterey Jazz Festival On Tour, a project that featured his trio along with Ravi Coltrane, Nicholas Payton, Terence Blanchard and Raul Midón on guitar and vocals.

In 2016-17, Clayton turned his imaginative curiosity toward uncovering the essence of the Piedmont Blues experience and expression in early 20th Century Durham. A Duke University commission, Clayton’s evening-length composition explores a mixed media performance engaging some of the most resonating voices in contemporary music. Piedmont Blues has appeared across the United States at Modlin Center for the Arts, Savannah Music Festival, Music Center at Strathmore, Sheen Center and Centrum’s Jazz Port Townsend.

“Clayton’s piano contributions, in their wild, free-spilling, lyrical aspiration, are consistently stunning” — JazzTimes

Clayton expanded his fascination with mixed media in 2019 when he received a commission from Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) to compose a musical pendant for visual artist Charles White’s “5 Great American Negroes”mural. Seeking to bring race and racial tensions to the surface for his audiences, Clayton titled the quintet project White Cities: A Musical Tribute to Charles White. His intention for the piece is one of beauty and engagement as well as introspection and discomfort. Throughout the pandemic, Clayton has continued aligning his work with social inquiry and unrest and the fragmentation of progress. In January 2020, he began work on the critically acclaimed score for Sam Pollard’s award-winning documentary MLK/FBI which garnered international praise for its stark, honest handling of a subject matter that often receives incomplete treatment or outright erasure. The emotional resonance of Clayton’s score imbues the film with subtle, lingering moments of struggle and humanity, and helps capture a complex arc of an enduring subject.

“Clayton approaches…with pensive grace as he slowly unravels thick, striking chords” — DownBeat

Clayton looks forward to continuing to populate an international tour schedule for his latest projects, as well as pursuing new musical and interdisciplinary concepts and collaborations. To keep up with Clayton’s tour schedule, visit his frequently updated calendar and follow his social channels.

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