John Clayton journeyed to Atlanta in early February and found what few Southerners and even fewer visitors expect to see even in the dead of winter: an inches-deep layer of snow. The bassist was scheduled to perform with pianist Gary Motley, Emory University’s director of jazz studies, and drummer Herlin Riley as the headliner of Emory’s 2010 Jazz Festival, but icy conditions on the roads forced school officials to cancel the show. Tonight, Clayton returns to Emory under what look to be much clearer conditions for a free show at the Schwartz Center for Performing Arts at 8 p.m.
Motley — along with trumpeter Jason Covey, saxophonist Randy Hunter and drummer Justin Chesarek, all very active local musicians — will join him onstage. Clayton was able to coach a few students and rehearse with Motley during his last visit, but for Atlantans who felt cheated out of a concert because of Mother Nature the first time around, the encore appearance should be a nice pre-Thanksgiving treat.
“This is considered a makeup performance, but Gary and I consider it ‘part two,’ as we played up a storm (oops!) while I was there,” Clayton wrote in an email from Japan, where he’s just wrapped up a nine-day tour with the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra, which he leads with drummer Jeff Hamilton. He’s also been hard at work promoting a new Clayton Brothers release, “The New Song and Dance,” which features his brother Jeff on alto saxophone and his son Gerald on piano. The perennially busy bassist, in the middle of planning another tour, is about to complete production on a new release by vocalist Sachal Vasandani and is in the process of recording an album with the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra and Traincha Oosterhuis, a Dutch singer.
Performing all over the world doesn’t always mean taking his own group with him, and through the years, Clayton has learned to adapt to each new musical situation he faces. Before February, the bassist hadn’t played with Motley, and the addition of three local musicians adds a few more variables to the mix for tonight’s concert. But each artist is used to playing in unfamiliar surroundings, so Clayton anticipates that the concert will feel like a meeting of old friends.
“I don’t consider playing with new musicians … a challenge. At least, not challenge in any negative sense,” he wrote. “We’re all there to express ourselves together through music and be a part of the joy that it represents.”
Atlanta jazz fans impressed Clayton during his brief winter visit. He met enthusiastic audiences that seemed to really care about the music and knew how to appropriately support the art form. While some local performers might argue with Clayton’s positive assessment of Atlanta audiences, nationally known acts do tend to fill the seats here. Whether they’re truly involved or simply present to support a big name in jazz, Clayton is looking forward to an engaged audience and a pleasing night of music. “Atlanta audiences are open, excited about the music and welcoming,” he wrote. “They have an ‘understanding’ of this music in ways that other corners of the world may not. My only problem with Atlanta is that I’m not there often enough!!”