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Gerald Clayton

About this Artist

Gerald Clayton searches for honest expression in every note he plays. With harmonic curiosity and critical awareness, he develops musical narratives that unfold as a result of both deliberate searching and chance uncovering. The four-time Grammy-nominated pianist/composer formally began his musical journey at the prestigious Los Angeles County High School for the Arts, 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, after 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. 

Expansion has become part of Clayton’s artistic identity. His music is a celebration of the 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, Ambrose Akinmusire, Dayna Stephens, Kendrick Scott, John Scofield, Ben Williams, Terell Stafford, Dick Oatts, Michael Rodriguez, Terri Lyne Carrington, Avishai Cohen, Peter Bernstein, and the Clayton Brothers Quintet. Since early 2013, Clayton also has enjoyed an extended association, touring and recording with saxophone legend Charles Lloyd.  

2016 marked his second year as Musical Director of the Monterey Jazz Festival on Tour, a project that has featured his trio along with Ravi Coltrane, Nicholas Payton, Terence Blanchard, and Raul Midón on guitar and vocals. 

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. In 2012 and 2013, he received Grammy nominations for Best Jazz Instrumental Album for Bond: The Paris Sessions and Life Forum, his second and third album releases (both for Concord). 

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.  

In 2016/17, Clayton turned his imaginative curiosity toward uncovering the essence of the Piedmont Blues experience and expression in early twentieth century Durham. Given a U.S. premiere in December 2016 and its European premiere in October 2017, Piedmont Blues: A Search for Salvation is Clayton’s evening-length composition that explores the essence and impact of the Piedmont Blues. The mixed-media project directed by Christopher McElroen features a nine-piece band led by Clayton and includes vocalist René Marie and tap dancer Maurice Chestnut. Entwined throughout the live concert is an assemblage of projected film, new and archival photography, and folklore underscoring the verdant cultural landscape of the Piedmont region, including performances by some of the last of the living original Piedmont Blues musicians: NEA National Heritage Fellow bluesman John Dee Holman, as well as Piedmont songsters Boo Hanks and Algia Mae Hinton. A Duke University commission, the project uses songs, lyrics, and imagery from the Piedmont Blues tradition, to make a testimony of the struggle endured by African-Americans in the Southeast during Jim Crow and to chronicle the efficacy of the Piedmont Blues as a salve for suffering.