YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections


So good, you should have heard of her already

September 25, 2006|Don Heckman | Special to The Times

Singer Jay Clayton is one of the special blessings of jazz. Like her close friend Sheila Jordan, she is an artist for whom the music is front and center. She turns 65 in October and has recorded on a fairly regular basis without a breakout album. But she has delighted virtually every musician who's heard her or performed with her.

Clayton's appearance at Giannelli Square in Northridge on Saturday night provided a rare opportunity to experience the eclectic musicality of this vocal wizard. She set the tone for the evening with her first number, an enthralling take on the Alec Wilder standard "While We're Young." Starting with a few lines of poetry from e.e. cummings, Clayton drifted into a series of disjunct notes -- some high, some low -- gradually allowing them to coalesce into the lyrics of the song.

When she followed with "Young and Foolish," she jokingly referred to her upcoming birthday celebration, then proceeded to interpret it in her utterly ageless style. Other pieces -- from minor blues to more standards -- received similarly eclectic renderings.

Clayton often inserted fragments of verse, more from cummings, some her own. She occasionally used an electronic looping machine juxtaposed to her spontaneous vocal lines, producing remarkable harmonic and polyphonic effects. And she was joined by Jordan for a stunning vocally symbiotic 80th birthday tribute to John Coltrane.

Clayton has worked and recorded with such contemporary music figures as Steve Reich as well as edgy jazz artists including Muhal Richard Abrams, Stanley Cowell and the provocative a cappella vocal ensemble Vocal Summit.

But her excursions through the outer territory of free spontaneity in no way diminished her mastery of straight-ahead jazz singing.

Her pliable voice, which allowed her to roam freely, with no register break, from velvety chest sounds to gloriously airy head tones, made each standard tune into an intimate experience. And her zephyr-buoyant sense of rhythm brought subtle, but urgent, propulsive swing to the middle-tempo songs.

Clayton did not draw a capacity crowd, and her name recognition among the wider jazz audience is relatively insubstantial. That's a shame, since she is a true jazz original.

Los Angeles Times Articles