Influential jazz

Orchestra takes audience into past to former West Coast hot spot, The Parisian Room.

November 22, 2007|By Sue Thoensen

“The Avenue” in South Central Los Angeles from the 1930s to the 1950s was a haven for jazz musicians, much like 52nd Street was in New York during the same period.

The Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra, appearing at the Orange County Performing Artscenter Saturday, will pay tribute to the musicians and sounds from that area with two back-to-back performances.

The full orchestra will perform first, followed by an informal jam session with some of the orchestra members and three special guests whose music from that era will be showcased by the group.


Saxophonist Red Holloway, pianist-singer Les McCann and vocalist Ernie Andrews will recreate the scene that existed at one of the most famous clubs in South Central during that era, The Parisian Room.

Orchestra conductor and six-time Grammy nominated arranger John Clayton said Central Avenue was known for being the center of the development of jazz on the West Coast.

“We’re hoping that this [performance] will interest people in the sounds that South Central L.A. created, spurred, and influenced — that people will research the music that came out of the experience of South Central,” he said.

Big bands, singers and soloists frequented the jazz clubs there, and their sound went on to influence many of the greats who came later, like Quincy Jones and Lionel Hampton.

Clayton said that gives his group a vast amount of music to choose from.

“We want to explore not only the sounds, but also expand beyond that to play music that it influenced.”

In addition to conducting and arranging the music, John Clayton plays bass, his brother Jeff Clayton is on reeds and Jeff Hamilton plays drums.

The 19-member orchestra has been performing for the past 22 years, and while some change in the lineup may occur from time to time, John Clayton said the group never fires anyone.

“People either die or quit,” he said, and that’s something he took away from his tenure playing with the Count Basie band.

One of Clayton’s life dreams was to play with Basie, and that dream was realized when he joined the group in 1977.

“Nobody was unhappy in Basie’s band. It was like a family, and if you played in Basie’s band, you basically left on your own. He never fired people.”

Clayton stayed with Basie until 1979, then moved to Holland where he played in a symphony orchestra for five years.

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