The Clayton Brothers don't have the reputation of any of jazz's legendary fraternities--Nat and Cannonball Adderley, for instance, or Hank, Thad, and Elvin Jones--or even of a long-standing outfit like the Heath Brothers. But since founding the Clayton Brothers quartet in the late 70s, bassist John and saxist Jeff have earned the respect of audiences and critics alike in their home base of Los Angeles, and their band has evolved into a fine showcase for individual talent. Current pianist Bill Cunliffe, a thoughtful, at times rapturous melodist with a gift for understated comping, joined the Claytons shortly after he won the Thelonious Monk International Piano Competition in 1989. As his own career has taken off--he recently finished a tour with Natalie Cole, and he's released six albums, including a collection of tunes by bop legend Bud Powell and a pair of his own works for piano and orchestra--he's emerged as a vital component of the group. Drummer Jeff Hamilton goes back even further with the Claytons: in the mid-80s he helped them found the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra, arguably the best working big band in LA, and his smartly ornamented swing has driven the quartet for more than 20 years. Jeff Clayton himself is a natural front man, with his throaty sax, lovely flute balladry, and occasional atmospheric use of English horn or oboe, and John's top-notch compositions and arrangements may eventually put him in a league with Jimmy Heath, Nat Adderley, and Thad Jones, to name the writers from those more famous brother acts. John has also distinguished himself as a bassist: his intonation, honed to perfection by five years as a principal with the Amsterdam Philharmonic, inspires awe among his colleagues. He conducts and does all the writing for the Clayton-Hamilton big band and recently took the post of jazz director at the LA Philharmonic, but Jeff pitches in with material for the quartet: on the Claytons' new disc, Siblingity (Qwest), he contributes almost half the tunes. The group also quotes from Nat Adderley and Horace Silver, in homage to the soul-jazz sounds of the late 50s--a likely point of reference for their Chicago sets. Thursday, November 9, 8 and 10 PM, Friday and Saturday, November 10 and 11, 9 and 11 PM, and Sunday, November 12, 4, 8, and 10 PM, Jazz Showcase, 59 W. Grand; 312-670-2473.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Shelly Hubbard.