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Mysterious Traveler: Matthew Clayton

Clayton2

 

The Free Library, the Producer's Guild and PJP are teaming up to present a daring, new performance series. Entitled,  Mysterious Travelers Concert Series, it will feature FREE monthly concerts running through April 2015. It will also showcase a diverse array of Jazz performers who are shaping the future sounds of Philadelphia. The debut concert is...

Monday, September 8, 2014 | 7:00 p.m.

Central Library/Montgomery Auditorium

1901 Vine Street, 19103

Featuring: Matthew Clayton

More Info About Concert Here

 

Dr. Matthew D. Clayton, II. is a Philadelphia saxophonist, music scholar, teacher and composer. Some of his highlights include performances at the Academy of Music, Carnegie Hall, the Village Vanguard and Birdland. Dr. Clayton is on the faculty of the prestigious Nelly Berman School of Music and is the Director of Jazz Combos at the University of Pennsylvania. Clayton is also a featured guest in PJP's upcoming OutBeat Festival event on September 19th, "Lush Life: Philadelphia Celebrates Billy Strayhorn". Matthew Clayton's debut album is scheduled for a Fall 2014 release. We spoke with him about his work.

PJP: Can you briefly describe the musical direction of Matthew Clayton?


Clayton: Ultimately I’m trying to make music that moves people, and I use the jazz language as my point of departure. I have heard many times that jazz music is “too cerebral” or hard to understand, maybe even elitist.  In my opinion, to the contrary - jazz at its best is the ultimate “people’s” music. It’s both improvisatory and collaborative; it is an artistic rendering of dialogue, communication and cooperation that’s serious and fun all at the same time. The music that I compose and perform always strives to capture the good feeling that comes along with great music of any genre, and I want people to feel uplifted.  Stylistically, I’m coming out of the bebop lineage; however, I incorporate all that came after it, including the vernacular music of today.


PJP: What and whom are pivotal musical influences on your creative approach?


Clayton2Clayton: My first musical influence as a saxophonist was Charlie Parker. After him came John Coltrane and Cannonball Adderley. Those were my first three main influences. Those three artists came out of 1940s-1960s jazz, and they each showed me something different. Charlie Parker demonstrated the height of musical excellence as a saxophonist, and his amazing originality was a huge inspiration. John Coltrane was a constantly evolving artist; I always say that in every Coltrane record he sounds a little different. There is so much honesty and dedication in his music, not to mention the viscerally spiritual aspect of his playing. Cannonball, another virtuoso, showed me that music can be fun and can make you want to dance in addition to being serious and soulful.

 

After closely studying these three saxophonists, the floodgates were open so to speak. When I was really getting serious about music, in the 1990s, I was fortunate to witness the whole second wave of “Young Lions” on the scene – Joshua Redman, Kenny Garrett, Roy Hargrove, Christian McBride, and others. Seeing artists who were only a decade or so older than me playing on such a high level was pivotal and inspirational.


Lastly, gospel music has a lot to do with how I play.  I was raised in the AME Church, and began playing the saxophone with the choir as a freshman in high school. I had many opportunities to play solos where I’d play hymns or spirituals, and the overwhelming response from the congregation is unlike anything else I’ve experienced musically.  The “call and response” tradition in black music is beautifully portrayed in the church, and I think that has a lot to do with why I place such a premium on moving people. In the church, if people aren’t clapping, shouting or praising in their own way, you’re not really reaching them and that’s the most important thing in worship and in music.
  
PJP: Working as both a jazz musician and educator in this critical period, how do you manage the task of creating and encouraging fresh, new, forwarding moving musical ideas, while simultaneously exploring, celebrating and documenting the past?


ClaytonClayton3: My efforts as a jazz musician and an educator flow into each other actually.  For better or for worse, jazz music is primarily a music of the conservatory right now.  Outside of the conservatory and jazz programs in secondary schools and higher education, jazz is kind of scarce in pop culture. So I’ve found inspiration from other sources, and two of the main ones are my students and the history of this great music. I have the pleasure of working with students of all ages – from elementary school to graduate students at the university – and seeing their enthusiasm and dedication to the music helps inspire me to continue to compose and play music “in the moment.”  The whole notion of playing something that is fresh and different has a content component (i.e. what you’re doing melodically, harmonically, rhythmically, structurally) and an emotional/spiritual component.  Thinking of the many great artists that have come before me, they all made a contribution in their own unique way – it could be a sound, a feeling, a melodic direction, a rhythmic direction, or all of the above. Understanding history allows me to move forward intelligently; the more I know, the more I can combine what I like into what are my own unique musical statements.

PJP: When listening to the music, what advice would you give to audiences to aide with greater understanding and enjoyment?

 

Clayton: The most important thing as a listener is to stay conceptually and emotionally open to what we’re doing on stage. I have an anecdote that might help. I remember the first time that I took a music appreciation class in high school, which focused on classical music. I had been playing music for several years by this time but had little exposure to this genre. I remember listening to a symphony and feeling completely lost. The instructor told me to listen out for this and that – structural “sign posts” – but it was a real challenge getting a point of entry into the music.  Eventually I began to hear the things he was talking about, but it wasn’t until I studied music seriously in college that I really understood. But even at that beginner’s level of understanding of classical music, I could hear the beauty in it.  Now, I “know the codes” and many more levels of understanding are open to me. I tell this story to say this: bring whatever knowledge of music you have to the performance, and hopefully you will enjoy it on any level of expertise that you may bring to it, from novice to aficionado. I take a lot of time to make sure that my music is, no matter how abstract it gets, still accessible to all listeners if they are open to the beauty of sound. And most importantly, I truly hope that they dig what they hear.  


Monday, September 8, 2014 | 7:00 p.m.

Central Library/Montgomery Auditorium

1901 Vine Street, 19103

Featuring: Matthew Clayton

More Info About Concert Here


Philadelphia Jazz Project (PJP) works to inspire a network to support, promote, archive and celebrate the diverse elements within the Philadelphia jazz community, with the larger goal of connecting to the global community. PJP is a sponsored project of the Painted Bride Art Center, with funding provided by the Wyncote Foundation.
 
The Producer’s Guild’s mission is to ensure that the appreciation and enthusiasm for the rich cultural heritage of African American Arts continues to thrive in Philadelphia, especially Black Classical Music, commonly known as Jazz.

 

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Philadelphia Jazz Project is a sponsored project of the Culture Trust | Greater Philadelphia, with funding provided by The Wyncote Foundation.