Jazz pianist Gerald Clayton is an adept, Grammy Award-winning improviser and composer with a bent toward post-bop and straight-ahead jazz. In addition to his own recordings and those with the Clayton Brothers, his playing has helped to shape a number of high-profile jazz projects including Roberta Gambarini’s Easy to Love, Diana Krall’s From This Moment On, and Roy Hargrove’s Earfood to Ambrose Akinmusire’s When the Heart Emerges Glistening and Terri Lyne Carrington’s Money Jungle: Provocative in Blue. His own trio dates, including 2009′s Two Shade and 2011′s Bond: The Paris Sessions (with bassist Joe Sanders and drummer Justin Brown) established his reputation as both a composer and arranger of great skill. That group expanded with the release of 2013′s Life Forum on Concord to include saxophonists Logan Richardson and Dayna Stephens, Akinmusire on trumpet, and vocalists Gretchen Parlato and Sachal Vasandani. A larger group also helmed 2017′s charting Tributary Tales for Motema that added Ben Wendel (who produced Life Forum) on bassoon and tenor saxophone, percussionist Henry Cole, and Carl Hancock Rux joining Vasandani on overtone singing.
The son of bassist/bandleader John Clayton, Gerald was born in the Netherlands but grew up in Los Angeles, California. Interested in music from a young age, he began studying piano at age seven and eventually graduated from the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts, after which he earned a music degree from the USC Thornton School of Music. In 2006, Clayton took second place in the prestigious Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz Piano Competition. Based out of New York City, Clayton has performed with a bevy of name musicians including trumpeter Roy Hargrove and pianist/vocalist Diana Krall, as well as his father’s Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra and the Clayton Brothers trio. He has received several Grammy nods, including a nomination for Best Instrumental Composition for the song “Battle Circle” on the Clayton Brothers’ album New Song and Dance.
Clayton released his debut solo album, Two-Shade, in 2009, which garnered a Grammy nomination for Best Improvised Jazz Solo for his take on Cole Porter’s “All of You.” In 2011 he delivered his sophomore album, Bond: The Paris Sessions. That same year, he appeared on trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire’s sophomore album, When the Heart Emerges Glistening. Akinmusire then returned the favor, appearing on Clayton’s third solo album and first for Concord Records, Life Forum. An ambitious all-star recording, the album earned Clayton yet another Grammy Award nomination, this time for Best Jazz Instrumental Album. In 2017 he made the move to Motéma Music for Tributary Tales, which featured contributions from saxophonists Logan Richardson, Ben Wendel, and Dayna Stephens, as well as vocalist Sachal Vasandani and poets Carl Hancock Rux and Aja Monet. Away from his solo work, the pianist has stayed busy making appearances on albums by Terri Lyne Carrington, Peter Bernstein, Avishai Cohen, and others. In the spring of 2019, Clayton signed to Blue Note Records and celebrated by playing six nights at the storied Village Vanguard with a quintet that included his longtime collaborators Sanders, Brown, and Richardson, with Walter Smith III on tenor saxophone. Those performances were compiled for Happening: Live at the Village Vanguard, released during the summer of 2020. ~ Matt Collar