Gerald Clayton

ArtsWatch Weekly: bohemians & other artists

"La Bohème" at the opera, George Johanson & other gallery shows, Brett Campbell's music picks, Miss Julie and Satchmo onstage

Here they come again, those tragic bohemians. Rodolfo with his poems. Marcello with his paintings. Musetta with her songs. Mimi with her consumption. All of them as poor as church mice. Fortunately they can also sing like angels, or like the devil himself, who seems to have it in for them. It’s been eight years since Portland Opera last produced La Bohème, Puccini’s 1896 grand musical potboiler (Toscanini conducted the world premiere in Turin), which is one of opera’s greatest weepers and most enduring hits. Now Portland Opera’s brought it back again, beginning on Friday at Keller Auditorium and continuing for three more performances through May 13. It’ll feature Vanessa Isiguen as poor doomed Mimi, and the young Italian tenor Giordano Lucá, in his American debut, as Rodolfo. Let the singing, and the dying, begin.

Vanessa Issiguen, Mimi in Portland Opera’s “La Boheme,” performing in the opera’s Big Night special in April. Photo: Cory Weaver



THE MAY FIRST THURSDAY ART GALLERY OPENINGS are this week, and one of the shows we’re looking forward to is at Augen, where George Johanson has an exhibition of recent paintings going up. If we gave artists the sort of titles we used to hand out, Johanson would be a Portland Old Master: Born in Seattle in 1928, he came to Portland in 1946 to attend the old Museum Art School (now Pacific Northwest College of Art), and with some breaks in New York, London, and Mexico he’s mostly been here ever since.

George Johanson, “Studio with Bunce Mask,” 2016, acrylic and oil on canvas , 40 x 60 inches.

Adept as a printmaker and a painter, he’s chronicled pretty much everything from the city’s rivers to its music to his own studio to other artists (in his 2002 book of quick portraits Equivalents: Portraits of 80 Oregon Artists) to Mt. St. Helens blowing its stack, often with a rabbit or a cat streaking across the image. As he approaches 90 he seems as active and creative as ever. His show opens Thursday and he’ll speak at the gallery at noon Saturday, May 13.


Among the many openings and continuing gallery shows, a few other likely bets:

Yoonhee Choi and Roya Motamedi at Blackfish. Choi’s installation Sift uses bright colors and recycled plastic cups, straight pins, and the like to contemplate consumption and detritus. Motamedi’s Aptitude of Kindness includes collages of fabric and birch on paper.

James Allen’s Northwest Bound at Russo Lee. Allen “excavates” books in search of history and image – in this show, including a large altered set of bound newspapers from the old Oregon Journal in May 1914. Also: Michelle Ramin’s takes on tourists exploring architectural ruins; Amory Abbott’s charcoal drawings.

Mar Goman and Dayna J Collins at Guardino. Goman’s highly crafted, outsidery images (she calls it “curious art”) have a folk art feel and are made from just about anything she can get her hands on. Collins paints abstract images emerging from the waterlines of rivers and ocean.

Alex Lilly’s Razor Blade Rain at Michael Parsons Fine Art. May Day turned into a pitched battle in downtown Portland, and that’s an extension of what Lilly’s vivid and disturbing paintings are about. This new show is based on drawings and photographs he made while watching earlier Portland protests.

Margaret Lindburg’s Resolution at Karin Clarke Gallery. The veteran Salem artist has a new show of paintings at Clarke’s gallery in Eugene, and Randi Bjornstad has this interesting profile of Lindburg in Eugene Review.

Alex Lilly, “Riot Cops – 3rd and SW Madison,” 2017, oil on composite block, 6 x 6 inches, Michael Parsons Fine Art.





The four-time Grammy-winning ensemble, one of the top performers of contemporary American classical music, joins the quirky indie folk singer/songwriter (real name Will Oldham) in his own songs, plus Pulitzer Prize-winning composer David Lang’s learn to fly and Frederic Rzewski’s fierce 1971 American classic Coming Together, which sets a heart-rending text by an inmate killed in the Attica prison uprising. The centerpiece, Murder Ballades, is a fascinating mashup of ancient English/Appalachian folk tunes like “Pretty Polly” along with original music inspired by them, all put together by Bryce Dessner, best known to rock music fans as the guitarist in The National but recently emerging as a formidable contemporary classical composer with music for Kronos Quartet and others. Wednesday, Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall.


Gerald Clayton preview: family man

Springing from a respected musical legacy, pianist creates his own jazz 'family' atmosphere with his band


Gerald Clayton says he was a “normal kid” growing up in Los Angeles pursuing ordinary things like soccer, skateboarding, school. What was extraordinary was his family. His father, John Clayton, is a renowned bassist and band leader, and his uncle, Jeff Clayton, a saxophonist supreme.

With such blue jazz blood, Gerald Clayton fell into music as predictably as Ravi Coltrane, the son of John and Alice Coltrane, or Natalie Cole, daughter of Nat King Cole.  A career in music “just felt natural, growing up around the lifestyle, seeing the love,” Clayton said this spring from his New York City apartment. And now, at 32, the younger Clayton plays piano in the Clayton Brothers Quintet.

But Gerald Clayton, who returns to Portland at 7:30 p.m. May 3 to play the Old Church, is not coasting on his family’s coattails. He has carved out a musical space all his own. Finishing second in the Thelonious  Monk Institute of Jazz Piano contest in 2006, his keyboard technical virtuosity and nuanced touch have led him to produce albums since 2009, to draw Grammy nominations, and to side for such musicians as Diana Krall, Roy Hargrove, Avishai Cohen, Dianne Reeves and Gretchen Parlato – to name a few.

PDX Jazz brings Gerald Clayton to Portland Wednesday. Photo: Devin Dehaven.

Clayton likes Portland. He accompanied Charles Lloyd (aside from playing the piano, he helped the aging saxophonist on and off the stage) at the 2016 PDX Jazz Festival, and teamed up more recently with Kneebody’s sax star Ben Wendel at the Old Church.

Clayton’s jazz family extends beyond his relatives. He studied with Billy Childs at University of Southern California’s Thornton School of Music, and later, with pianist Kenny Barron at Manhattan School of Music, where he took “a year abroad” from USC. Childs taught him some of the art of composition and how to put together a big piece. Barron encouraged him to master rhythm and “live the music,” which Clayton translates, in part, as “being in the moment.”

“Musicians have an internal clock,” he explains. “Sometimes the music might excite you and you start pushing the time. Tempos should end up where they started off, but we’re not robots. Kenny (Barron) is a master of tempo, yet he expresses himself with truth and integrity and honesty without losing control of the time. He’s like a Zen master. Very peaceful, in the moment. His playing is beautiful and creative and not swept up by nervous energy.”

Clayton has learned from his mentors, says Portland pianist Grant Richards, who worked with him when Clayton visited Berklee College of Music in Boston a few years ago to help with a CD release by drummer and composer Terri Lyne Carrington. Richards was a student and playing background keyboards on Carrington’s project. Not only was Clayton “a nice approachable guy,” Richards said from Japan where he’s working and gigging, “he is super versatile. He is so deeply informed by the whole tradition of jazz, yet he finds a way to perform and compose in a way that is so refreshing and new, and always, slick and polished.”

Promoting his fourth album, Tributary Tales, released this spring, Clayton’s trio compatriots this time will be Kendrick Scott on drums and bassist Joe Sanders, whom Clayton met when he was a teen-ager in the Grammy Band. (Young jazz musicians can’t nail a better gig than the Grammy Band, composed of the cream of talented high schoolers cherry-picked from across the country to play at the Grammy Awards.) Though unlike his dad and uncle, he’s not related to his bandmates, “we’re all family members,” says Clayton, who often plays with old friends like Sanders and drummer Justin Brown, musicians he knew during his years at the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts.

“There’s a close bond, a like-mindedness,” Clayton says. “It helps keep the trust. When you play an improvised art form, it’s a vulnerable experience. It exposes your deep emotions. It brings you closer together than the average workers (working on the same project).  It’s not like sharing an office cubicle. You have to be fully open to the experience, together.”

PDX Jazz presents Gerald Clayton and his trio at 7:30 p.m. May 3 at the Old Church, 1422 S.W. 11th Ave. Tickets available here or by calling 503-228-5299.

Angela Allen lives in Portland and writes about the arts. She is a published poet and photographer and teaches creative and journalistic writing to Portland-area students. Her web site is  

Want to read more about Oregon jazz? Support Oregon ArtsWatch!

Portland Jazz Festival review: Pianists prevail

Though the spotlight shone on saxophones, keyboard masters tickled heartstrings and ivories at the 2016 festival



Virtuoso saxophonists were the Coltrane-centric Portland Jazz Festival’s backbone Feb. 18-28: Joe Lovano, Gary Bartz, Nicole Glover, Charles Lloyd, Sonny Fortune, Renato Caranto, Pharoah Sanders, Ravi Coltrane — not in that order.

The keyboardists, though, stole my heart — not only the soloists but the sidemen who played in trios and quartets, duos and big bands, alongside the headliners.

Gerald Clayton © 2016 Mark Sheldon

Gerald Clayton © 2016 Mark Sheldon

Throughout the 11-night extravaganza, musicians brought so much technical talent. They delivered high-spirited performances with originality, even if I heard second-week high-profilers Ravi Coltrane and Orrin Evans complain that audiences demand the oldies, limiting experimentation that fuels new music.

Some special recognition over the jazz festival week, mostly keyboard-related.

Most whimsical piece: “Shed,” named for saxophonist Joshua Redman’s mother, Renee Shedroff. Aaron Goldberg composed and played it, stretching his neck like an Egyptian muse or a cobra, during his first-week solo concert at Classic Pianos. Heavy on staccato notes with some fun rhythmic structure in the left hand, it spoofs Redman’s sax practicing — and he practices a lot, according to Goldberg. Redman is one of Goldberg’s mentors, collaborators and role models: They both went to Harvard and Goldberg picked his brain for how to survive Harvard and remain a driven jazz musician (don’t play with Harvard guys, they both say).

Goldberg is a smooth, cerebral pianist, technically savvy, a lover of Brazilian song, a master of control. His newest CD, The Now, with several Brazilian-inspired cuts, shows his respect for that country’s vibrant song-writing tradition, which Goldberg claims equals, sometimes surpasses, America’s songbook these days. He is such a skilled improviser and fluid player that songs move seamlessly and stealthily into one another. “Autumn Leaves” emerged as one of the few instantly recognized pieces.

Most moving trio keyboard playing: Gerald Clayton, son of band leader and bassist John Clayton and a 31-year-old piano phenom, helped the very tall and slightly stooped Charles Lloyd on and off the Newmark Theatre stage during the first weekend. Clayton climbed high to the peaks and fell deep to the valleys of the “Wild Man Dance Suite” with the lyrical Lloyd, who will be a remarkable 78 years old this month. Clayton and drummer Eric Harland amped up the quartet with their solos. In Portland in previous years with the SF Jazz Collective and other gigs, Harland plays on Goldberg’s The Now. During Lloyd’s concert, he knocked out the sweetest, softest, most dynamic — OK, most orgasmic —drum solo of the fest. He doesn’t answer his email from writers he doesn’t know, but hey, if he can drum like that …

Brandee Younger © 2016 Mark Sheldon-PDX JAZZ -3015

Brandee Younger © 2016 Mark Sheldon

Best educator: Although I didn’t catch every concert, I’d lay bets on harpist Brandee Younger. During her sold-out solo concert at Classic Pianos on Feb. 28, she took the eager audience through Dorothy Ashby interpretations, including Stevie Wonder’s “If It’s Magic,” a Welsh folk song, classic harp compositions from composer Alphonse Hasselmans, Charlie Haden’s “For Turiya,” standards “Embraceable You” and “My Funny Valentine,” and best of all, Alice Coltrane’s Hindu-inspired “Rama Rama.”


Do NOT follow this link or you will be banned from the site!