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Boppin', blowin' LA-la-land boys bring THEIR A-game

The boppin’ and blowin’ boys from LA-la-land blew into Miller-town with their A-game, as a cool jazz band

wait, wait, that’s exactly what I wrote about a terrific one-nighter by another repertory jazz ensemble which came to Milwaukee two weeks before.

Then it was the New York City Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, led from the back (kind of like a conductor-less NYC subway train) by cool and reknown Wynton Marsalis.

This time -- in the third concert of the five-concert 14th season of the Hal Leonard Jazz Series -- it was the sunny and smiling guys of the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra. Led at the front (like a Hollywood tour bus guide in love with his subject matter) by the erudite, athletic and solicitously gracious John Clayton, the 18-piece CHJO laid out two sets and two hours of sometimes swinging, sometimes evocative, sometimes really hot, but always accessible and beautiful tunes.

Based in Los Angeles, where they come together about two months each year to play and make occasional forays out into the land, the CHJO starts with Clayton’s pleasing, but distinctive arrangements and then delivers musical repasts so delicious they leave you hungering for more.

One inveterate, active Milwaukee music fan was left so hungering he said, "I need to find out where these guys are playing again, because I’m willing to travel to hear them."

From the opening tastes of Snooky Young’s sweet-muted solo trumpet hors d'oeuvres of "I Be Serious 'bout Dem Blues," through the slow-and-easy-cooked "Back Home in Indiana" and the big, hearty unison of 14 brass players and the rhythm section stewing together in various songs but especially on Horace Silver’s "Silver Celebration," onto the hot "cutting" session between reedmen Rickey Woodard and Charles Owens in the boiling-over "Jazz Party," on through the slow solo double-bass bowing distillation by John Clayton of Johnny Mandel’s "Emily" so meditative and clear and palate-cleaning, and deep into the pudding-thick harmonies of their "Mood Indigo," it was a feast.

Snooky Young, 83 years young, a founder 21 years ago of the CHJO along with John Clayton and brother Jeff and drummer Jeff Hamilton, delighted as sweetly as he did in his decades in the "Tonight" show band. And the two Jeffs impressed as expected. Hamilton’s drumwork laid an unobtrusive, but strong and reliable foundation and at times spiced up the servings. As a principle soloist and reed leader, saxman Jeff Clayton (the younger brother) got the hot stuff hot and the cool stuff cool, just right.

But the soloist who seemed to get the most action was trombonist George Bohannon, who sizzled best and most smoothly on John Clayton’s Grammy-nominated chart for "Lullably of the Leaves." This tune and their "Mood Indigo" deservedly have been getting playing time on Music Choice Jazz cable channel (audio and text only) and on syndicated jazz radio programming.

Overall, the CHJO delivered skilled and lovely musicianship representative not only of John Clayton’s broad (starting with classical and jazz) education and experience, but also of the voluminous and wide-ranging experience all the band members get arranging for and playing with literally dozens of the top jazz, pop, rock and even country musicians making the rounds today, both on tour and in studio, either individually or as a band.

Just before coming to Milwaukee, the CHJO played with Regina Carter in Washington D.C., before heading back to its West Coast residency.

Of all the appetites wanting more, the one for me that most hungered was to hear more of John Clayton on bass, especially bowing, which is offered so very little these days. Also, while listening to his introductions of band member and songs and his other patter ("Mom just never quite understood how her sons could go off to college for years and come back ‘Serious ‘bout dem Blues,’ in one song intro) and hearing him do it in his distinguished, mellifluous voice, I also thought more than once, "I’d like to hear this guy sing."

So many talents. So much talent.

So many with such great talents. And so much fun.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra
  • Concert Date: 2/11/2006
  • Subtitle: Clayton-Hamilton band sunny, swinging, evocative, delicious
  • Venue: Pabst Theater
  • City State Country: Milwaukee, WI US
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