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Clayton-Hamilton at Twenty

Since being founded in 1985, the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra has earned the title of Southern California's premiere big band. Tonight's performance at the Ford Amphitheatre, nestled in the Hollywood Hills, marked the group's 20th anniversary. The program featured a variety of congratulatory notes for the group, including a full-page, four-color one from a Diana and Elvis, whoever they might be. And that wasn't the only cause for celebration on the evening; as Jeff Hamilton explained from the stage, the CHJO's latest CD Live at MCG is currently #1 in jazz radio across the country. The band's two sets of music naturally drew heavily from that release, but not at the expense of presenting a generous helping of arrangements and compositions from earlier in the ensemble's career.

The Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra has an unusual, tripartite leadership. John Clayton is the principal (and, impressively, chartless) conductor and sometime bassist, while brother Jeff plays saxophones and flute and Hamilton minds the traps. The fifteen musicians who balance out the orchestra are a who's-who of L.A.-area jazz players--five trumpets, including Snooky Young, Sal Cracchiolo, Clay Jenkins, Gilbert Castellanos and Bijon Watson; the four trombones of George Bohanon, Ryan Porter, Maurice Spears and Ira Nepus; Charles Owens, Pete Christlieb, Keith Fiddmont and Lee Callet joining Jeff Clayton on saxes and reeds; Jim Hershman on guitar; and Jeff Hamilton Trio regulars Christoph Luty on bass and Tamir Hendelman on piano.

John Clayton gave humorous and insightful introductions to the evening's selections. He may have had the first and last word, but the first notes of the evening belonged to the muted trumpet of Snooky Young, opening the first song ever played by the CHJO, John Clayton's "I Be Serios 'Bout Dem Blue." Conductor Clayton, as he would on most of the numbers throughout the evening, gave several players lengthy features. The next piece was Sonny Stitt's "Eternal Triangle," and the spotlight was appropriately turned on each of the Orchestra's five saxophones. The fine, driving drummer Hamilton was given a strong feature on "Back Home Again in Indiana," followed by a really interesting version of "Mood Indigo," alternating a slow, late nineteenth-century feeling arrangement of the theme for brass with some hotter soloing from Owens, Hendelman and Nepus, and another somber statement of theme but this time as a bass duet. "Silver Celebration," the Orchestra's dedication to Horace Silver, was next with some fiery work from Bohanon, followed by a pretty "Lullaby of the Leaves." Set one closed with some more Ellingtonia with a lively reading of Johnny Hodges' "Squatty Roo."

The second set picked up right where the first left off with the blues of Horace Silver's "Jody Grind." The trumpets were featured prominently on a fascinating arrangement of Monk's "Evidence" that also made good use of guitarist Hershman. Cracchiolo, Jenkins, Castellanos and Watson played lines off of each other and built up to an interesting New Orleans style climax on the angular bop classic. Things were slowed down quite a bit for the ballad "Like a Lover," re-arranged for the orchestra for John Clayton from pianist Hendelman's gorgeous trio arrangement. Features were given to Young, who had largely sat out the prior trumpet-fest, and to Jeff Clayton, whose slinky soprano work resembled a cross between Ravel, Coltrane and a Moroccan snake charmer. Hamilton's composition "Max" came next, followed by John Clayton's tender bass playing on "Nature Boy."

The final song of the evening the rousing "Captain Bill," but it wasn't quite the end of the night. Members of the eighteen strong Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra stayed around to greet their friends, family and fans in the lobby of the Ford afterward, and it was quite a mob scene for a while. Los Angeles crowds are famous for making early exits, but no one seemed to be in any hurry to get home this fine evening.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra
  • Concert Date: 9/11/2005
  • Subtitle: The 20th Anniversary concert of the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra
  • Venue: Ford Amphitheatre
  • City State Country: Los Angeles, CA
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