Reviews of Performances


“We’re glad you’re here. We’re glad we’re here. “

A loving welcome. That’s how Sheila Jordan embraced her audience at the start of the “Be-Bop to Free-Bop” set @ the Vision Festival last night.

Draped in sheer swaths of elegant black silk, black floor length skirts with black lace edging their shoulders and wrists, statuesque Jordan and her musical partner Jay Clayton embarked on a journey that you can not get anywhere else my friends. If you want the living sonic proof of the relationship between be-bop and free-jazz through the vocal perspective, you people all need to come out for this Jordan/Clayton set anytime and anywhere it is happening.

Flanked by instrumentalists Cameron Brown, bass and Jack Wilkins, guitar, the quartet reveals the story of the roots of jazz and in song-after-contrasting-song, showing the evolution of the inquisitive and playful art of jazz, and it’s inevitable expansion of sound aesthetic. These women, who are now the wise elders of our vocal tribe, are in stronger voice than many singers half their age. Starting with the be-bop, these women are not just in the “pocket” – they MADE the pocket; you just do not GET that kind of living history all that often nowadays. It can not be manufactured, it has to be lived; lived into, lived with, and lived through the ear, over time. Time. Time. And these women have lived this music both independently, and together in collaboration, like NO ONE, for many years.

At the start, Sheila and Jay read Martin Luther King’s “Humanity and the Importance of Jazz” written in 1964, over a running bass line. They fluidly introduced call and response in long tones, and shifted into Confirmation, with moments of breathtaking improvised stop and go precision unison; “I’m the be-bopper, and this tune was written by 2 young cats I used to sing with in Detroit,” said Sheila as she set us up. A selection of Sheila and Jay’s favorite standards followed, effortless trading 8s in scat ntermingled with improvised conversation of events in their lives, and in the very moment. Bits and pieces of the musicians’ worlds drew a picture of a quartet that laughs together, and has lived through some rain. They’ve got each other’s backs.

At the mid-point the set shifted towards Jay’s original compositions, including works with poetry, and atonal jaunts such as her remarkable piece “Raga”, a structured improvisation that leaps around the patterns of an approximate scale in rhythmic cascade. Clayton also introduced her electronic Loop, and layered in thick yet elegant textures. The most moving moment, for this listener, was a poem piece Jay sang/spoke based on a dream of Sheila’s. Just the act of such an intimate exchange was a gift to the audience.

At the end, during a shared blues, Sheila joked about getting lost while driving out to Roulette, from Manhattan. “Can somebody help us get back to 14th street? I don’t know the way home,” she sang, as the blues backed her up. With Sheila, Jay, Cameron, and Jack, you are “home” – all night long. Many of the accomplished singers Sheila and Jay have mentored were in attendance including the shining faces of Kendra Shank, Maryanne DeProphetis, and Alexis Parsons.

A set of vocal celebration, and then a whole night of sets curated by Vision with political inspiration, visual art and movement integration, and duos in improvisation, to carry forth the theme of Freedom and it’s essence.


Jay’s 65th Birthday Bash!
October 25, 2006 @ Sweet Rhythm, New York

The first set was packed and while Wednesday is generally a slower night, it was packed at Sweet Rhythm on the second set as well. The mood was bubbly and spirits riding high for the celebration of Jay’s 65th Birthday.

She’s been singing in NY and termed as one of the most adventurous singers in jazz and has performed all over the world. Jay mentioned her best friend, Sheila Jordan who was there in spirit. Tonight’s lineup included Jane Ira Bloom on soprano sax, Gary Thomas (sax, flute) and a rhythm section with George Cables (p), Mike Formanek (b) and Billy Hart (d).

Jay opened by inviting her tap dancing friend Brenda Buffalino to the stage. Brenda gave a tap-intro to “A Little Hiku” with Jay scatting accompaniment. Brenda even tapped sitting down. This was an unexpected percussive enhancement that worked very well.


Jay’s voice still has magic at 65, with a great sense of swing. She’s an entertainer. Her ability to mirror the instrumental improvisation instantaneously was great.

Jay was animated and also into her groove. They were all on their games with Billy stinging the skins in a highly punctuated solo. Hart seems to cruise along and then inject explosive raps on the snare and or cymbals. He kept us attentive and helped keep the energy level high.

They followed with “A Lament” for John Coltrane. This is where Clayton used her voice as an instrument. Jay sang the vocals of “Young and Foolish” well followed by a rolling piano solo from Cables. Formanek was steady all night long. The music became soothing and relaxed us.

“A Little Fortune Cookie” gave us a view of the more melodic Clayton. Jay is comfortable in a wide variety of settings from ballads to free jazz. The performance of Gary Thomas was not to be overlooked with strong solos on both sax and flute.
But this was Jay’s night and she kept us focused!
From ‘Featured at O’s Place.’

  jay-gary1-LR   jay-and-sheila

So good, you should have heard of her already By Don Heckman – Special to The Times
Los Angeles Times – September 25, 2006

Singer Jay Clayton is one of the special blessings of jazz. Like her close friend Sheila Jordan, she is an artist for whom the music is front and center. She turns 65 in October and has recorded on a fairly regular basis without a breakout album. But she has delighted virtually every musician who’s heard her or performed with her.

Clayton’s appearance at Giannelli Square in Northridge on Saturday night provided a rare opportunity to experience the eclectic musicality of this vocal wizard. She set the tone for the evening with her first number, an enthralling take on the Alec Wilder standard “While We’re Young.” Starting with a few lines of poetry from e.e. cummings, Clayton drifted into a series of disjunct notes — some high, some low — gradually allowing them to coalesce into the lyrics of the song.

When she followed with “Young and Foolish,” she jokingly referred to her upcoming birthday celebration, then proceeded to interpret it in her utterly ageless style. Other pieces — from minor blues to more standards — received similarly eclectic renderings.

Clayton often inserted fragments of verse, more from cummings, some her own. She occasionally used an electronic looping machine juxtaposed to her spontaneous vocal lines, producing remarkable harmonic and polyphonic effects. And she was joined by Jordan for a stunning vocally symbiotic 80th birthday tribute to John Coltrane.

Clayton has worked and recorded with such contemporary music figures as Steve Reich as well as edgy jazz artists including Muhal Richard Abrams, Stanley Cowell and the provocative a cappella vocal ensemble Vocal Summit.

But her excursions through the outer territory of free spontaneity in no way diminished her mastery of straight-ahead jazz singing.

Her pliable voice, which allowed her to roam freely, with no register break, from velvety chest sounds to gloriously airy head tones, made each standard tune into an intimate experience. And her zephyr-buoyant sense of rhythm brought subtle, but urgent, propulsive swing to the
middle-tempo songs.

Clayton did not draw a capacity crowd, and her name recognition among the wider jazz audience is relatively insubstantial. That’s a shame, since she is a true jazz original.