Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Clayton-Hamilton brings the big sounds

Their sound is boisterous, their rhythm infectious.

If you think big band music has gone the way of pin curls and shoulder pads, think again. Or better yet, check out the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra on Saturday at the INB Performing Arts Center. Unlike fashion trends, smooth swinging jazz never goes out of style.

Founded in 1985 by drummer Jeff Hamilton and brothers bassist/arranger John Clayton and saxophonist Jeff Clayton, the 19-member orchestra has garnered critical praise, Grammy nominations and legions of loyal fans.

While the Los Angeles-based group has made numerous appearances at the Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival in Moscow, Idaho, this is its Spokane debut.

“Our music is influenced by Count Basie and Duke Ellington, among others,” Hamilton said. From 1999 to 2001, the band was named the in-residence ensemble for the Hollywood Bowl Jazz series.

Improvisation is the hallmark of jazz, and Hamilton believes that’s what keeps the music of the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra fresh and innovative.

In addition, he said the unique collaboration provided by three co-leaders keeps everyone on their toes.

The world-renowned drummer picked up a pair of drumsticks at age 8, and 50 years later has no plans to slow down. In fact, Hamilton is featured on the cover of February’s Modern Drummer magazine. “I’ve never had a bad day at the drum set,” he said. “Anytime I’m behind the set, there’s nothing I’d rather do. I love playing music with people of like minds.”

And he’s played with some of the best in the business, including Woody Herman, Ray Brown, Oscar Peterson and Count Basie. He especially enjoyed playing with Ella Fitzgerald. “She’s the greatest singer that ever lived,” Hamilton said.

Currently, he’s Diana Krall’s drummer of choice. Hamilton met Krall at the Port Townsend Jazz Festival and helped launch her career.

Drumming is what drew him to jazz. “The skill level is much higher for jazz than for rock or other types of music,” he said. “Unfortunately, I think jazz is the category that gets dumped on. It’s been the stepchild of the music industry.”

“But not all jazz is created equal,” he said, recalling a Duke Ellington sentiment: “There are two kinds of music – good music and the other kind.”

He said the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra is delighted to bring their big band sound to Spokane. “A lot of people haven’t heard a 19-piece big band. That wall of sound is eye-opening.”