Team GDW became huge fans of jazz pianist Jim Clayton after a chance encounter at the 2017 Kensington Market Jazz Festival in Toronto, and have been itching to catch him perform again since that memorable first time. Unable to return to the same festival last summer, we were thrilled to see the Jim Clayton Quartet on the 2018-19 schedule at the Sanderson Centre in Brantford, ON, and quickly snapped up tickets for this event.
Performing to an intimate audience in the lobby of the Sanderson Centre (whose annual lobby series draws in a wide range of musicians, and is definitely worth checking out), Jim Clayton and his band would be introduced to the room. Taking their positions with their respective instruments, Jim would immediately announce that his quartet was made up of two Toronto musicians, and two London, ON, musicians; thus making Brantford the perfect “place in the middle” for them to perform.
Joining Jim as his Toronto partner in crime was renown jazz guitarist Andrew Scott, who would team up with London natives Larry Ernewein (upright bass) and Sandy MacKay (drums) on this given night. Also representing London, ON was guest vocalist and soprano, Sonja Gustafson, whose stunning vocals would be added to a handful of the jazz classics that the band opted to perform.
With the talents of the full band at his disposal, Jim Clayton was keen to share and perform several popular and highly regarded jazz standards, with a heavy emphasis on the likes of composers Henry Mancini and George Gershwin. He would honor Canada’s own Oscar Peterson to commence the show, however, hand clapping in time to engage the audience, before giving the Sanderson Centre’s grand piano a fine work-out with “C Jam Blues.”
Following immediately with a rendition of Irving Berlin’s, “Cheek To Cheek,” the Jim Clayton Quartet would not only add the Harold Arlen classic, “It’s Only A Paper Moon,” but Jim would exercise his own vocal cords and delight us all with the Yip Harburg/Billy Rose lyrics that accompany this standard. With an open admission that he is a little skeptical of adding his own voice to these songs, Jim would take the lead vocals on two more tracks on this night, tackling both Henry Mancini’s “Moon River,” and a fresh take on the Ian Thomas composition (and popularized by Santana), “Hold On.” “Moon River was made famous by Audrey Hepburn,” he would add. “And George Peppard, you know, from The A Team; and with Mickey Rooney wearing some thick lenses, and being, well, Mickey Rooney.”
Jim may profess to not being entirely comfortable adding voice to his repertoire at the moment, but there is never any doubt about his dazzling piano skills. So who better to captivate the room with some phenomenal vocal work than accomplished soprano Sonja Gustafson, who rotated in and out of the show for a selection of popular Gershwin compositions. Hits such as “But Not For Me,” “Summertime,” and “The Man I Love” were performed flawlessly by all, with Jim adding a moving melodica solo during “Wave.”
Not to be outdone all evening, the trio of musicians kept perfect time, with some exceptional guitar solos from Andrew, whose finger picking skills earned frequent applause all night. Jim would take a temporary hiatus, opening the floor to Andrew, Larry and Sandy for one number. Taking his lead, Andrew would share yet another Harold Arlen composition, “Come Rain Or Come Shine;” a guitar instrumental found on Scott’s 2004 “This One’s For Barney” album. And split only by an instrumental cover of Mancini’s “Days Of Wine And Roses,” Jim would share two very personal songs to close out the night; his self-penned title track from his 2016 “Lenny Jumps In” album, and of course, for the grand finale, his rendition of “The Rainbow Connection” as found on his 2013 “Songs My Daughter Knows” release. Unlike the album’s instrumental piece, however, Sonja Gustafson was encouraged to join the quartet for one last time, adding the lyrics of Paul Williams and Kenneth Ascher “as made famous by a certain green frog,” added Jim.
With seventeen tracks performed, the audience at the Sanderson Centre experienced an amazing evening of music, courtesy of the Jim Clayton Quartet. With the extra ‘sizzle’ added by Sonja Gustafson, this was an unforgettable show. It was an absolute pleasure for us to not only catch up (and chat with) Jim Clayton, but left the venue craving another encounter with this highly talented jazz pianist once more.
Cheek To Cheek
It’s Only A Paper Moon
But Not For Me
Miss Kelly’s House
Come Rain Or Come Shine (Andrew Scott trio)
Hold On (Santana cover – Written by Ian Thomas)
The Man I Love
Lenny Jumps In
Days Of Wine And Roses