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A Double Whammy

John Clayton and Jeff Hamilton share their expertise with the Cal State LA Jazz Combo & Big Band

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John Clayton and John Hamilton

John Clayton and John Hamilton

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John Clayton and John Hamilton

David Czinner, Intern

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On Monday, March 6, Cal State LA Jazz Combos and Big Band were very fortunate to be assessed by Jazz icons John Clayton and Jeff Hamilton. Together, they co-founded and co-lead the well-known and Grammy-Nominated Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra. Both leaders also worked together with jazz legend Monty Alexander in his trio from 1975 to 1977.

While Clayton and Hamilton have an impressive history, each has a unique and jaw-dropping resume. Clayton has performed with the Count Basie Orchestra and was principal bassist for the Amsterdam Philharmonic Orchestra. He was also a bass instructor at The Royal Conservatory, The Hague, Holland from 1980 to 1983. In 1988, he began teaching at the prestigious Thornton School of Music at USC, where he taught until 2009. He has worked with huge names in the industry including Diana Krall, Paul McCartney and Queen Latifah.

Hamilton’s resume is equally impressive. Apart from co-directing the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra, he was in constant demand on stages and in studios around the globe. He has performed with numerous iconic names, including Oscar Peterson, Ray Brown, Lionel Hampton, The New Tommy Dorsey Orchestra, Natalie Cole, Diana Krall, Milt Jackson, Rosemary Clooney, Barbara Streisand, Mel Torme, John Pizzarelli, Benny Carter, George Shearing, Dr. John, Clark Terry, Gene Harris, Toshiko Akioshi, and Herb Ellis, just to name a few. He is also an entrepreneur- he co-founded his own drum cymbal company, Crescent Symbols, which he later sold to the incredibly famous cymbal design and manufacturing company Sabian.

The masterclass began as all masterclasses do; tense and nerve wracking. Upon entering, the room went silent waiting to see what would happen. Both Mr. Clayton and Mr. Hamilton created a relaxed and funny environment; they have a wonderful humorous dynamic that is reflective of a decades-long friendship. Mr. Clayton had some wonderful artistic insight for our vocalist, as well as detailed advice for our bassist. “One of the greatest observations [John Clayton] made was that I have to produce a nice, loud sound acoustically, then amplify THAT sound” said Vincenzo DeLarosa, a senior Jazz Studies major and principal bassist for the Cal State LA Jazz Band. “He also pointed out different technical habits I was forming with my hands that might affect my playing”.

Hamilton worked closely with both drummers in the ensemble. He pointed out some typical habits drummers have that negatively affect their music, such as too much body motion while playing, which makes the music sound “jumpy”. “It was definitely a nerve-wracking experience; I’ve never had an expert like Jeff Hamilton come and critique my playing,” commented Rafael Gutierrez, a senior Jazz Studies major and main drummer for the Cal State LA Jazz Band. “He’s definitely where I would like to be at that age; funny, easy to talk to, accomplished and a solid musician.”

“The goal here, like with John Beasley, was access,” commented Dr. James Ford, Director of the Jazz Studies program and Cal State LA Jazz Band. Having worked with top Jazz legends, John Clayton and Jeff Hamilton’s expertise is the closest and best level of access students can get to the wisdom and knowledge of the masters.

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A Double Whammy