March 24, 2016 by Helen Borgers

“Back where I come from there are men who do nothing all day but good deeds. They are called phila... er, phila… er, yes, er, Good Deed Doers.” – The Wizard of Oz (MGM, 1939)

 JC composing

Photo by permission of John Clayton.

On April 2nd, John Clayton will receive the “Nica” award from the California Jazz Foundation. The award, named after Baroness Pannonica de Koenigswarter, is presented to those who have done outstanding service in the jazz community. (The Baroness gave shelter and paid bills for many musicians in need, and was immortalized in song by Thelonious Monk’s “Pannonica,” and Horace Silver’s “Nica’s Dream.”) John, while being an incredibly busy bassist, composer, arranger, and bandleader, has also spent over 40 years teaching and being involved with organizations that support jazz and music-related activities.


Over the years, John’s teaching has evolved from “how to play the bass,” to “how to deal with being a bass player.” Or, even more, to:


  • Figuring out what to do with an instrument
  • How do you feel about and how do you react to the emotional words of a bandleader directed at you? 
  • What do you do when you don’t connect with fellow players in a band? 
  • Assessing what the students need – are they having trouble effectively practicing?
  • Keeping students motivated and optimistic


This last point is the most demanding. Today’s music students have to contend with so much negativity, which creates what John calls, “a fear core.” They’re bombarded with statements like, “It’s really rough out there,” “Its not like the old days,” and “Better have something to fall back on.”


John says, “Sure, true, you can’t get on Greyhound buses and play Moose Lodges, as they did from the ‘40s to the ‘70s, but back then, you couldn’t have your music instantaneously and simultaneously heard anywhere on the planet – someone listening in Rio, Tokyo, Sydney, Cologne and Vienna!” In fact, John believes that there are more opportunities for young musicians, not less.


On the other hand, John tells his students, “It’s not a Disney world… it’s not just wish it and it will be so.” He has a mantra, “the doors of opportunity will open for you based on the level of your art. Period.  This keeps us musicians always looking in the mirror.  You made it through the tune but you dropped a beat, or rushed, or missed this or that…your mirror knows! It keeps you trying to raise your level all the time.  You work hard to be a bass player good enough to join Joe Lovano, and then find Joe doesn’t need a bass player, but John Scofield does. Because of all the work you put in to work for Joe, you are ready to audition for Scofield! Again, the doors of opportunity will open for you based on the level of your art.”


As Artistic Director of the Vail Workshop, the Jazz Port Townsend Workshop, and the Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival, as well as an educator at USC and UCLA, these are the sort of lessons John has been passing on to his students all these years, turning out emotionally healthy, disciplined, skilled musicians, prepared to face the challenges of a rapidly changing music business.


The California Jazz Foundation Annual Gala will take place at 6pm on Saturday, April 2nd, at The L.A. Hotel Downtown, 333 South Figueroa Street in Los Angeles. There will be lots of live jazz, including the entire Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra, John's son, Gerald, guitarist Graham Dechter, and more!  Tickets are available on-line at or by phone at 818-261-0057.

Photo by permission of John Clayton.



On-air personality, Helen Borgers, can be heard on KJazz 88.1 FM from 2:00 pm - 6:00 pm, Monday through Friday. As a jazz broadcaster, Helen has been invited to give pre-concert lectures at various performing arts centers, served on panels in jazz conventions all over the world, and lectured about the history of jazz in middle schools, high schools, and colleges. She has also written articles for international jazz publications and regularly emcees concerts, festivals, and club dates throughout southern California.

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