Jay Clayton is both a significant singer in the jazz avant-garde and a highly influential educator. Clayton learned standards very early from hearing her mother sing around their house. She took private piano lessons from a young age and studied at the St. Louis Institute for Music for a short time. She graduated from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio in 1963 with a degree in music education. Although she studied classical music at school, Clayton sang jazz on the weekends at local clubs.
As an educator, Clayton was inspired by Sheila Jordan and has become just as influential. She has taught at a countless number of seminars, workshops, and master classes; was on the jazz faculty of Cornish College of the Arts for 20 years; and has taught at the Universität für Musik in Austria, the Bud Shank Jazz Workshop, City College, the New School in New York City, the Vermont Jazz Workshop, and the Banff Center in Canada.
As a singer, Clayton has been well documented through the years, recording for such labels as Anima, Hep, West Wind, ITM, Winter & Winter, and Sound Winds. She also recorded a duo set of standards with pianist Fred Hersch, Beautiful Love, for Sunnyside in 1995. Two years later, Circle Dancing appeared on the label and placed her in the company of George Cables, Gary Bartz, Anthony Cox, and Jerry Granelli, while 2001's Brooklyn 2000 featured Clayton with Briggan Krauss, Phil Sparks, Aaron Alexander, Jim Knapp, and Randy Halberstadt. During the latter year, her book Sing Your Story: A Practical Guide for Learning and Teaching the Art of Jazz Singing was published by Advance Music. An American Garden followed on Solo Winds a year later.
In 2008 she returned to Sunnyside for the acclaimed — and completely solo — The Peace of Wild Things. In and Out of Love was issued in 2010, featuring Clayton fronting a trio with guitarist Jack Wilkins and bassist Jay Anderson. Three years later she released the trio date Harry Who?, a tribute to songwriter Harry Warren featuring saxophonist Houston Person and pianist John De Martino. In 2017 she teamed with composer, pianist, sound sculptor, and arranger Kirk Nurock for Unraveling Emily, a recorded extension of their study and live project. Clayton is currently on the jazz faculty at the Peabody Institute for Music. ~ Scott Yanow