An acclaimed vocalist and educator, Jay Clayton is known for her broad-minded approach to jazz and modern creative music. Clayton sings in a highly original manner, using her three-octave voice instrumentally, often with a wordless vocabulary. She can soar and sweep with ethereal and often startling beauty through compositions that are often complex and intellectually demanding. Following her initial emergence singing standards at New York clubs in the 1960s, Clayton went on to work with leading artists of the avant-garde and contemporary music scene, including Muhal Richard Abrams, John Cage, Jane Ira Bloom, Bobby McFerrin, Gary Peacock, Steve Reich, and many others. As a solo artist, she has issued a number of highly engaging albums, including 1980's small group date All Out, 1986's Sound Songs with longtime associate percussionist Jerry Granelli, 2008's The Peace of Wild Things, and 2017's Unraveling Emily with pianist Kirk Nurock. Though she often works in an acoustic format, she has also embraced the use of electronics. Along with performing, Clayton is widely respected as an educator and has taught at such institutions as the Cornish College of the Arts, the New School in New York City, and the Peabody Institute for Music.
Born in 1941 in Youngstown, Ohio, 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. Clayton is currently on the jazz faculty at the Peabody Institute for Music.