Musical Moscow . . . Moscow, Idaho, that is
April 12, 2010
The Clayton Brothers perform at the 2009 Lionel Hampton International Jazz Festival: John Clayton, bass; Terell Stafford, trumpet; Gerald Clayton (John?s son), piano; and Jeff Clayton, saxophone. Photo courtesy of University of Idaho Media Relations
One thing Rocco probably learned on his visit to Idaho last week is that Moscow, approximately five hours north of Boise, is home to one of the nation's premiere jazz festivals. For more than 40 years the University of Idaho?s Lionel Hampton International Jazz Festival has given elementary school, junior high, and college musicians a chance to study with the genre's master artists in intimate workshop settings, as well as hear performances by some of the biggest names in jazz. Begun in 1967 as a one-day event, this festival has grown to a four-day experience, becoming---according to many----the world?s top jazz teaching festivals. In 2007, the jazz festival received the National Medal of Arts, the highest award given to artists and arts patrons by the United States Government.
I recently spoke with the festival?s artistic director, jazz legend John Clayton.
NEA: How did you end up as artistic director of the Lionel Hampton International Jazz Festival?
JOHN CLAYTON: I was on the Artistic Board of Advisors, and we needed to find a new artistic director to take Doc Skinner?s place. After looking at the criteria, one of my best friends, Jeff Hamilton, said to the board, ?He?s probably going to kill me but there?s only one guy that I can think of that meets the criteria: John Clayton.? I looked at him and mouthed the words, ?What the hell?? People nodded in agreement. I thought, well, I guess I should go home and think about this. The more I thought about it, the more I thought about all of the opportunities I have been given by so many people that now is my chance to continue this awesome legacy started by Lionel Hampton and Doc Skinner. It was impossible to say to no, so I happily said yes.
NEA: In 1985, the festival became known as the Lionel Hampton International Jazz Festival, in honor of the NEA Jazz Master who was such a fervent supporter of the event. Do you have any particular memories of Hampton that stand out?
CLAYTON: The memories I have of Hampton are always of him being a frail, older man, who moved slowly. When he got on stage and started performing, he shed about 30 years. The music brought him to life, and he gave it life. It was just an amazing thing to witness. Anybody that watched Hampton perform can corroborate this story. He was just amazing when it came to his ability to dig deep and pull out an energy that you didn?t know existed. It was fantastic.
NEA: Could you talk about how the Hampton Festival helps promote jazz and young jazz artists?
CLAYTON: The strongest point of the festival is the workshop program. The workshops and clinics we give at the festival and the Jazz in the Schools throughout the year are at such a high level that the students that come to be a part are getting the best jazz education workshops that they can find anywhere in the country. That alone is going to affect their lives forever. Of course, we all are expecting the students to go on to do other things and find other careers. But they will have played jazz at a high level. Therefore, as they go on in life, they are going to insist that that community be a part of their lives in some way. That?s probably the best promotion we can do. That alone would be brilliant on some concerts each night. It would send the right kind of message to the community and surrounding states that are participating.
NEA: In your opinion, what makes for successful jazz education?
CLAYTON: Good jazz education is the right kind of information combined with the right kind of simulation. These two components in the hands of the tutor are to establish the drive of the student. They?re going to help the student to find the answers that they are looking for. Jazz education is complete when you have the right kind of mentors or the right kind of instructors to help stimulate that interest and help expose the students to areas of music that they normally don?t get, which is what's great about the festival. I always tell my students that we?re really not the teachers; you actually teach yourself. We?re the ones here to guide, direct, and push [the students] to a higher level. But the teaching and learning part of it, you do yourself. That?s something crucial. Students need to explore on their own to find the information that?s so crucial.
NEA: How has the festival been able to thrive in Moscow, Idaho, far from a major city?
CLAYTON: Its survival points to the quality of the festival. It is such an amazingly high-quality festival that presents such top-notch workshops and clinics and the best concerts you will find anywhere. It has the support of the community and the University of Idaho. That is what continues to impress the musicians that come to participate in the festival. You bring quality to anything, word is going to get out, and people will come from far and wide.
NEA: As the festival enters its fifth decade, what is its vision for the future?
CLAYTON: The vision for the future of the festival is enhanced jazz education and a continuation of top-notch jazz performance presentations.
NEA: Is there anything you?d like to add?
CLAYTON: The joys that Lionel Hampton brought to every stage he ever stood on is reflected in the Lionel Hampton International Jazz Festival. It?s one of the most uplifting and awesome festivals!