WEEKEND: Big-band concert culminates Port Townsend workshop

PORT TOWNSEND — This weekend’s big-band workshop has a different flavor than the summer’s Port Townsend Jazz Festival, said the musician who provides the linchpin for both events.

“They are exposed to my music and my philosophies,” said John Clayton about the 19 people who have come to Fort Worden State Park for an intensive three-day sess­ion that culminates in a concert Saturday night.

“I get to rehearse them much as I would a professional jazz orchestra, which means cutting to the quick because we have such a limited amount of time.”

The players come from throughout the Northwest and are all accomplished on their instruments, paying $300 for room, board and instruction.

The event is sponsored by Centrum, the Fort Worden-based arts organization.

No audition is required, though the musicians wouldn’t be interested in attending if they weren’t dedicated to their craft, Clayton said.

Public workshop

Leading up to the concert, Clayton will conduct a public workshop tonight at 7:30 in Wheeler Theater on the Fort Worden grounds.

During this free event, Clayton will demonstrate big-band styles and techniques and discuss his philosophy behind composing and arranging for a big band.

The concert performance begins at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, also in the Wheeler Theater.

Tickets are $10 plus a $4 service fee and are available through the Centrum website at www.centrum.org or by phone at 800-746-1982 (a $4 Internet/phone order fee applies).

Remaining tickets will be sold at the venue box office one hour prior to the performance.

Clayton, 59, who acts as musical director for the jazz festival, is a renowned bassist whose compositions and arrangements have been featured with Diana Krall, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Natalie Cole, Quincy Jones, the Count Basie Orchestra and others.

He said he has six performance pieces in mind and has already made the scores available to the musicians so they can study the music — except for one piece.

“I have one piece in reserve that I haven’t told the participants about,” Clayton said.

“I will spring that once they get here, so it opens the doors of communication and discussion about how you deal with showing up one day and ‘boom,’ there’s a piece of music you have never seen, and you have to play it.”

Bebop sounds

Many listeners think of 1940s swing as big band while others, like Clayton, visualize more modern bebop sounds.

But “big band,” according to Clayton, is more of an instrumentation than a specific style.

As presented this week, the pickup big band will have four trumpets, four trombones, four or five saxophones, piano, bass, drums and guitar.

The musicians need to not only read music, but determine the nuances in playing and must do so while 17 other people are next to them doing the same thing.

Clayton will be providing constant input along the way but will tell the musicians how to play instead of how not to play.

“We don’t have much time, so it will be like, ‘Here’s what we have to do. Let’s get busy,’” he said.

“If I tell you what I don’t want you to do, that’s too much information, so that’s why I only tell you what I want.”

While every musician rehearses differently, Clayton has a more natural approach:

“If we don’t have it by the fourth or fifth time, we are never going to get it.”

Clayton is a professional musician and an amateur cook, and there are similarities between the two.

“Audiences are going to hear my fantasies of jazz and different kinds of sounds and emotions,” he said.

“If you come to my house to eat, I am not going to only serve you appetizers.

“I will provide you with a variety of tastes and flavors that make up a complete meal.”

Presentation of both the music and food is important.

“If it takes me 18 hours to make a sauce, I’m not going to just put it in front of you and say, ‘Here it is,’” he said.

“I will give it more of a presentation and tell you what you are getting.”

After the music (or the food) is presented, it is all up to the recipient’s taste.

“I hope you will like it, but if you don’t, that’s OK,” Clayton said.


Jefferson County Reporter Charlie Bermant can be reached at 360-385-2335 or at charlie.bermant@peninsuladailynews.com.

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