Jay Clayton: INTERVIEW


“I want to be truthful, and connected to the music…and I want to really reach the listener.”

Jay Clayton – Biography

Jay Clayton

Jay Clayton

Jay Clayton is an internationally acclaimed vocalist, composer, and educator, whose work boldly spans the terrain between jazz and new music. Jay has gained worldwide attention as both performer and teacher.

With more than 40 recordings to her credit, Clayton has appeared alongside such formidable artists as Muhal Richard Abrams, Steve Reich, Kirk Nurock, Julian Priester, Jerry Granelli, Jane Ira Bloom, Gary Bartz, Jack Wilkins, George Cables, Fred Hersch, Gary Thomas, tap dancer Brenda Bufalino as well as fellow vocalists Jeanne Lee, Norma Winstone, Urszula Dudziak and Bobby McFerrin.

She has taught extensively throughout the world and was on the jazz faculty of Cornish College of the Arts for 20 years. She is currently on the jazz faculty at Peabody Institute in Baltimore.

Her book, Sing Your Story: A Practical Guide for Learning and Teaching the Art of Jazz Singing, is published by Schott Music and is available in Japanese.




  • Hello Jay! How did you feel about going to L.A. this past November? (About the workshop at LACM: Jay Clayton, Rhiannon produced by Cathy Segal Garcia.)

It was a wonderful experience.  I thank Cathy Segal-Garcia for organizing it.  I loved working with Rhiannon, who I’ve known for many many years, but never worked with.  And it was great working with singers of all ages.

The concert was pretty amazing!  It was held in a beautiful home in the Hollywood hills.  And we had 2 groups open for us, one “Alternative” violinist/singer, and Cathy’s improvisational vocal group, “Fish To Birds”, which was a perfect addition to Rhiannon and I in our own sets.

Rhiannon and I were a very interesting combination in the concert.  We’ve shared much of the same history…both improvisational, both lived in NY in the ‘60s, and both sang for many years with Bobby McFerrin, both teachers and performers.


  • Have you ever been to or sang in Japan? If so, what brought you to Japan? What did you like about it?

I’ve only been to Japan once for 5 days. It was so short to really enjoy the culture, but I knew that I wanted to come back. I sang in a tour with “new music” composer, Steve Reich.  I’ve always wanted to come back to Japan to do my own music, and to teach.


  • Please tell me about a couple of your most favorite musicians!!

Well, I moved to N.Y. in 1963 and was lucky to be there at a time when I could hear my mentors…Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Charlie Mingus, Thelonius Monk, Eric Dolphy, to name a few.

This was my jazz education, and I’m totally influenced by these musicians.


  • What part of singing Jazz do you love the best? And what is your strong point as a jazz singer? 

I love singing the message, but I also love improvisation.

My strong point…that is not for me to say!


  • What do you care most about as a jazz singer in your music?

I want to be truthful, and connected to the music. And I want to really reach the listener.


  • How about recording? Could you share your experience about your CD making? What did you like about them?

In the beginning I didn’t like recording.  I always felt I was better in live performance.  But later I realized it was valuable.  You really have to go deep inside, and then you ARE the recording.  I’ve continued to make many recordings.

In my cds, I love the collaborative aspect of it.  I’ve worked with many different artists in these projects.  I always recommend that singers do record, because there’s so much that you learn about when you can hear it back.


  • And what do you care most about as a teacher?

As a teacher, I am more of a catalyst and a nurturer, and I hope I motivate singers to do their own thing.  I like to help singers understand what they should work on next, in their personal journey.


  • We learned a lot from your book “Sing Your Story” and it definitely helped us. Each sentence was like a quote and I’ve read that book repeatedly. We think to be a jazz singer/vocalist, we need to learn a lot of things from various aspects: basic theory, voice tech, improvisation, to be a leader of the band, business management or so… What do you recommend to us to keep in our mind to be a good singer? (What is the good attitude? What is the good mind-set to improve ourselves?)

You should always have a project you’re working on, like a group of songs, and learn them very well, before you move on to the next thing.

I think you should perform often.

I believe there’s homework you do in your practice time, but the real learning is in the performance time.

I recommend highly that you go out to listen to jazz music live.


  • Could you let us know the best way to make our practice effective with your CDs?

Most important, work with them often, even for short periods.

The cds with songs were intended not just to scat, but to sing over and over like you were talking to somebody, wanting to get that message across.

The scatting cds go through different styles and modes, but are mostly vamps on 2 chords, so they can be easy and fun to practice with.

They really make a big difference in the way you sing, if you practice with them.


  • Please let us know about how to keep yourself so creative and keep giving a lot to people around you.

The main thing is to keep working on your art.

For me…I’m working on myself when I’m teaching..I’m spreading the word.

I like being exited about this music and sharing with it with less experienced singers.

For performance, I know that I get experience each time.  I get stronger from being more in the present moment, and from the experience it helps me be more free.


  • For the closing of this interview, what do you love about jazz? Could you give any messages for singers in Japan? Do you feel open if a singer say that she/he would love to visit you someday? If you have anything to say, please let us know!!

Regarding what I love about jazz…So personal is the meeting …it allows you to be who you are, if you’re willing to work at it and continue.

I love that everyone is so different, instrument and vocalist. It helps you to become a better a person, and to make sense of life.  When you’re singing, time stops and we’re all in one place…at the music experience’s best.

Messages for Japan?  Get ready because I’m coming! I work with a lot of Japanese singers in NY, and it would be wonderful to do it Japan.  I know there a lot of singers there who love this music..keep doing it!

Of course I would love to have you here…please email me ahead of time to let me know you’re coming.

I thank you for your interest, I appreciate it. In whatever part I play in this, thank you!


  • If it is possible, please write small sentences about the relationship between Cathy and you here!!

I’ve known Cathy Segal-Garcia for many years.  She’s a huge contributor to the jazz community.  I have always felt that Cathy was a soul sister in life and in music. I love our developing relationship over all these years…how special!


Thank you very much!!!

*This interview was done by Cathy Segal Garcia with our offer. Thank you Cathy!!