MJF 62 - Gerald Clayton

Gerald Clayton plays electric piano during his Quartet's set on the Garden Stage on Friday., Sept. 27.

There was no shortage of cool musical options on a frigid Friday night at the Fairgrounds. Allison Miller and Derrick Hodges’ tribute to the late pianist Mary Lou Williams was lovely, with especially plaintive vocals from Jean Baylor, Johnaye Kendrick and Michael Mayo on “It Ain’t Necessarily So” and Williams’ liturgical composition, “St. Martin,’’ from “Black Christ of the Andes.’’

But I was more in the mood for the Gerald Clayton Quartet on the Garden Stage. Famed pianist Clayton was especially effective with his moody interpretation, “‘Mama Said,” inspired by the folk musician Elizabeth Cotton’s “Freight Train” and his musicological research into the Piedmont blues of North Carolina. Ably backed by Logan Richardson on sax, Kendrick Scott and the formidable Joe Sanders on bass, Clayton leaned into the folk rhythm of the region with eloquence and grace.

Clayton’s longtime mentor, pianist Kenny Barron and bassist Dave Holland—also this year’s MJF Jazz Legend honorees—acquitted themselves admirably back at the Arena, on the Thelonious Monk tune variously titled “Worry Late”’ and “San Francisco Holiday,” with Barron embellishing his customary minimalism on Duke Ellington’s lovely ballad “Warm Valley” (“I wish I was there,” Barron quipped, with a few arpeggios honoring Sir Duke).

At this point Barron and Holland are like an old married couple, who complete each other’s musical sentences, but they were joined by relative youngster Nasheet Waits on drums, whose whispery cymbal brush work proved that he was more than up to the task.

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As temperatures lowered even further, I abandoned my hardy gerontological compares, and skipped the anodyne pleasures of Diana Krall to catch guitar phenom Donna Grantis at the Nightclub, where things warmed up, literally and figuratively. The buckskin bedecked Grantis, the former second guitarist for Prince, had been heavily hyped to me and lived up to every word.

Her expressive octave scaling, mixing volume with sexuality and lyrical phrasing, bore comparison to the Purple One—or Hendrix. She may not yet have the stage presence of such legends, but to watch her attack her ax is a sight, and sound to behold, and made for the most authentically new musical experience of the night. Her band, Jason Lindner on keyboards, Jonathan Maron on bass, Jason “JT” Thomas on drums and Suphala on tabla, were kicking it, too. Her debut solo album, Diamonds & Dynamite, sounds well worth checking out, too.

The 62nd annual Monterey Jazz Festival concludes Sunday, Sept. 29.

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