Featured Musician - April 2005

Name: Clay Giberson

Instrument: Piano, keyboard, composer/arranger.

Early Years/Education: Grew up in Southwest Washington where my mom was a piano teacher and my dad had a lot of great jazz recordings. So early on I was exposed to Miles Davis, Stan Getz, etc.

In high school I received a Jazz Society scholarship to study privately with jazz instructor Harry Gillgam, but I'm mostly classically trained. For college I decided to head east where I stayed for ten years.

I wanted to experience it, learn more about music and eventually play in New York, which I did. I got my Bachelors in Music at the University of Miami, and my Masters in Music at New York University where I worked as a teaching assistant. At NYU, I studied with Jim McNeely, Vince Maggio and Fred Hersch. Fred Hersch stressed how to practice and teach yourself. I have a younger brother, Forrest Giberson, who is a bassist in Seattle. He plays upright and electric and he went to Miami with me.

Bands: Currently I play keyboards in Dan Balmer's group, Go By Train, acoustic piano in a trio called Upper Left Trio, and in vocalist Stephanie Schneiderman's band. These groups are focused on mostly original music but each has a different setting. I've got a lot invested in all three. It's really fun for me to be able to write music for certain people and see how they play.

When I write I sometimes start with a harmonic or rhythmic idea to improvise around. You keep refining it. I think of improvisation as composing in real time or speeded up. I also studied classical composition which is useful.

The Upper Left Trio is all acoustic with Jeff Leonard on bass, and Charley Doggett on drums. We play original compositions, jazz standards and sometimes give rock tunes people will recognize a jazz treatment.

Also teach privately (teach people to teach themselves).

Musical Influences: The Miles Davis Quintet of the 60's--Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, etc. That group had quite an impact on me. I also love Miles' collaboration with Gil Evans, the orchestral stuff.

I grew up playing classical piano so I approach jazz in that way as well. Duke Ellington, Thelonious Monk, Bill Evans, Keith Jarrett (his European and American Quartets), Pat Metheny, Brazilian guitarist Toninho Horta, Danilo Perez, Brad Mehldau, Jason Moran, and Ornette Coleman.

Most Satisfying Experience: In New York I'd play solo piano for a lot of private parties. One particularly satisfying gig was playing for actor Michael Douglas at his Christmas party. When I walked in, the piano tuner was tuning his piano, a Steinway.

The whole experience was surreal--all these famous people from the music world, politics and others I'd seen on television. Another great experience was playing with Ira Sullivan in Miami. He had a jam and I was in his house band for a few months.

The challenge of playing with Ira was he'd start playing a tune and expect you to be there. You'd know the name of the tune but he wouldnÕt tell you the key! Getting a chance to play at Birdland was exciting.

Favorite Recordings: "Miles Smiles," Miles Davis; Miles and Gil Evans, "Sketches of Spain;" Keith Jarrett, "Personal Mountains;" Joao Gilberto, "Amoroso;" Weather Report, "Black Market;" Stan Getz & Kenny Barron, "People Time;" Frank Sinatra & Count Basie, "It Might as Well Be Swing;" Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong, "Ella and Louis;" and currently, Chris Potter, "Traveling Mercies;" John Scofield Trio, "En route;" Toninho Horta, "The Durango Kid 1 & 2;" Esbjorn Svensson Trio, "Seven Days of Falling;" Joe Lovano Quartet, "Live at the Village Vanguard."

Discography: As a leader: Mirador (Origin Arts 2001), Upper Road (Origin Arts 2002), Aiming True (Origin Arts 2003), How Great Thou Art (2003); with Upper Left Trio "Cycling" (Origin Arts 2003); with Go By Train "Go by Train" (Alternative Jazz 2004); as a sideman, w/Dan Balmer "Change of Heart," w/Belinda Underwood, "Underwood Uncurling," w/McKinley "Goner," w/Mary Kadderly "Lucky Me," with various artists "Modern Jazz, a Collection of Seattle's Finest Jazz" (Origin Arts 2004).

Where Playing Currently: Clay's gigs are updated regularly on his website, www.claygiberson.com. He'll be with Stephanie Schneiderman Band in April at her CD release party on the 8th at Jimmy Mak's; with the Upper Left Trio on the 9th at Wilf's at Union Station; and on the 18th and the 25th with Go by Train at Jimmy Maks.

Future Plans: Would like to do a recording project with strings; I'm not sure exactly what it will be but something orchestral. I want to continue playing and recording. And I'd like to expand my teaching; I have a handful of students at the moment.

Other Comments: Music scene in Miami was great, particularly the Latin gigs. Portland is a good rhythm section town.

-- Interviewed by Rita Rega

Copyright 2007, Jazz Society of Oregon