7th Annual James Clay Tribute

Submitted by johnnycase on Mon, 09/07/2015 - 9:50am

Thanks to all the performers and listeners for making this year's event one of the best yet! Since the beginning of this annual event, multi-instrumentalist Roger Boykin of Dallas, Texas has been Master of Ceremonies and primo performer on alto sax, flute and guitar. He's also a fine pianist, but he lets me and Kelly Durbin handle piano duties. As co-founders of the James Clay tribute, Duane Durrett and I appreciate Gracey Tune's enthusiastic help in providing Arts Fifth Avenue (in Fort Worth) as our venue. Regular performers include James Gilyard, bass; Bob Stewart and Duane Durrett, drums; Lou Harlas, bass; Brad Leali, alto sax, with guests James Shannon, guitar; Clyde George, organ; Clint Strong, guitar; Jack Evans, trumpet; Chris McGuire, trumpet and reeds; Tom Burchill, guitar; Harrell Bosarge, drums; Fred Sanders, piano; Lynn Seaton, bass; Randy Lee, tenor sax; Buddy Mohmed, bass and vocalists Carla Norris-Hopkins, Sandra Kaye, Cynthia Scott, Tatiana Mayfield and Victor Cager. Some of the talented musicians in attendance this year included Curtis Bradshaw, David Perrine, Raymond George, Rachella Parks and Marjorie Crenshaw, who is a regular attendee. We who perform are honored that members of the Clay family have attended every year, including James' widow Billye Clay of Dallas and their son Randle, who is currently working and residing in Florida. The arts writer Bill Martin and Tom Kellam of the Fort Worth Jazz Archives were present again this year, and Martin told me that our tribute to James Clay is his favorite of such events, because it has the warmest sense of community, and is a heartfelt expression of love by all who knew the lengendary jazz tenor man. We look forward to the 8th annual "Remembering James Clay" at Arts Fifth Avenue in Fort Worth slated for September 2016.    


                                                                                              *                *                *                            

                                                 Compilation CD by Johnny Case honors tenor saxophonist James Clay

                                                                                 H E A V Y    I S    H I S    L E G A C Y

                                                                                                         In Homage to James Clay who lived from 1935 to 1995                                                                                                                              

1  SONNYMOON FOR TWO  (Sonny Rollins)                                                                                                                                                      

2  ALL BLUES (Miles Davis)  

3  BODY AND SOUL (Green-Heyman-Sour-Eyton)    

4  SOFTLY AS IN A MORNING SUNRISE (Sigmund Romberg)                   

James Clay, tenor sax; Johnny Case, piano; Jim Perkins, amplified bass; Dave Breashears, drums.                                                                                      

Recorded live at the Caravan of Dreams in Fort Worth, Texas - November 1988     


5  ELEVATION (Gerry Mulligan-Elliott Lawrence)

Johnny Case, piano; Chris Clarke, bass; Mark Lignell, drums.                                                                                                                                                    

Recorded live @ J.R.'s Place in Fort Worth, Texas - 1980


 6  FIVE WILL GET YOU TEN (Sonny Clark*)

Johnny Case, piano; Duane Durrett, drums; Byron Gordon, bass; Sylvester Jones, tenor sax.                                                                                     

Rehearsal for a concert (Jazz by the Boulevard) recorded 2004 at Sardines Ristorante Italiano, Fort Worth, Texas.



Chris White, trumpet; Sylvester Jones, tenor sax; Johnny Case, piano; Byron Gordon, bass; Joey Carter, drums.                                                      

Recorded March, 2005.                                                                                                                                                                                                                     

                                                                                                          Liner Notes by Johnny Case

                                                                                                            HEAVY IS HIS LEGACY

Decades have passed since the soulful tenor saxophone jazz artistry of James Clay first reached my ear. It was a live set at an after-hours club on Fort Worth's south side. He was what some call a journeyman, his travels through the world of music still revealing jewels found in surprising places. As testimony to this man's greatness, the musicians who heard him in person invariably remember their first hearing of James Clay. Why? Simply said, it's because these attentive listeners knew, by his music, that they were hearing the "real thing". His gift to communicate goes beyond the usual standards of many talented artists. Such direct playing from the heart distinguishes Clay's musical statements and separates his artistry from the often admirable work of his contemporaries. It wasn't for nothing that his nickname was "Heavy". His slender frame embodied a powerful vibrant spirit we can hear from the earliest recorded examples until the last days of his life. Late in his life, I once had the strange impression that a gust of wind could eradicate what had become a frail and fragile existence. Yet upon hearing the huge sound and still-vital expression coming from within his being, I sensed that the music itself was all that remained of James Clay. Soon his music and physical presence would both be gone.

This compilation is a tribute to the great jazzman it was my privilege to know and to perform with on various occasions. The first four selections on this CD are from one such occasion in November of 1988 at the Caravan of Dreams jazz nightclub in Fort Worth, Texas. My friend Duane Durrett, a prominent drummer and jazz educator had asked my trio to perform at a fundraiser for the college where Durrett had long before established an impressive jazz program. Under Duane's direction, the band had performed at the Montreux Jazz Festival with David "Fathead" Newman. At the fundraiser, the Weatherford College Lab Band performed a set prior to the scheduled time for my trio. As a bonus, their band had a special guest soloist for this event, the veteran tenor saxophonist James Clay. Durrett and Clay had long been musical associates, so I was not overly surprised at this additional treat.

When it was time for my trio to go on, I sat down at the Bosendorfer piano which had been brought in for Cecil Taylor, whose Fort Worth engagement had ended the night before. Suddenly, James Clay came walking across the stage toward me. He was wearing a nice suit and he looked great. I'll never forget how humbly he asked: "Would it be okay?" My surprise was surpassed only by my delight that we would perform together again. It had been several years since our last encounter. Neither he nor I knew there would be a recording of our performance. Later I would learn that my young drummer, Dave Breashears, had asked the soundman at the Caravan of Dreams to make a "souvenir" recording of our set. What is most evident on this recording is James Clay's towering spirit. Even a casual listen will reveal several reasons for Clay's stature among his peers. This document also makes clear why the nickname "Heavy" is most appropriate for this thin man of jazz whose true weight resided in his full-bodied tone, the immediacy of his statements, a total musicality projecting great depth with each James Clay performance.

Three additional selections complete this disc. The Johnny Case Trio circa 1980 is heard performing Gerry Mulligan's Elevation, live from J.R.'s Place, a Fort Worth venue that provided this pianist his first full-time jazz gig. We played six nights a week. Bassist Chris Clarke and drummer Mark Lignell were both students at North Texas State University, later known as UNT or the University of North Texas. The school is known world-wide for its jazz program.

The following track, Sonny Clark's Five Will Get You Ten, is from a rehearsal for a 2004 concert at Jazz by the Boulevard, an annual jazz festival in Fort Worth that ended circa 2010. This quartet was co-led by Johnny Case and Duane Durrett, shortly after the CD release of Waiting for the Moment on Sea Breeze Jazz.

* In recent years, there has been speculation that Thelonious Monk, not the credited Sonny Clark, was the true composer of this piece, and that Monk's title for it was Two-Timer. From a purely musical perspective, it could have been written by either composer, so the mystery is likely to remain unsolved.

The closing track is a Case quintet performance of Archie Shepp's homage to black political prisoner George Jackson. The tenor and trumpet front line evokes the familiar jazz atmosphere of those decades when James Clay periodically appeared in national and international venues, yet more frequently graced some obscure clubs throughout his home base of Dallas/Fort Worth. This premier Texas Tenor, who was among the most spontaneous of players, never failed to convey love, passion and truth, regardless of the context or material. What more can any artist give than the eloquent and soulful expression of life's greatest treasures such as we hear in the music of James Earl Clay?




Note: Johnny Case issued this CD-R in 2013 and presented it to the Clay family at the 5th annual "Remembering James Clay" event at Arts Fifth Avenue. HEAVY IS HIS LEGACY is not for sale, but copies were given to attendees who made contributions to tenor saxophonist Rachella Parks' tax-exempt medical research organization, The Sarcoidosis Foundation of Texas.