John Clayton: Nomination, Not the Grammy, That Counts

Wednesday, February 3 2010

MOSCOW, Idaho – Bringing home a Grammy Award is seen by popular culture as the crème de la crème for artists. For John Clayton, who served as an arranger and played bass on this year's Grammy Award-winning "Yo-Yo Ma & Friends: Songs Of Joy And Peace," the pleasure comes from a less conspicuous part of the Grammys.

"The most meaning comes from the initial nomination," said Clayton. "It's when people in the industry come forward to honor their own."

Clayton said that the initial nominations for a Grammy are put forth by specialists in a particular genre. "They look at quality and nuances within the genre, which may not be known by other types of artists. This specialized recognition brings us to the forefront of our peers," he said. "Nominations at this level are a special thing by people who know and love the music."

The Grammys are the only peer-presented award to honor artistic achievement, technical proficiency and overall excellence in the recording industry, without regard to album sales or chart position. That's why Grammy Award nominations often include artists whose names are not as well known as Beyoncé, Lady Gaga or Kings of Leon.

Following the initial nomination process, the larger Recording Academy body selects the award recipients. "At that point, a rap artist could be choosing a gospel artist for a Grammy," said Clayton. "I'm not dismissing the Academy, but that's why the initial nomination is so meaningful."

And a momentous year it was for Clayton and his family. In addition to the nod for his work with Yo-Yo Ma, The Clayton Brothers Quintet, co-led by John's brother, Jeff Clayton, received a Grammy nomination for its album, "Brother to Brother." And his son, Gerald Clayton, received his first Grammy nomination for Best Improvised Jazz Solo with his interpretation of "All of You."

"It was Gerald's own trio album, and to have it nominated for a Grammy, specifically for his solo, was a wonderful nod," said Clayton. "It was really special to see my friends and family nominated this year."

He compares the nomination process to the adjudication process at the Lionel Hampton International Jazz Festival. "We want to acknowledge achievement and quality, not in relation to one's peers, but for what they have done with the music," he said.

Under Clayton's leadership, the festival has moved away from a competition process that awards first, second and third place, and seeks to honor achievement.

"We will never tell a person they are a second-place or a non-placed performer," Clayton said. "What does that do to the people we're telling these messages to? What if they actually believe it and lose their interest in their music?"

That is why the final outcome of the Grammy Awards doesn't hold a lot of weight for Clayton. "Any kind of recognition that's positive makes me feel good. But it would make me a hypocrite to be overly proud to receive a Grammy," he said. "I want to keep learning, keep finessing my art form, and likewise, fan that flame in other artists."

"The Lionel Hampton International Jazz Festival focuses on being a place that helps students learn to love jazz and keep it alive," he said. "We work with students to fine-tune their skills, and provide input and direction to help them solve problems and launch them to the next stage in the musical experience."

For 43 years at the University of Idaho, the Lionel Hampton International Jazz Festival has brought jazz masters together with elementary, junior high, high school and college students to share and celebrate this truly American art form. It has featured hundreds of musicians from around the world, including China, the Czech Republic, Portugal and Peru, as well as students from Canada, Japan, Russia and Kyrgyzstan. For more information, visit
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About the University of Idaho

Founded in 1889, the University of Idaho is the state’s flagship higher-education institution and its principal graduate education and research university, bringing insight and innovation to the state, the nation and the world. University researchers attract nearly $100 million in research grants and contracts each year; the University of Idaho is the only institution in the state to earn the prestigious Carnegie Foundation ranking for high research activity. The university’s student population includes first-generation college students and ethnically diverse scholars. Offering more than 130 degree options in 10 colleges, the university combines the strengths of a large university with the intimacy of small learning communities. The university is home to the Vandals, the 2009 Roady’s Humanitarian Bowl champions. For information, visit

About the University of Idaho
The University of Idaho helps students to succeed and become leaders. Its land-grant mission furthers innovative scholarly and creative research to grow Idaho's economy and serve a statewide community. From its main campus in Moscow, Idaho, to 70 research and academic locations statewide, U-Idaho emphasizes real-world application as part of its student experience. U-Idaho combines the strength of a large university with the intimacy of small learning communities. It is home to the Vandals. For information, visit