James Clay (musician)

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James Clay
Birth nameJames Earl Clay
Born(1935-09-08)September 8, 1935
Dallas, Texas, United States
DiedJanuary 6, 1995(1995-01-06) (aged 59)
Dallas, Texas
GenresHard bop, jazz
Instrument(s)Tenor saxophone, flute, alto saxophone

James Earl Clay (September 8, 1935 – January 6, 1995) was an American jazz tenor saxophonist and flutist.

Early life[edit]

Clay was born in Dallas, Texas, on September 8, 1935.[1] While in school, Clay played alto saxophone, and then played with local bands from around the age of 17.[1]

Later life and career[edit]

Clay moved to California in 1955, where he initially played in jam sessions.[1] He appeared on recordings with Lawrence Marable the following year.[1] Clay then played with freer musicians including Don Cherry, Billy Higgins, and Ornette Coleman, before returning to Dallas in 1958. He joined the military in 1959, and recorded two albums as a leader the following year.[1]

Back in California, he led a quartet with Roosevelt Wardell, Jimmy Bond, and Frank Butler, but soon returned to Texas. He toured with Lowell Fulson in the early 1960s, and with Ray Charles on and off between 1962 and 1977. A reappearance on a recording led by Cherry in 1988 – Art Deco – led to a short resurgence of interest in Clay's career.[1][2] He died in Dallas, Texas on January 6, 1995, aged 59.[1]

Playing style[edit]

Grove wrote that "Clay's style revealed a bop-oriented approach, reminiscent of an angular Lester Young."[1] Clay in the late 1980s said: "Texas tenors are known for playing in a raunchy, straight-forward manner, with lots of emotion and few frills. I'm a typical example of that style of player."[2]


As leader[edit]

As sideman[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h Kennedy, Gary W. (2002). "Clay, James (Earl)". Grove Music Online. Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/gmo/9781561592630.article.J538400.
  2. ^ a b Iverson, Ethan (October 4, 2019). "Chronology: Don Cherry's Reunion Blues". JazzTimes. Retrieved August 22, 2020.

Further reading[edit]