Taking jazz online let pianist Clayton find global audience
After serenading the world with his own brand of jazz over the past 18 months, Jim Clayton is looking forward to his first live gig in a good long while.
But it’s what the veteran award-winning jazz artist has been doing throughout COVID-19 that’s earned him plaudits from an appreciative international audience.
Since shortly after the pandemic effectively closed the world down in March 2020, Clayton’s Danforth area home — more specifically his dining room — has become Jim’s Piano Bar, with Clayton logging more than 425 performances, turning a personal Facebook following of 250 into an international audience of more than 30,000.
Clayton acknowledged he was getting “fidgety” when he and daughter Lenny, 11, decided to entertain friends via Facebook, answering questions and taking requests. The family cat, Fry, also put in an occasional guest appearance.
“We did it (live show) twice and had some fun with it. The third night, we were watching a movie and I got a message on Facebook saying, ‘Oh, aren’t you guys on tonight?’ I thought it’s fun, why not give people what they want?” Clayton recalled.
“After a month, I was going to take a night off. That day, I got a message from a nurse in Argentina saying the music helped her get though her all-night shift during COVID. I thought, ‘Oh my god, if she can do that, I can play for one hour.’ That’s why I kept going,” he added.
Clayton’s wife, who works in digital marketing, helped him post ads first in North America and then South America. And after moving from his personal Facebook page to the Jim Clayton Jazz Facebook page, his audience has soared.
“All of a sudden, it was 15,000 or 20,000 followers. In the spring, it broke 30,000 people following the page. That’s not to imply if you’re to tune in, there’s 30,000 people watching. Folks drop in, and they come and go,” Clayton noted.
Clayton has learned to greet his audience in both Spanish as well as Portuguese, thanks to a particular fan: a hotel owner in Ilhéus, Brazil, who wants him to fly down for some shows next year. He also set up a virtual “tip jar” to support various worthy causes, including the Glad Day Bookshop emergency survival fund, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, the American Civil Liberties Union and the New Orleans Musicians’ Clinic.
He’s also reconnected with some old friends, including a high school classmate and fellow musician who lives in Dubai — “he’s watching before he goes to work in the morning. It’s already tomorrow where he is” — as well a vast array of new fans and friends.
Fans in turn have let Clayton how much he’s appreciated via online testimonials.
“We are very social people, but suddenly COVID became a very quiet time for us. When we discovered Jim was doing an online concert every night, we were thrilled! Jim Clayton Jazz became our evening focus, something we looked forward to, and whether we were playing cards, reading or enjoying nature on our deck, Jim filled our lives with soothing, refreshing music. We are so grateful to him for sharing his talent and music (and even his endless stories) with us!” wrote Sue Huson, 65, a retired schoolteacher from London.
“I tuned in every single evening during more than a hundred shows,” wrote Marcio Roberto Bueno Fernandes, 45, from Santo Andre, Brazil.
“The idea of being part of this community of music lovers, with a great player who would talk to us, play our requested songs and even connect us to other great people in the same situation, in the same ‘piano bar.’ It was all very exciting and calming at the same time. It was absolutely necessary for me. I would spend the whole day in anticipation for Jim’s piano bar. It helped take my mind off dark places a lot,” he added.
“I find the music calming and during the pandemic it was always nice to hear a familiar voice. Loved both the music and listening to the stories. Looking forward to doing it live again but the Piano Bar has certainly been a treat,” wrote Charlene Winger, a project manager from Toronto.
Clayton, who worked for more than a decade as music director for Second City’s national touring company, has made a decent living doing corporate work in recent years, at least until the pandemic struck. His trio also won the Canadian Smooth Jazz Award twice in 2005 and 2006.
He’s returning to the Jazz Bistro at 251 Victoria St. tonight for a two-set performance, a place he last performed for his 50th birthday a few years back. Clayton will reunite with old jazz colleagues, Peter Telford on bass and Jeff Halischuk on drums, and is looking forward to the experience.
“The big thing for me is performing with other musicians. Playing solo is very different. It’s more work too. At the very least, I prefer to play with a bass player because he holds down the groove. I’ve been practising with a metronome to make sure I can still keep the beat,” Clayton said with a laugh.
Clayton plans to continue his Facebook performances five nights a week for the near future.
“I was just trying to make my kid laugh most of the time. And this thing just sprung up. I’m surprised and definitely delighted. It’s been incredibly gratifying. They (fans) all know my daughter, they all know my cat,” Clayton said.
“There’s not really any reason to stop even when things normalize. These folks are helping me out, too. As I often sign off by saying, on behalf of my family, thanks for getting me of their hair for an hour a night.”