The Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra -- from left, John Clayton, Jeff Hamilton and Jeff Clayton -- opens the fourth Jazz at the Lesher Center series. (Courtesy Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra)

Jazz greats light up Lesher Center series

Even though it’s not in San Francisco, the fourth annual Jazz at the Lesher Center series in Walnut Creek boasts performers that rate top bookings in big cities.

This year’s lineup of concerts, presented in the 300-seat Margaret Lesher Theatre Saturdays in August by the Diablo Regional Arts Association, kicks off this weekend with the big band sound of the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra, making its series debut. Upcoming shows feature legendary pianist Dick Hyman with reed players Ken Peplowski and Harry Allen; wonderful pianist Cyrus Chestnut; and the esteemed guitar duo of Martin Taylor and Bucky Pizzarelli.

“Because this is our first time at the Lesher series, our goal is to allow people to get to know us and meet all the guys in the band,” says Grammy-winning bassist and band leader John Clayton, who has played with Diana Krall, Paul McCartney, Dee Dee Bridgewater and Gladys Knight. “We’ll do that through quite a variety of music, including compositions from Jeff Hamilton, myself, Duke Ellington and Charles Mingus. We’ll also play music from our latest recording, ‘The LA Treasures Project,’ which got a Grammy nomination.”

Clayton’s brother and fellow band member Jeff — a reed virtuoso who has appeared with Stevie Wonder, Gladys Knight, Michael Jackson, Madonna, Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., Joe Cocker, B.B. King and Ray Charles — adds, “We usually know that if we enjoy playing the music, that feeling will come across and become part of the audience. We realize that audiences don’t sympathize with what you do; they empathize with what you do. If you’re into it, whether it’s an introverted ballad or something joyful and spirited, the audience wants to be there with you.”

The brothers, who co-founded the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra with drummer Hamilton in 1985, are active educators as well as performers. Both recently finished teaching young aspiring jazz artists enrolled in a training intensive at the Centrum Jazz Festival in Port Townsend, Wash.

In addition to teaching individual clinics, workshops and private students, John (whose recent performance in Port Townswend with violin great Regina Carter was fantastic) directs educational components associated with the Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival in Idaho, the Vail Jazz Party in Colorado. and the Centrum Jazz Festival.

IF YOU GO
Jazz at the Lesher Center
Where: Margaret Lesher Theatre, 1601 Civic Drive, Walnut Creek
When: 5 and 8 p.m. most Saturdays in August
Tickets: $40
Contact: (925) 943-7469, www.lesherjazz.org

The lineup
Aug. 1: Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra
Aug 8: Dick Hyman with Ken Peplowski and Harry Allen
Aug. 22: Cyrus Chestnut with Joel Frahm and Warren Wolf
Aug. 29: Martin Taylor and Bucky Pizzarelli
Bucky PizzarelliClayton-Hamilton Jazz OrchestraCyrus ChestnutDick HymanJazz at the Lesher CenterJeff ClaytonJeff HamiltonJohn ClaytonMartin Taylor

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