As musicians, we yearn to create, whether it’s through composing, crafting an individual sound or flipping a beloved piece on its head to make something that’s never been heard before. We long to breathe life into ideas that have not yet lived and to share stories that have not yet been told. In doing so, we create something that speaks to our shared experience, something that helps make sense of our world. But sometimes our educational institutions can muddle the realm of creation and recreation, preparing students to replicate that which already exists rather than feed the yearning to foster personal creativity.
re/CREATE, an interview series from 21CM, provides a glimpse into the minds of musicians who create sounds unique to their own voice while celebrating the artists and traditions that have most influenced them. Join 21CM and host Joe Brent each month as we celebrate some of the most innovative musicians of our day who pay homage to the traditions they love while creating music from the heart.
In this episode, Brent interviews Gerald Clayton, a four-time Grammy-nominated pianist and composer. For his re/CREATION, Clayton reimagines D’Angelo’s “One Mo’ Gin” as a piece for solo jazz piano.
Joe Brent: What is it about D’Angelo’s music that inspires you, that you think feeds your own creativity?
Gerald Clayton: All music is a spectrum, right? There’s music that I was listening to when I was a little kid. My first love, I think, was Bobby McFerrin, and then I discovered Oscar Peterson. Checked out Herbie Hancock and Art Tatum – all the greats, you know?
When I got to high school, I was exposed to a lot of sounds I hadn’t heard before, and D’Angelo was one of those. Looking back at that era, that record that he put out – “Voodoo,” with that song [“One Mo’ Gin”] – was a game-changer. For me, those were the years when I was into going to high school dances and puppy love and all these really beautiful memories. D’Angelo’s music is a part of that.
JB: I was wondering if you could answer a question that I’ve been asking a lot of people for a long time. Is there any piece of music you wish you could listen to for the first time again, and be surprised by?
GC: That requires some thought. There are songs that even today I’ve listened to a million times and they still give me goose bumps.
JB: Can you give me an example?
GC: Yeah, Oscar Peterson and Clark Terry [on the album] “Trio + One,” “Brotherhood of Man.” Clark hits the high E-flat and every time – just right up the spine. So, in a way, I feel like I’m listening to it for the first time every time.
JB: But you know it’s coming.
GC: I kind of know it’s coming. I guess that element of surprise is a really special thing. I think that’s why a lot of the musicians I work with were kind of one-take … one-take wonders? The first take has that special magic because you’re really exploring the unknown in a fresh way.
The above interview has been edited for clarity and length.