Sarah Clay (submitted photo)
Sarah Clay (submitted photo)

WILMINGTON -- For Sarah Clay, her music is a spiritual connection to her dad from whom she got her inspiration and learned her love of jazz. Tonight's presentation of the Great American Songbook Concert at the Memorial Hall in Wilmington - a benefit for West River Habitat for Humanity - will be your chance to experience first hand her smooth and sultry sound.

Clay, a classically trained jazz flutist, grew up listening to her dad, a jazz guitarist, play with the likes of Erroll Garner, Dodo Marmarosa and Andre Previn. Although she wasn't aware of it at the time that what she was listening to was jazz, she caught the bug early; she felt an emotional connection and just knew she liked it.

She'd nag her dad to take her to local bars so she could sing the songs she had learned from him - popular swing and show tunes from the ‘30s and ‘40s - and of course he'd oblige even though she was clearly underage.

With music in her veins, and while still a young girl she studied classical flute with a member of the Radio City Music Hall Orchestra, then in college majored in music with a focus on Medieval and Renaissance music and history.

But Clay's early love beckoned her and she made a point of learning new a jazz tune every week. After compiling a large repertoire of tunes under her belt she formed Clay Jazz, and began performing around New England at weddings and other special events.


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She also has her own studio in Florence, Mass., where she teaches vocals and flute, opera, folk and more, and teaches at Holyoke Community College as a member of the jazz faculty. Add to her credits: She has performed at Carnegie Hall and the Lincoln Center. Clay describes her style of jazz to be melodic and lyrical, and playful! Clay said of jazz, "It is satisfying, harmonically interesting - so rich, I just love it."

Clay continued, "Jazz standards endure, I think, because they speak of love in all its colors and permutations. There's desire, of course, but also heartbreak, joy, regret, domestic bliss, sleeplessness... every facet of the human condition. That's

why you still hear jazz in film soundtracks today. Jazz is complex enough that it requires thoughtful listening. But it is worth the effort, because you hear new things each time. And with improvised music, the same song will be different each time it is played. That's what keeps it fresh and exciting."

Jazz is America's indigenous music encompassing most recognizably Dixieland, swing, bebop and free jazz styles, and is usually associated with brass, woodwind and piano instruments. In the ‘30s and ‘40s it was America's pop music before the days when record players were a common household item, or iPODS had been invented, the way to hear it was live or in the movie theater.

The Great American Songbook is a compilation of these songs. According to Wikipedia: "The Great American Songbook is a term used to denote the canon of the most important and most influential American popular songs of the 20th century - principally from Broadway theatre, musical theatre, and Hollywood musical film. Written from the 1920s through the 1950s, they include hundreds of songs of enduring popularity."

Tonight's performance is the fourth in a series of six performances of the Great American Songbook Concert Series. Clay is the featured vocalist in a band led by Chris Bakriges (piano), Anthony Santor (bass) and Gabe Jarrett (drums). A partial song list for the evening is: You'd Be So Nice To Come Home To - Cole Porter; Have You Met Miss Jones - Rogers & Hart; Nature Boy - Eden Ahbez; Miss Otis Regrets - Cole Porter; Corcovado - Jobim; God Bless the Child - Billie Holiday; and Some Other Time - Bernstein, Comden, Green.

The Great American Songbook Concert monthly series began last month to call attention to and aid charitable organizations in and around the Deerfield Valley. These are fantastic musicians playing for an excellent cause! Southern Vermont is still recovering from massive floods caused by Tropical Storm Irene. West River Habitat for Humanity is a non-profit organization that builds houses for those in need, utilizing volunteers while building a community in southern Vermont. 

The Memorial Hall is located at 14 West Main St., Wilmington. The concert begins at 8 p.m. Tickets are freewill donations at the door available the evening of the program.