Gerald Clayton & The Assembly feat. René Marie
Piedmont Blues

Gerald Clayton, The Assembly, René Marie

Piedmont Blues


Gerald Clayton “has proved himself one of the standout jazz pianists of his generation, possessed of silvery technique and an intent but relaxed way with a phrase” (The New York Times). This young jazz master grew up playing with his father John Clayton and uncle Jeff Clayton in their Clayton Brothers combo. He’s since forged his own path, leading his eponymous multi-GRAMMY-nominated trio and holding down the piano chair in Charles Lloyd’s quartet. 

Duke Performances, Modlin Center for the Arts at University of Richmond, Savannah Music Festival, and Strathmore commissioned Clayton to make Piedmont Blues: A Search for Salvation, which premiered at Reynolds Industries Theater on December 2 and 3, 2016. The piece is a sprawling live concert tribute to the Piedmont blues — a musical style defined by ragtime rhythms, fingerpicking guitar, and understated vocals twinned with searing lyrics — that grew up around the tobacco warehouses of Durham, North Carolina in the 1920s and ‘30s, when the Bull City was the largest cigarette manufacturer in the world.

Though the most famous exponents of the Piedmont blues — Blind Boy Fuller, Reverend Gary Davis, and Etta Baker — have passed, a few musicians still keep the tradition alive. Clayton and his collaborator, theater director Christopher McElroen, have made a half-dozen research visits to Durham to learn from and work alongside these musical elders in preparation for this major new show. 

This live concert presentation featured Clayton’s Piedmont blues-inspired compositions written for The Assembly, a top-tier nine-piece jazz ensemble featuring the GRAMMY-nominated singer and Piedmont native René Marie, who has been called “masterful” by DownBeat and “hip and swinging” by The Wall Street Journal. Entwined with the music is an assemblage of projected film, new and archival photography, and Southern folklore underscoring the verdant cultural landscape of the Piedmont region.

“Clayton is a pianist of great touch and soulful exposition.”

The New York Times

“René Marie is sexy. Funny. Theatrical. Outrageous. Highly political. Worldly and yet uniquely American. Also hip and swinging.”

The Wall Street Journal

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Inspired by the personal discoveries that have unfolded through my artistic practice, I’m committed to continuing the search for truth and meaning in the creative process. I strive to make music that doesn’t simply entertain, but also provokes reflection, inquiry-driven music that ruminates on the human condition. I’m honored to be part of a musical lineage that values art as an essential part of intellectual development and spiritual growth.

Piedmont Blues is an exceptional opportunity for me to make manifest the emotional quality of the Piedmont blues through my compositions for The Assembly. The first music I can remember was piano-centric blues. The nuance of language and daily life that resides within the blues fascinates me. The blues feels close to home. The essence of the music is experiential in nature — a creative response to pain and suffering in daily life.

My aim with this project is to capture the arc of African American pain and triumph through the expression of the Piedmont blues, to both illustrate the artistry specific to the Piedmont tradition and also to dig beneath the surface of the music to understand the core of the compositions and the struggle to overcome oppression, poverty, and pain.

— Gerald Clayton


Sat, Dec. 2 & 3, 2016
Duke Performances at Duke University
Reynolds Industries Theater
Durham, NC

Sat, Dec. 10, 2016
North Bethesda, MD

Fri, Apr. 7, 2017
Savannah Music Festival
Trustees Theater
Savannah, GA

Thu, Apr. 13, 2017
Modlin Center for the Performing Arts
Carpenter Theatre, Richmond CenterStage
Richmond, VA

Wed, Mar. 14, 2018
University Musical Society
Michigan Theater
Ann Arbor, MI

Sat, Apr. 18, 2018
Cuyahoga Community College
Metropolitan Campus
Cleveland, OH

Jan. 11, 2020
NYC Winter JazzFest
The Sheen Center for Thought & Culture
New York, NY


Gerald Clayton, piano
René Marie, vocals
Logan Richardson, alto sax
Tivon Pennicott, tenor sax
Dayna Stephens, baritone sax
Alan Hampton, guitar
Joe Sanders, bass
Kendrick Scott, drums
Maurice Chestnut, tap dancer
Union Baptist Gospel Choir, Ray Watkins, Musical Director (Durham, NC)

Gerald Clayton

Christopher McElroen

James Jorsling
Lizz Wright

Projections Designer
Liviu Pasare

Lighting Designer
Becca Jeffords

Scenic Designer
William Boles

Sound Engineer
Adam Camardella

Production Manager
Will Bishop

Associate Production Manager
JJ Marquis

Stage Manager
LeAnn Lisella

Assistant Stage Manager
McKenzie Millican

Produced by Duke Performances.

Duke Performances / Duke University is the lead commissioner of Piedmont Blues: A Search for Salvation; co-commissioners include the Modlin Center for the Arts at University of Richmond, the Savannah Music Festival, and Strathmore.

Critical support for Piedmont Blues: A Search for Salvation has been provided by the Music Maker Relief Foundation — a nonprofit based in Hillsborough, NC — founded to preserve the musical traditions of the South by directly supporting musicians, ensuring that their voices will not be silenced by poverty and time.

Select photos in Piedmont Blues: A Search for Salvation by Tim Duffy, Music Maker Relief Foundation.

Made possible, in part, with an award from the National Endowment for the Arts; a grant from the N.C. Arts Council, a division of the Department of Natural & Cultural Resources; and a grant from New Music USA.

Special thanks to the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library at Duke University, and the Southern Folklife Collection at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, for serving as research sites for Piedmont Blues: A Search for Salvation.



Chris Mees
B Natural Management (for Gerald Clayton) / (347) 622-1775

Christopher McElroen
The American Vicarious / (718) 701-6648

Jutta Unger (European Bookings) / +49  172 29 79 444

Piedmont Blues: A Search for Salvation is available for touring.