Out of the Box
w/ Jay Clifford, Scott Terrell, Charleston Symphony Orchestra
Thurs. Feb. 14
$15, $5/CofC students
Charleston Music Hall
37 John St.
“Know When to Walk Away” from the album Driving Blind
Colorful characters from the pop music world regularly cross over into the more formal “concert music” world to jam with full-sized orchestras — with mixed results, of course. Such fancy collaborations have been attempted plenty of times.
Considering classic rockers with symphony orchestra gigs, a handful of events come to mind — of good and bad quality: Buddy Holly singing love songs with The Crickets and the Lubbock Symphony Orchestra … Sir Paul McCartney, Deep Purple, and Plant & Page rockin’ out with the London Symphony Orchestra … Styx, Peter Cetera, and Meat Loaf carrying on with various symphony orchestras for hire … Axl Rose croaking his way through the 1991 Guns ‘N Roses ballad “November Rain” accompanied by a full-sized, puzzled-looking symphony orchestra.
This week, Charleston’s very own Jay Clifford — an accomplished songwriter and colorful character, best known for his work with long-running musical act Jump (a.k.a. Jump, Little Children) — steps on stage for his own orchestral mash-up with the Charleston Symphony Orchestra as part of the CSO’s ongoing series of “unexpected partnerships,” Out of the Box.
Led by resident conductor Scott Terrell, the CSO will appear on stage with Clifford and his band to perform songs from his new solo album, Driving Blind, and various Jump tunes from their vast catalog.
“Scott and Tony Pierce [director of artistic operations] approached me about doing this show last year,” says Clifford. “Basically, they asked me to use the orchestra in a creative way, in the spirit of the ‘Out of the Box’ series. Over the past few months, I’ve been writing charts for 18 songs that I’ve recorded over the last 10 years or so. The arrangements include strings — violin one, violin two, viola, cello, and double bass — and brass — french horns, trumpets, trombones, tuba, and timpani.”
Clifford, 36, grew up in North Carolina, and has been playing music and writing songs in Charleston for over 12 years. In recent years, he collaborated with a variety of local musicians, worked in a side project called Rosebud, and co-wrote songs with the likes of Howie Day, Sean Lennon, Australian artist Missy Higgins, Robert Randolph, and Mandi Perkins.
He recorded Driving Blind at Swing House Studios with producer Warren Huart. 33 & 1/3 Records officially released the collection last September. Clifford recently completed his first major tour with a full band since Jump’s announced hiatus/break-up in late 2005.
As usual, Clifford will be on acoustic and electric guitar duty at the Gaillard. His current backing band includes bassist Jonathan Gray (formerly of Jump), guitarist Josh Kaler (of local pop-rock act Slow Runner), keyboardist Michael Flynn (also of Slow Runner), and newly enlisted Brooklyn-based drummer Benji Lee — an in-demand timekeeper and former Charlestonian who spent time collaborating with members of Jump, Slow Runner, and various rock, pop, and jazz acts in the early 2000s.
“I’ve known Benji for a long time and have been a big fan of his powerful style of playing,” Clifford says. “He’s played percussion with Jump a number of times, including the last show with the CSO, and it’s always been a pleasure. In this process of putting a band together for tours and records, I’ve made a conscious decision to not try and re-create Jump in any way. For many reasons, first, how could I? If Jump was anything, it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. And secondly, it was time to experience playing with other people. I had a blast on the last tour with Tommy Hamer, who proved to be one of my favorite drummers in Charleston. Now I’m excited to have Benji be a part of this tour.”
The Out of the Box event complements previous collaborations between Jump and the CSO. Clifford and his bandmates performed two elaborately arranged sets with the backing of the CSO to a full house in the Gaillard Auditorium in October 2005.
“There will be some similarities,” he predicts. “On the set list are songs like ‘Mexico,’ ‘Mother’s Eyes,’ and ‘Rains in Asia.’ We’re also doing songs from the new album, like ‘Know When to Walk Away,’ ‘Waltzing Past the Grave,’ and ‘Yesterday’s Move.’ And a Rosebud song or two as well.”
With Valentine’s Day looming, how “romantic” might things get within the performance? Will Clifford pull an Al Green and toss red roses to ladies in the front? Or might he recite mushy poetry over the mic between songs? Or gobble handfuls of Russell Stover chocolates between verses?
“Throwing out chocolates works any time of the year,” Clifford laughs. “Actually, there is something very romantic happening that I’m not at liberty to reveal at this point. But I can guarantee there won’t be a dry eye in the audience.”