Jay Clayton, Vocal Innovator in Jazz and Beyond, Dies at 82

Jay Clayton, a singer whose six-decade career encompassed freewheeling improvisation, lyrical songs and poetry, and the prescient use of electronics, died on Dec. 31 at her home in New Paltz, N.Y. She was 82.

Her daughter, Dejha Colantuono, said the cause was small-cell lung cancer.

Ms. Clayton established herself as an innovator in the 1970s and ’80s, sparring with instrumentalists in avant-garde settings and using electronics to alter and extend her vocal palette well before the practice became common. She worked frequently with other singers — she formed an especially close bond with Sheila Jordan, an early mentor — and she sang in playfully aerobatic vocal groups with peers like Jeanne Lee, Ursula Dudziak, Norma Winstone and Bobby McFerrin.

“She works in the familiar avant-garde terrain of wordless, spontaneous improvisations in duo and group settings,” the critic Jon Garelick wrote of her work in The Boston Phoenix in 1990. “But Clayton is also a warm, gracious interpreter of lyric standards, and this lyricism pervades all her work.”

Ms. Clayton in 1969. She fell in with the downtown jazz scene after moving to New York in 1963.Credit…via Clayton family

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