Born: October 5, 1957 Primary Instrument: Trombone
Clifton grew up surrounded by music. His father was a church organist and choir director, and his mother, a singer and pianist. One of his uncles was an accomplished violinist, while another uncle was and remains a Jazz legend. Growing up in that environment, and with those genes, it was no surprise that Clifton exhibited an affinity for music at an early age. When he was just seven years old he got his first trombone, a gift from his famous uncle, Sonny Rollins. This proved to be a preface to the musical relationship that has ensued to date.
As a teenager, Clifton was drawn to other interests, like sports and biology, but music always remained dominant. He attended the prestigious Fiorella LaGuardia High School of Music and Art, where for the first time he encountered many of the most talented young musicians in New York City. After graduating Clifton enrolled at the State University of New York at Stonybrook, Long Island. There he studied with Simon Karasick for a short one-year stint. The program at Stonybrook did not prove to be as gratifying as expected, so Clifton auditioned for, and subsequently attended the Manhattan School of Music. At Manhattan he studied with Metropolitan Opera trombonist John Clark. There he also met and befriended talented musicians like Angela Bofill and the late Kenny Kirkland. Clifton graduated from Manhattan School of Music in 1978 with a Bachelor of Music degree.
Upon graduation from college Clifton became more active in the New York City music scene, freelancing, playing clubs, and doing many recording sessions. He worked on the Broadway shows Dreamgirls, and Nine, as principal trombonist with The Harlem Festival Orchestra, all the while continuing his development as a Jazz artist. His musical abilities afforded him the opportunity to play with many of the greatest musicians in Jazz and popular music. One highlight was his membership withThe World of Trombones, a trombone ensemble consisting of nine trombones and rhythm section, led by the great Slide Hampton. All the young trombonists that played in that group; Steve Turre, Robin Eubanks, Conrad Herwig, Frank Lacey, Doug Purviance, Earl McIntyre, Bob Trowers and Clifton are today considered the best in the business. This inspired setting also gave Clifton the chance to learn from veteran trombonists Benny Powell and the late great Britt Woodman. The one trombonist however, that has influenced Clifton the most, and is responsible for Clifton's desire to play Jazz trombone is J.J. Johnson. Clifton was fortunate enough to meet J.J. in 1979, when Slide Hampton suggested he (Clifton) go with him to J.J.'s record date Pinnacles. Clifton continues to be a J.J. Johnson disciple.
Clifton has played with more musicians than can be listed here, but many highlights include work with; Frank Foster, Lester Bowie, Dizzy Gillespie, McCoy Tyner, Slide Hampton, Paul Simon, The Mighty Sparrow, Terumasa Hino, Abdullah Ibrahim, Clifford Jordan, Barry Harris, James Jabbo Ware, Muhal Richard Abrams, Wyclef Jean, Stevie Wonder etc. All these great experiences helped to ready Clifton for what he may be best known for today - his association with his uncle Sonny Rollins.
Clifton joined Sonny Rollins group in 1983, and from that time to present has participated in numerous worldwide tours with him, visiting Europe, Japan, South America, Canada and of course concerts throughout the United States. Clifton has also appeared on eight of Sonny's' recordings, most recently the Grammy award winner, This Is What I Do(Best Jazz Record 2001). Clifton owes much of his musical and personal development and many of the highlights of his musical career to his uncle. Sonny Rollins continues to be Clifton's major musical influence.
In 1997 Clifton released his first recording as a leader entitled Landmarks. It received critical acclaim internationally, and made the top ten play lists on Jazz radio coast to coast. Having also honed his skills as a producer and founded the production company Change The World Productions, it was natural for Clifton to fill the shoes of producer on his own project .In addition to producing, he contributed six original compositions. The recording was rounded out with two standards and one original Calypso, penned by his mother Gloria Anderson. Joining Clifton on Landmarks, are some of his favorite musicians; Monty Alexander, Bob Cranshaw, Al Foster, Wallace Roney, Victor See Yuen and Kenny Garrett. Clifton is planning to record a new CD sometime this coming year. A new release from Clifton has been highly anticipated by trombonists and Jazz aficionados worldwide.
Clifton has always understood the importance of sharing knowledge, and one way he does so today is through teaching. Clifton is an Artist in Residence, at Duke University in North Carolina, where he works with the highly respected jazz educator, Professor Paul Jeffrey. Clifton is also actively engaged in teaching jazz to students throughout New York City schools, and has recently worked with the aspiring young musicians of The Jackie Robinson Marching Band. He has instructed at Jazz camps, at Jazz Mobile, and has given private lessons to students around the world.
Currently Clifton balances performing as a leader of his own group, with appearances as a regular member of Sonny Rollins' band.