Chris Klaxton is the real deal," said Tan Vampires front man Jake Mehrmann.
This seemed to be the same sentiment voiced by all of the dozen or so musical peers of Klaxton that offered responses to their respective interviews. Mehrmann just happened to make it a point to start and end his thoughts with the same statement. Chris Klaxton is indeed "the real deal."
He grew up just south of the Seacoast region, attending Timberlane High School, and lucky for us, decided to attend the University of New Hampshire in Durham (from 2002 to 2007) where he earned his B.A. in trumpet performance.
For a tad under a decade Klaxton's musical contributions have helped shape the local scene and have laid the groundwork for a core group, or rather, community of musicians that entertain music fans of all walks, night in and night out. A community that loves playing with one another and challenging each other to take their crafts to a new, higher level.
"Chris kills me with the ears he has and with the different gigs he's done," said Press Room general manager Bruce Pingree. "I remember hearing (Chris) sit in at the Press Room before I got to meet/know him. I loved what I heard — great attack and some cool ideas flowing from his horn. Once I got to know him, I understood...; He listens and does his homework — always trying to challenge himself, always searching out other forms."
You can find Klaxton (or "Klaxtonious Skrillingtons," as he is lovingly referred to by Press Project M.C. Patrick "Face of Fate" Joyce) shacking up in any one of our local venues in all surrounding towns, pretty much seven nights a week. He is certainly one of the hardest working cats on the circuit, and sits comfortably within any genre that happens to be on stage. He contributes predominantly via his trumpet, and/or keyboards, but his musical cohorts confess that he is a whiz at any musical device he happens to hold in his hands.
"A lot of people don't know that Chris is a bad-a— guitar player in addition to trumpet, piano, drums and anything else that he touches," said Nick Phaneuf (guitarist — Tan Vampires, the Texas Governor, etc.).
"I first saw Chris at the Clark Terry Jazz Festival at UNH when he was playing with the Timberlane High School jazz combo," reminisced local old-timey, bluegrass picker Steve Roy (who collaborates with Klaxton in the bluegrass setting, as well as in the band Jazzputin). "I remember thinking to myself, 'Man, listen to this little high school kid rip up that trumpet! That's not fair...;' "
"I can honestly say that I have never met a greater music lover than Chris," said Mehrmann. "He eats, sleeps, breathes, and smokes the stuff. His passion and dedication are manifested in every note he plays on any instrument he feels inclined to pick up or sit at."
"Chris is such a tasteful player," said Pj Donahue (drummer — Elsa Cross, Amorphous Band, etc.) "I can remember specifically on a Duke Ellington ballad being so blown away by the beauty that was coming out of his horn that I stopped playing for a second... I was too busy listening to him!"
Be it bluegrass, hip-hop, rock, reggae, the indie scene, or jazz, (where he claims is where his heart lies), Klaxton adds more class and a certain indescribable spice to any collaboration he's a part of, than any other local that comes to mind (which is a good reason why he took home the "Best All Around Musicians Who Can Play Just About Anywhere With Just About Anyone" award at the 2010 Spotlight awards — along with Jim Rudolph and Mike Effenberger). He also happens to be one of the most humble and genuinely caring stars on the scene, and he wouldn't want you to say such nice things about him. But truth be told, when you're the real deal, you cannot hide from these facts.
Klaxton is a sought-after session man who has added some of the most memorable moments on disk and on stage for this music critic/reviewer over the years. Work that sticks out in particular are his contributions to the Press Project, Mary Dellea, the Tan Vampires, Murkadee, sitting in with Larry Garland, along with his own "improv" gigs at the Press Room, the Nate Wilson Jazz Sessions residency at the Stone Church a couple of years ago, the Amorphous Band, Moon Minion, Elsa Cross ...; the list goes on and on. He's also (in his young career) had the opportunity to play the Bonnaroo music festival (in 2008 as a member of the Press Project — where he claims his keyboard caught on fire at the start of the band's set), and has shared the stage with such notables as Clark Terry (who Klaxton considers a dear friend), George Clinton, the Roots and Robert Randolph.
Sadly for us, Klaxton has played his final local gigs (for the foreseeable future) Aug. 1 as part of Jazzputin at the Barley Pub in Dover, Aug. 5 with his own Chris Klaxton Group at the Press Room in Portsmouth, and Aug. 11 playing solo piano at Rudi's in Portsmouth. He's headed down to the University of Miami to pursue a master's degree in trumpet performance and education, which he hopes will someday land him a collegiate level teaching gig. Teaching is the other part of this man that has given so much to this community through his performance, and also helping kids find their way in their own path to musical liberation.
"Teaching something I love has been unbelievably rewarding and I have already had the opportunity to touch lives," Klaxton said. "Helping kids see through the BS — helping them enjoy themselves and succeed is unreal. I've been lucky to teach at Portsmouth Music Arts Center, Nashua Community Music School, Timberlane High School, St. Anselm College, and Earcraft music in Dover, thus far."
There are two certainties that can be claimed about the departure of such a local linchpin. The first; we'll miss him dearly. The second; we wish him all the best in his future endeavors (and hope he returns as often as he can).
"It's been great having him around," said Pingree. "He's so versatile — filling out the sound for a lot of bands in the Seacoast. He's put together some hip combos for his gigs too, I've never been disappointed...;"
"I love how Chris Klaxton doesn't play with a music stand and he brings soul to everyone's music," said Mary Dellea.
"He's a big fish in a little pond around here," said Elsa Cross. "Not only is he an outstanding musician, he's one of the sweetest, most caring people I know. He'll be missed immensely and there will certainly be a void without him in the area..."
"He's always joining new sessions and movements and does so with elegant ease," said Joyce. "He would serenade the sea with Tangerine at brunch and would peel the roof off the Red Door hours later. Playing keys, horn, skrill — hell it didn't matter — 'cause Klax played/plays with heart, ears and soul — without exception."
"Klaxton taught me, and many others who have had the experience of performing with him, to challenge myself, and constantly develop my sound, no matter what style of music I am approaching," said Mike D'Errico (Attic Bits, Murkadee, etc.) —»He is an asset to our own musical culture, in that he offered local musicians as well as audiences not a new musical product or background music to drink to, but a new process of experiencing and taking part in various musical cultures that was refreshing and inspirational."
"I don't think it matters to Klaxton what type of music you're playing, he can pick out passion, and he appreciates personality and uniqueness," said Joseph K. Murphy (Murkadee, Joseph K. Murphy and the Best Friends Ever). "He always accepted a new demo or album of mine with open arms despite my work being so different than anything else he had been into. He's smart, he's tasteful, he's talented, but overall, he's a nice guy, and sometimes that's a very overlooked thing in a scene. And d—-, that Dilla* hat he wears is just so cool."
"I have had a lot of time to really think about the Seacoast scene in the past few years," said Klaxton. "I think the scene around here — the collective appreciation, the diversity in musics/arts, approaches — the true freedom that is allowed around here is something I am most thankful for. I have done some traveling away from this area ... enough to compare. And every time I come back here I realize more reasons why I love it here. There are unfortunately too many places where the vibes and modus operandi of a community could not support a collective of artists. ...; The people I have met just because I play music has always been the biggest reason I do this. I am surrounded by the best people, ALL THE TIME! That is also something unique about the Seacoast. The caliber of people around here is like nowhere else that I have been yet. My parents and teachers inspired me to play, my peers inspired me to play, and now my students inspire me to keep going. There are always plenty of folks who say it's not a smart choice, or the idea of 'playing' music is just a glorified hobby, but they are outnumbered here, and I don't think I want to hang with those kinds of people anyway."
"His departure is a heavy blow to the Seacoast music scene, and his many musical collaborators will miss seeing the black Dilla hat across the stage, bobbing up and down," said Roy. "It can generally be assumed that no matter where he is, he's the coolest guy in the room."
Good luck, Chris. You've made us proud.
* Klaxton says, "J-Dilla was a great producer and beat maker that died of lupus. I wear his name around on my hat so maybe people ask and check out his music."