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Friday, June 30, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Hampton fest gets new director

Seattle Times jazz critic

There will be no more first-place trophies for Seattle high-school jazz bands at the Lionel Hampton International Jazz Festival.

That's the word from John Clayton, new artistic director of the education-centered festival in Moscow, Idaho. Clayton accepted the post this week.

"There is no such thing as 'the best' trumpet player," said the bassist, band leader and past-Grammy Award nominee, from Los Angeles. "Band directors might think, 'It might not be worth it if I won't get a trophy.' But they will. It's just that the trophy won't say their band is the 'first-place winner.' "

No stranger to the Northwest, Clayton was appointed artistic director of Jazz Port Townsend two years ago. Clayton also teaches bass at the University of Southern California and co-leads the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra, whose new CD features vocalist Diana Krall.

A regular at the Hampton festival since the early '90s, and also a member of its advisory board, Clayton succeeds festival founder Lynn "Doc" Skinner, who retired today, after 35 years as executive director.

Held in February on the University of Idaho campus, the Hampton festival offers four nights of concerts and daytime competitions and clinics for 14,000 students from 300 schools.

Begun modestly in 1967 as a one-day event, the festival now hosts such international stars as Krall and Roy Hargrove. In 1985, the festival was named after the great swing band leader, Lionel Hampton (1908-2002).

Skinner will continue as a part-time consultant. His former responsibilities will be split between Clayton and an interim executive director, Cami McClure.

"Doc Skinner was the Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival," said Clayton. "It's amazing what this man did. I need his help. He's the go-to guy."

Paul de Barros: 206-464-3247 or pdebarros@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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