While our physical offices are closed until further notice in accordance with Austin's COVID-19 "stay home-work safe" order, the Handbook of Texas will remain available at no-cost for you, your fellow history enthusiasts, and all Texas students currently mandated to study from home. If you have the capacity to help us maintain our online Texas history resources during these uncertain times, please consider making a 100% tax-deductible contribution today. Thank you for your support of TSHA and Texas history. Donate Today »


Bradley Shreve

Listen to this artist

CLAY, JAMES EARL (1935–1995). James Earl Clay, saxophonist, was born in Dallas on September 8, 1935. His mother was Jessie Lloyd. Clay attended Lincoln High School. His musical interest began with the flute, but he took up the saxophone during his teenage years and became a jazz player in the "Texas tenor" tradition. He refined his playing as a student at Huston-Tillotson College in Austin, and later at North Texas State University (now the University of North Texas) in Denton. In 1955 he moved to Los Angeles and established himself in the hard-bop and freestyle jazz styles. His first commercial breakthrough came when he joined Red Mitchell's band, with which he appeared on the album Presenting Red Mitchell. Shortly thereafter Clay joined the Jazz Messiahs, collaborating with Ornette Coleman. He also cut an album with David "Fathead" Newman in 1960. Later that year he turned down a chance to replace John Coltrane in Miles Davis's band, returning instead to his native Dallas to care for his ailing grandmother. Though he performed in the Deep Ellum district, financial strains forced him to work full-time at a record warehouse. He had some commercial success again in the 1960s when he landed a spot in Ray Charles's band, but continued playing primarily in the Dallas area over the next two decades. In the 1990s he reunited with "Fathead" Newman, and two albums resulted—Return to the Wide Open Spaces and Cookin' at the Continental. Clay died in Dallas on January 6, 1995. He was survived by his wife, Billye, and three children.


Dallas Morning News, January 9, 1995. Rick Koster, Texas Music (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1998). Dave Oliphant, Texan Jazz (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1996).

Image Use Disclaimer

All copyrighted materials included within the Handbook of Texas Online are in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107 related to Copyright and “Fair Use” for Non-Profit educational institutions, which permits the Texas State Historical Association (TSHA), to utilize copyrighted materials to further scholarship, education, and inform the public. The TSHA makes every effort to conform to the principles of fair use and to comply with copyright law.

For more information go to: http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.shtml

If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.


The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Handbook of Texas Online, Bradley Shreve, "CLAY, JAMES EARL," accessed August 04, 2020, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fcl55.

Uploaded on June 12, 2010. Modified on October 1, 2015. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
visit the mytsha forums to participate

View these posts and more when you register your free MyTSHA account.

Call for Papers: Texas Center for Working-Class Studies Events, Symposia, and Workshops
Hi all! You may be interested in this call for papers I received from the Texas Center for Working-Class Studies at Collin College...

Katy Jennings' Ride Scholarly Research Request
I'm doing research on Catherine Jennings Lockwood, specifically the incident known as "Katy Jennings' Ride." Her father was Gordon C. Jennings, the oldest man to die at the Alamo...

Texas Constitution of 1836 Co-Author- Elisha Pease? Ask a Historian
The TSHA profile of Elisha Marshall Pease states that he wrote part of the Texas Constitution although he was only a 24 year-old assistant secretary (not elected). I cannot find any other mention of this authorship work by Pease in other credible research about the credited Constution authors...