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Friday, January 30, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 14.0° F  Fair
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Jazz ace Clay Lyons proves the benefits of a Madison education
Return of the native
They've played together, and they've lived together.
They've played together, and they've lived together.

Phil Lyons is set to have one helluva Father's Day present. The Madison Area Music Awards' Brass Instrumentalist of the Year will leave his horn at home in order to watch his son Clay Lyons play his alto sax with the Jazz Tellers at the Brink Lounge on June 16. The 2007 Middleton High School graduate arrives home after nine shows in Hong Kong, where his Berklee College-based trio was joined on stage by local legend Kwok Wing Hei on trumpet and Canto-pop innovator Tsang Tak Hong on bass.

As solid as his present musical company is, it's not like Lyons grew up playing with hacks. His early music education shows how serious jazz can get in Madison. He studied with some heavies: Roscoe Mitchell, Richard Davis and Tim Whalen. At 16 Lyons transcribed John Coltrane's mercurial "Giant Steps," and he was playing it within a week for his teacher Dan Wallach. "That's when Dan knew the kid was serious," says the elder Lyons.

The Jazz Tellers are made up of three juniors at Berklee College in Boston: Clay Lyons (alto sax), Lee Dynes (guitar) and Nate Wong (drums). Lyons and Dynes hold Ambassador full tuition scholarships, and Nate is a World Scholarship Tour recipient. The trio's sound is wildly collaborative, gathering each other into and out of effusive improvisations. No doubt their intimate familiarity with each other's musical sense comes from having lived together the past three years.

Expect to be challenged at the Brink show. Dynes' guitar work roars across traditional jazz guidelines. You can hear the Metallica he listened to during his Ohio boyhood in the way he makes his hollow-body electric sound like an entire band. Lyons' playing is restless and efficient at the same time, creating tension, humor and drama. Wong's emotional drumming and cymbal work keep everything from crashing off the table, but just barely, and it's clear he likes it that way.

For UW School of Music administrators still confused about whether or not to offer a jazz degree here, Lyons' coming-home show could provide some clarification. Opening for the Jazz Tellers will be the youngest of the Lyons musical legacy, 14-year-old Sam, who took the MAMAs show by storm in May.

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