South Tubist Gets Grammy Consideration

Posted on February 1, 2024
Thomas Becnel

Dr. Clayton Maddox, assistant professor of music, in his office at the Laidlaw Performing Arts Center. data-lightbox='featured'
Dr. Clayton Maddox, University of South 青涩直播 assistant professor of music, in his office at the Laidlaw Performing Arts Center, where he practices the tuba. 鈥淭wo hours, minimum, but most times more,鈥 he said.

Dr. Clayton Maddox grew up in South Bay, Florida, a small city in the sugarcane belt near Lake Okeechobee, where football was king and the arts were an afterthought.

鈥淐lassical music was not a thing,鈥 he said, laughing.

His mother, though, was a teacher鈥檚 aide who wanted her only child to have opportunities outside the struggling agricultural community where he grew up. Joann Maddox paid for his piano lessons in nearby Clewiston. And in the fourth grade, he discovered the career path that led him to classical tuba and his position as assistant professor of music at the University of South 青涩直播.

He鈥檒l never forget the day everything changed. When a visiting band performed near South Bay, the band leader asked if any of the elementary students in the audience were musicians. Nobody moved. Finally, Maddox raised his hand, was called on stage, and played Beethoven鈥檚 鈥淔ur Elise.鈥


鈥淭he look on my teacher鈥檚 face was complete shock,鈥 Maddox said, laughing again. 鈥淗er attitude toward me completely changed. She would brag about me to the other teachers. That鈥檚 when I thought, if I can play music, people will like me. From that moment, I never thought about doing anything else.鈥

At Glades Central High School, he took up the tuba and never looked back. At Florida A&M University, he played classical music and helped lead the famous Marching 100. He had to leave college, though, to care for his dying mother.

He sold his tuba to pay for her funeral, but kept playing on borrowed instruments.

鈥淢usic always gave me peace,鈥 he said. 鈥淚t always inspired me.鈥

Maddox went back to school, starting with a scholarship to Florida State College in Jacksonville, and earned degrees from the University of 青涩直播 and the University of Memphis. He also taught at Arkansas Tech University and Henderson State University.

Three years ago, Maddox won a fellowship and earned his Doctor of Musical Arts degree from Louisiana State University.

Now he teaches at South, where he is assistant director of bands, and leads an international ensemble called the Backburner Tuba and Euphonium Collective. (A euphonium is slightly smaller than a tuba and sounds almost like a trombone.) He鈥檚 recorded a solo album 鈥 working title, 鈥淔orgotten Voices鈥 鈥 of music by African American composers.

Maddox, 43, also performs with a quintet, the Alias Brass Company, which received consideration for this year鈥檚 Grammy Awards.

鈥淭hat was exciting,鈥 he said. 鈥淲e found out after we released the album Prism by Big Round Records. We never thought we would win, and we weren鈥檛 a finalist for small chamber groups, but it was good to be recognized.鈥

World-Class Tuba Player

Last year, Dr. Will Petersen, director of bands at South, led the search committee that recommended Maddox for a position as artist and teacher. Petersen has been a tuba player and instructor, himself, so he knew talent when he heard it.

鈥淲e were looking for a world-class tuba player, and a world-class tuba and euphonium teacher, and with Clay we got that,鈥 Petersen said. 鈥淗e came on campus and we immediately hit it off. We had a great time and ended up playing some duets. Watching him teach the students that I was teaching, as part of his interview process, it was obvious he was going to be the choice.

鈥淗e鈥檚 been fantastic for the students. You can tell he has an incredible level of musicianship, and he鈥檚 incredibly sensitive. He鈥檚 a fine teacher and he鈥檚 been doing a great job with the band, so it鈥檚 been a grand slam all around.鈥

Maddox has been active in the International Tuba Euphonium Association. One of his goals is to recruit more women and minorities to play these instruments.

Dr. Ryan Robinson, a tuba professor at Oklahoma State University, has known Maddox for more than two decades.

鈥淐lay and I go pretty far back,鈥 he said. 鈥淲e first met as college students at the big Falcone Festival in Michigan, and we were both from Florida. It was a pretty competitive environment, but I think we both remembered each other as nice human beings.鈥

Over the years, they saw each other at music conferences. Then Maddox founded the Backburner Collective.

鈥淚 thought it was a really cool idea, and I wanted to be a part of it,鈥 Robinson said. 鈥淧eople wouldn鈥檛 be playing in that group if it wasn鈥檛 a good environment. Clay walks that line between leader and colleague really well.

鈥淲e recorded one song as a quartet and it was really challenging. We would talk it out, you know. Should we do it like this? Why don鈥檛 you try it like that? For some people, this would be awkward, or uncomfortable, but not Clay. He just wants it to be good.鈥

Maddox, for his part, describes himself as a perfectionist. He wants everything to be just so, which is almost impossible, and usually frustrating. 

鈥淚鈥檓 very hard on myself with recordings,鈥 he said. 鈥淚鈥檝e never released a recording that I personally liked. My solo album is at the record company now so they can do all the things I want to do with it, because I鈥檓 crazy.鈥

Tuba Family, Too 

Maddox is 6 feet tall and sturdy, which is why friends back home wanted him to play football. These days, his hair is braided and there鈥檚 a sprinkle of gray in his beard. On some days, he wears dark blue jeans and light blue sneakers. 

He鈥檚 a sports fan who roots for the Baltimore Ravens in football and the Los Angeles Lakers in basketball. One of his hobbies is racing remote-control cars around a small track in Mobile.

Other than that, his life is music and the tuba.

Maddox met his wife at a tuba conference. Kimiko Yamada Maddox, who had been a classmate of Petersen鈥檚 at Indiana University, was leading a women鈥檚 ensemble from Japan.

 鈥淪he was awesome, she understood me, and we were graduate students together,鈥 he said. 鈥淚 remember, she told me, 鈥業 think I鈥檓 supposed to be by your side,鈥 and that was so touching. She鈥檚 been my rock, and she helped me start the Backburner Collective.鈥

Kimiko still plays the euphonium, but her day job is assistant manager of the bookstore at South.

One of his African American tuba idols is Dr. Velvet Brown, a distinguished professor of music at Pennsylvania State University, who鈥檚 made several solo and group recordings.

鈥淪he鈥檚 incredible 鈥 I鈥檝e been listening to her since I was 19 or 20 years old,鈥 he said. 鈥淲hen I see her at conferences, I sit down and pick her brain. She鈥檚 been an inspiration.鈥

At South, Maddox enjoys his office in the Laidlaw Performing Arts Center. The room is large enough to have students for lessons, and has a window overlooking University Boulevard. He remains dedicated to his own playing, practicing nearly every day.

鈥淭wo hours, minimum, but most times more,鈥 he said. 鈥淭hat鈥檚 enough time for me to do my routine, and fundamentals, and go through any music I have to play. I have to kick that up now because I鈥檓 going to a Lake Tahoe arts festival.鈥

Maddox has performed with the Tallahassee Symphony, the Tuscaloosa Symphony Orchestra and the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra. He鈥檚 done recitals in Sapporo, Japan, and played with the Orquesta Sinfonica in Monterrey, Mexico.

In January, Maddox attended a conference in Tampa, Florida, so he made a side trip over to South Bay. His hometown hasn鈥檛 changed much. He was surprised that so many people remembered him.

鈥淚t鈥檚 still a special place,鈥 he said. 鈥淚 still remember that smell, that sugarcane smell. I鈥檓 very proud of where I grew up, and people are proud of me there. Everybody pulls for me.鈥

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