Jay Clemens

Old Traditions - New directions

Jay Clemens (@jclemensmusic) is an award winning songwriter equally at home in the musical traditions of rural America, the lush harmonies of the New York jazz scene, and the popular songs of contemporary music.  His songs span a wide range of genres, with a special nod to the Great American Songbook and country music.  They feature poignant stories of love and loss, biting social commentary, and an original eye for humor and parody.     

Jay was born and raised in western North Dakota and educated at Dartmouth College, where he graduated with a degree in Asian Studies and studied jazz composition and arranging.  After attending Beijing Normal University and Harvard Law School, he practiced international and corporate law for over 35 years, looking forward to the long-haul flights that gave him a chance to listen to great music and study contemporary songs and big band arrangements.  During the COVID pandemic, he enrolled in an online songwriting class with Rachel Efron at the Jazz School in Berkeley, California, with the hope of reactivating his creative brain after a long hibernation.  Through his subsequent songwriting work with Rachel, he found a new source of joy and creative energy, as well as a pathway to self-reflection and personal discovery.  

His first album, “New Nirvana,” (scheduled for release in June 2024), was inspired by themes and stories that emerged during the pandemic - new narratives of love and loss, the craziness of life in isolation, and the ongoing disruption of our values in a rapidly changing world.  One of the songs from the album, "Falling in Love on Zoom," was awarded first prize in the Great American Song Contest's "Special" category and received Finalist and Honorable Mention honors in the 2023 USA Songwriting Competition.  The judges hailed the song as "captivating, fresh, and a load of fun."  Another song on the album, “Halo Above Her” has been named a semi-finalist in the Songwriters Guild of America’s country music competition.   Jay wrote the songs on the album with Rachel Efron (, who also produced the album.      

Jay currently spends most of his time in the San Francisco Bay Area and at his ranch in the Badlands of North Dakota.  Away from the piano, Jay is an avid conservationist and has served as Board Chair and Interim CEO of the National Trust for Historic Preservation in the United States, where he works tirelessly to save significant historic places that weave together the diverse stories of all Americans.  Jay is a saxophonist, pianist and Chinese zither 古琴 player. 

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