Nicholas Payton: Creator of BAM and the Savior of Archaic Pop
Nicholas Payton is, in his own words, leading a revolution in creative free thought. Coming from a musical family (His father, the legendary Walter Payton who passed away in 2010; his mother, an accomplished vocalist and pianist), he’s a true artist on every level – there’s no separation between his creativity and his everyday life– he is improvisational and poetic. Read his tweets sometime. If you’ve followed his perspective on why the word “jazz” should be removed from our vocabulary, you’ll know why: Black American Music (BAM) is a Black American art form, created by black individuals, and is the root – the foundation for all American music. Jazz has too much negativity associated with it. Not a brand new concept, of course – many before him have taken this position on the subject. History shows us why it’s such an important point. But Nicholas takes it to a new level in a world where he can engage millions with access to everyone worldwide.
I’ve closely followed Nicholas from the moment I discovered his music, and when his album entitled Bitches came out this year, my music love affair with Nicholas Payton deepened. He shatters all perceptions of what is. He plays every instrument and sings on the album. He invited an impressive list of guests to appear: Cassandra Wilson, Chinah Blac, Esperanza Spalding, N’Dambi, Saunders Sermon. The work is raw – so very soulful, sensual, intelligent and sophisticated, full of integrity and autobiography. He stays true to his values, paying homage to the tradition of Black American Music, and marries this with dope rhythms and melody. It is the true essence of #BAM. This Postmodern Black American musician from New Orleans is one of the keys to music’s evolution. If you haven’t heard his music, click one of the links below and take him in. It’s a great way to start 2012.
Nicholas Payton is in New York January 3rd – January 8th at Birdland. I recently had the pleasure of talking to him about his story:
I2H: The first thing I want to ask you about is your father –you covered a couple of his songs, Drucilla and Nida on the Into the Blue project and I would think that since it was 2008 he would have had a chance to hear them. What did he think?
NP: Totally honored and flattered.
I2H: Was he involved in the recordings at all?
NP: No not at all. In fact, he had no idea I was going to do them. It was a complete surprise.
I2H: I find Drusilla devastating, which is my favorite feeling musically – I feel like [your Into the Blue album] is a revelation in the way that Kind of Blue was or even In a Silent Way. It’s that thing where silence screams. Also, I’m interested in how you played with Elvin Jones in his jazz machine. What was that like?
NP: Awesome – great experience. I got called to join his band right before my second semester of college. I had to choose: me in school or on the road with Elvin Jones. It was a tough decision but I decided to go on the road with Elvin for two years.
I2Ha; I want to talk to you about your position as Distinguished Artist and Visiting Lecturer at Tulane University (2011/2012) How is that going?
NP: It’s cool – basically they meet about six times a semester.
I2H: What do you talk about?
NP: A wide variety of things – anywhere from the music business to specific things in trumpet technique – composition – pretty much anything musical.
I2H: Do you engage in the BAM dialogue?
NP: It hasn’t been a large topic of discussion. It was the end of the semester when those types of posts started, although I’ve been saying it for as long as since 2009.
I2H: Obviously I follow you closely and I take everything you say to heart and I know everyone wants to talk to you about that subject – I’m not so interested in talking about it right now, but one thing is that you have a voice in real time and it makes me wonder if people like Miles or Monk or even Mingus had a voice in real time, where many can be reached right now – what they would have to say and how it would affect the culture of musicians and listeners.
NP: I can’t speak exactly to what the answer to that would be but I do know that the artisans in those times were very vocal about what they felt the music should be in relation to the culture of the people.
I2H: To have an audience of millions would have been powerful.
NP: I think I stick out because artists today, like it or not, tend less to make waves – I think it’s a problem especially for artists because we’re always supposed to be challenging the status quo and challenging the system so unless we live in an ideal world I don’t see why artists aren’t more vocal about the current status of things.
I2H: I agree. I read your blog entry, Fuck the 99%, in which you make a great point; using an archaic form of protest isn’t really going to result in anything but self-satisfaction for the participants. Real change takes courage and back bone and humans have a hard time evolving – it’s a deliberate choice to change and to grow.
NP: And also to break outside of what’s comfortable and what’s readily available
I2H: And not be afraid.
NP: Yes, and not be afraid to make a mistake or be alone or whatever it is.
I2H: Something that’s really exciting to me about being alive right now as a musician is that a person has a foundation of music that’s laid by ancestors, other musicians and you take the history and allow it to form your identity and it seems that with each of your projects you take that foundation and all of its history and everything that comes into it, and it bleeds through you, through your creativity in live performance and in the studio. I feel like that’s the essence of fusion. I notice that many folks are negative when that word is brought up – besides it being just another categorization – crossover is ok, and one can say fusion is ok as long as integrity is there. What do you think about that? I know what you think about purist delusion, but why do you think people trip about this idea of fusion?
NP: I think it’s multi-layered – an older guard musician viewed fusion as something making what they did obsolete and ushering in this new, perhaps electronic very virtuosic type of thing that sometimes displayed chops over substance or soul or feeling.
I2H: Maybe they can’t go there as musicians themselves, so they’re defensive.
NP: Yes, that’s typically been the case – there was not always a wide warm acceptance from movement to movement within the idiom – I just recently posted a video of Louis Armstrong… making fun of bebop – and for every era you had cats who were masters within a particular craft who dissented to whatever the new movement was. To me the spirit of music must change – that’s why, to me, all labels at a certain point are somewhat lethal. Once you box something in and say this is what it is and it’s not that, then already you’re cutting yourself off to unlimiting possibility as opposed to expanding.
I2H: I have to tell you – I love your album – it’s one of my obsessions this year – the fact that you played all instruments and sang – it’s raw and seems a bit exposed, yet I perceive you as being logical and realistic – how do you find and stay in your balance?
NP: I guess I don’t think in terms of trying to create balance because I don’t know if that’ s something you can set out to do per se – I think the body knows what to do and when it should have rest – when you should step away, when it’s time to be highly creative, when it’s time write music; whatever it is the body knows and the better we can listen to what that sense is – I don’t know about balance in a fixed state or desired state – in order for there to be balance, there must be imbalance in another area – so perhaps we always try to negotiate that but I don’t obsess too much about ideas of what should be and what shouldn’t be as much as I give deference to what feels right at the time.
I2H: You just walk in it so you don’t have to consider it.
NP: Pretty much, yes
I2H: Another thing I want to ask about is as an instrumentalist, one thing that intrigues me – because I’m a singer myself, that someone who is an instrumentalist who steps to the mic and sings seems to be so free and less self-conscious than a singer who does only that. I love that and in fact that’s one reason why I love Freesia on your [Bitches] album so much – you both independently, you and Esperanza Spalding have that freedom vocally where you can tell it’s not self-conscious at all – it’s natural, and I don’t know if it’s just the accuracy of the notes that you always have in your ears when playing or just being uninhibited or not limited by trying to sing well, but it’s outstanding. I live for that.
NP: Thank you – I’m glad you dig it. For me information is interesting because it can be both liberating and stifling. The idea to me is to learn as much as possible so you can earn the right to then challenge, question, and obliterate what’s necessary. You can’t bypass that – there’s actually something to learning it and at least knowing what the fundamentals are before you have earned the right to say that you’re not going to be a prisoner or slave to certain theoretical devices. I think that some people want to bypass that and get right to the esoteric vein. I guess there’s room for it all but there’s something lacking in those who don’t spend a respectable amount of time paying deference to a certain amount of traditional music. You can hear it; you can feel it in the music. Let’s say a Miles Davis or a John Coltrane, the guys who explored the outer realms of the boundaries in question – what’s expected of or acceptable for someone of their stature and their time and from their vantage point. They called that into question and refused to be pigeonholed by any preconceived idea of what they were supposed to do, and yet they were firmly rooted in the tradition. To me it’s about paying deference without being so caught up that you can’t experience new things and still be able to add to the continuum.
I2H: You’re playing in New York at Birdland in January for a few days and I wonder what you have planned and do you have any guest vocalists coming in?
NP: We’re doing a week at Birdland – 6 nights – the first 3 nights are with my quartet: Lawrence Fields on keyboards, Vincente Archer on bass, Ulysses Owens Jr. on drums and I’ll be the lone trumpet vocal/voice. Then on the weekend, January 6th through the 8th I’ll have my Television Studio Orchestra which is a 21 piece band with woodwinds, flutes, trombones, brass, guitar, percussion, drums, and there’s a vocalist, Johnaye Kendrick. Sometimes we’ll do double duty, sometimes she’s featured and we also do everything from standard material to some material from my latest record Bitches.
I2H: Well Nicholas, I’m so pleased to be able to talk to you – I’m hoping to be in town to catch your show.
NP: I hope so.
Catch Nicholas Payton at Birdland from January 3 thru 8, 2012. He will perform with a Quartet January 3, 4, 5 and with The Nicholas Payton Television Studio Orchestra on January 6, 7, & 8. Showtimes are : 8:30 PM & 11:00 PM nightly except Sunday. Sunday showtime is at 6 PM. Birdland is located at 315 W 44th St. 212.581.3080.