Nicholas Payton Interview
A Word With
by Paula Edelstein
Nicholas Payton shares his secrets of sonic influence with an amazing suite that he has titled Sonic Trance. This masterful 18-track program is meant to be listened to in its entirety in order to enjoy and comprehend the full effect of each composition. However, knowledgeable music lovers are encouraged to enjoy the metaphors associated with each individual track because Payton’s set is awesome!
Nicholas Payton composed the entire musical story and has filled it with many of the brilliant shapes, forms, nuances, and technical escapades that you’d expect to experience while watching an action packed movie. However, it is your aural imagination that is the window into Payton’s brilliant mind and this exciting fusion of several musical genres. That sort of interaction is sure to please since Sonic Trance is a musical expression that is both intelligent and entertaining. It grooves, it rocks, it’s all about jazz. So straighten on those headphones and kick up the volume because you’re in for a real treat. We talked to Nicholas Payton during a break in his busy schedule and here’s what he told us about Sonic Trance. So listen up!
P.E.: Hello Nicholas and congratulations on a stellar label debut for Warner Brothers. Sonic Trance is miles away from your 6 previous releases including those titled DEAR LOUIS and NICK AT NIGHT. Who or what was the motivation for this new musical direction?
Nicholas: I think for my quest and desire for NOT wanting to settle into any kind of comfort zone in terms of what was previously established in my career, I feel that any artist usually when they’re in the process of development reaches a point when they can either forge ahead or stay with what’s comfortable and established. For me, I wanted to see what was ahead as opposed to just being complacent.
P.E.: That’s great. Nicholas, you’re really utilizing a variety of musical styles including groove, hip-hop, electric keyboards, special effects and new colors for your trumpet… but you are mindful as ever to include the great jazz elements that have sealed your popularity around the globe. Do you think this new direction will work in your favor with your die-hard jazz fans?
Nicholas: I think so. Hopefully it will. What I see with this project is that it has the possibility of reaching a broader audience than maybe with what I was doing before. I think it’s an extension of my previous works, so I think that a lot of the people that followed the records that I’d done, will see how it’s all connected and will continue to support my music. But, hopefully, this music will have a real appeal to a younger audience and I’m really trying to reach out to them.
P.E.: Nicholas, you mentioned that you approached the recording like cinema…with certain recurring melodies being a metaphor for certain characters that appear and reappear in different incarnations. Would you be so kind as to explain this in terms of the song titles?
Nicholas: Sure. I think a lot of it has to do with the sequencing of the record. For one, it was my idea that SONIC TRANCE be listened to as a complete work from beginning to end as opposed to a selection of tracks strung together. With respect to the energy – a lot of the energy of the record I wanted to focus on the transitions being an important part of the mood of the CD as the songs themselves. Many times I’ll have a song and right when we’re beginning to cook, I’ll cut it off right in the middle and start to something else so that the cross fades are likened to scenes in a movie where they sort of pull you in and point to the ending of the movie. I wanted to imbue that same sort of feeling.
P.E.: It certainly does. Especially with “Fela I” and “Fela 2,” “Shabba Un-Ranked.” Moving on to another sequence in this great program, “Blu Hays” is the closest thing to straight-ahead jazz on the CD but some fans will nonetheless compare SONIC TRANCE to Miles Davis’s seminal early 70s forays into funk/rock fusion as heard on BITCHES BREW and TUTU. What are your thoughts on that likely comparison?
Nicholas: Well for me, I think this project is me trying to make a declaration that there is more than one way to play jazz music…and it doesn’t have to only be acoustic, that it doesn’t only have to be in a traditional type of swing rhythm. There are many ways of expression and with all this technology that we have, and all the interesting things going on in hip-hop and R&B and popular music, why not utilize that? It think that jazz musicians – from the beginning of time have increased the popularity of jazz music by taking popular songs, things and elements that people were familiar with and filtered it through their own voices. And that is exactly what I’m trying to do here.
P.E.: Adonis Rose, Tim Warfield have played with you on several of your recordings. Who are some of the new members in the band and how did you hook up with them?
The telephone rings to the tune of a trumpet call! Big laughs fill the room since it’s not Nicholas playing his horn!
Nicholas: Well there’s Kevin Hays on keyboards, Daniel Sadownick on percussion, Vicente Archer on bass and Karriem Riggins on sampler and keyboards.
P.E.: I didn’t know that Karriem Riggins had that in him because I associated him with the late, great Ray Brown.
Nicholas: He’s very busy…he does a lot of production in hip hop and other styles. In fact, he probably does more of that than straight-ahead jazz.
P.E.: And you’re from a very musical family out of New Orleans, Louisiana your mother being an opera singer and classical pianist, your father a respected bassist and retired school teacher. It’s been said that you started gigging at age 8 in your dad’s bands! Did you ever consider any other career other than that of a musician?
Nicholas: Yeah, I mean music was always a part of my life although I didn’t know until later on that it would be a career endeavor!
P.E.: Who are some of your trumpet heroes both past and present day players?
Nicholas: There’s Louis Armstrong…Miles Davis, Wynton Marsalis, Dizzy Gillespie, Clifford Brown, Freddie Hubbard, Terence Blanchard, Roy Hargrove, Brian Kaiser…there are so many, both past and present.
P.E.: Those are definitely A list trumpeters! I’m sure you are aware that you populate many of those GREAT TRUMPETER lists yourself! With SONIC TRANCE, we certainly hope you achieve a tremendous level of success. Thank you so much for the interview and congratulations on the debut for Warner Brothers Jazz. Keep in touch with Nicholas Payton at www.wbjazz.com.