Nicholas Payton came to town last Wednesday. For me, this means drop everything and go and hear him play. Two happy coincidences took place as well, contributing to making it a bit more special. The first was that my friend and colleague from UBC, Moshe Rozali (who sometimes comments here on the blog) was visiting to give a seminar that day. As I’ve been discovering (as a result of this blog more than anything else) we are very much in the same place when it comes to music, books and many things, and so it was just fantastic to be able to take him along. The second was that my friend of many years, cosmologist Marc Kamionkowski, got in touch just on the off-chance by email (I’d not seen him in many months) to ask if I knew if there was any good jazz coming to town! Marc and I have shared our love of Jazz for about 16 years now, going back to our days of meeting up in New York together at various Jazz clubs. So the three of us sat there and enjoyed the concert together. It was at the Jazz Bakery (to which you’ve possibly read me refer here before), and since I’ve not been there in a while, I was pleasantly surprised to see that they’ve replaced the plastic picnic chairs with some more comfortable padded ones. Quite an improvement.
Payton was joined by four excellent musicians, who were just great too: Russell Malone on guitar, Roy McCurdy on drums, Tony Dumas on bass, and Nate Morgan on piano. Morgan’s first solo was one of the evening’s highlights for me – he seems to have two completely separate voices he can bring out of the piano, so different that it is as though he actually changes pianos! – and one of them he uses when he’s playing a much more intricately structured and slightly more abstract type of solo – reminds me a lot of aspects of Monk’s playing, which I love. That night, after sitting out the first piece we (Moshe and I – Marc arrived earlier) saw being played, he constructed a solo using that voice with that in a manner so marvelously unexpected for the piece that is was huge delight to hear, and set up the evening’s music to come extremely well.
Nicholas Payton never fails to leave me filled with a renewed energy (about music and pretty much everything), while at the same time taking my breath away. He has a lovely tone that is warm and round, with an excellent and character-filled low register that he puts to good use (especially early in his concerts – first set especially), on ballads for example, and if you’ve not seen him before, that alone would be enough, even though you might hear a hint of something else trying to break through. Once he gets to the second set of any performance, that thing breaks through, and he fully releases the rest of his reach, and it is astonishing. There’s an incredibly powerful declamatory voice (very New Orleans) that will emerge that is no less beautiful than the softer one, but is more akin to a force of nature than merely a lovely stream of notes coming out of a trumpet. I simply do not know how he does it, but it has a combination of strength, roundness, loudness that is unlike any trumpeter I’ve ever heard. It is quite remarkable indeed.
I discovered Payton through his truly wonderful album “Gumbo Nuveau” not long after I began to play the trumpet myself (late at night on a beach in Santa Barbara – I’ll tell you about that some time) – and subsequently saw him in concert many times whenever he was nearby over the years, on either coast (always in New York on the East). In fact, there was a period where I went to see him a number of times in succession on either coast, sitting up front as usual, that one time he came in to play and looked directly at me with a look that suggested that I was somehow familiar, but he could not place me.
It’s been about eight years (I think) since I’ve seen him play, however, and listening to him play again firmly returned me to my wonderful postdoc years at the ITP in Santa Barbara.
I think may soon go and stand on that beach again one of these nights.
Some Related Asymptotia Posts (not exhaustive):