Nicholas Payton

Nicholas Payton

Nicholas Payton

The power and essence of New Orleans is in the house on this edition of Billy Taylor's Jazz at the Kennedy Center, as Dr. Taylor welcomes trumpeter Nicholas Payton to the stage. Payton embodies the qualities of a long line of great jazzmen and trumpeters hailing from the Crescent City. New Orleans legend Buddy Bolden, reputedly the very first prominent jazzman, blew his trumpet with such power it could be heard all the way across town. Bolden passed the torch to Freddie Keppard. From there it was a short step to King Oliver and New Orleans favorite son, Louis "Pops" Armstrong.

Among Popís jazz grandsons are Wynton Marsalis and his "trumpet cousin" Payton. During the program Nicholas draws chuckles from the audience as he recounts how Wynton once called Payton's father, and when the youngster realized who it was on the phone he quickly scooped up his trumpet and began practicing until Wynton was compelled to ask the elder Payton "who's that playing the trumpet?"

Besides producing great trumpet players, New Orleans is also a city that boasts more than its share of musical families. Nicholas' father Walter Payton is a prominent bassist on the New Orleans scene, and his mother was formerly a pianist and opera singer, a fact Nicholas relates to Billy with quiet pride. Clearly the constant exposure to different styles of music in his household indelibly shaped Payton even before his dad bought him a pocket trumpet at the age of 4. When young Nicholas ventured beyond the comforts of his house, he encountered a hometown that was bustling with musical inspiration.

Payton's beautiful trumpet sound certainly didn't arrive overnight and Nicholas details his practice regimen and how he strives for good sound. The goal of achieving a personal sound on one's instrument is further driven home as Nicholas and Billy talk about the need to be harmonious with other musicians while seeking to develop a personal sound.

Several aspiring trumpeters are on hand when Billy's opens the program to questions from the audience. One inquisitive audience member goes basic and asks the question of the ages: What is Jazz? Dr. Taylor seizes the microphone and after his insightful and eloquent response, Nicholas draws laughter by wryly saying: "I'm glad you answered that." Another audience member asks about the physical rigors of trumpet playing, recalling how Armstrong actually sang more than he played towards the end of his career. Later, Payton elaborates on his master career plan, which he indicates is first and foremost to develop his band sound.

On the bandstand, Paytonís performance is brimming over like a joyful New Orleans feast, as he serves up a hearty portion of his fat, round trumpet sound. He performs the music of several other trumpet greats, including the opening selection "Joy Spring," by Clifford Brown, and Donald Byrd's "Omicron." No show with a New Orleans trumpeter would be complete without something from the book of Louis Armstrong. Nicholas and Billy's trio don't disappoint, thrilling the crowd with a potent version of the classic "West End Blues," as the young trumpeter pays back his debt to Pops, with interest.