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Nicholas Payton: Trumpet Is Essence of New Orleans

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Nicholas Payton: Trumpet Is Essence of New Orleans

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Nicholas Payton: Trumpet Is Essence of New Orleans

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

In New Orleans tomorrow, the annual Jazz and Heritage Festival kicks off its final long weekend. The event is just blocks away from neighborhoods that still show the damage of Hurricane Katrina. Hundreds of thousands of music lovers have already shown up, even breaking an attendance record on the festival's first Friday. Today a profile of a musician who embodies New Orleans's music: trumpeter Nicholas Payton.

(Soundbite of music)

MONTAGNE: Like many in New Orleans, Nicholas Payton comes from a musical family, and he's a Katrina survivor, choosing to keep his home in the city while touring around the world. Nicholas Payton spoke about his career and the resilience of New Orleans music with journalist Ashley Kahn.

ASHLEY KAHN reporting:

There may be no tighter bond linking a city and a musical instrument, like the one that connects New Orleans and the trumpet.

(Soundbite of music)

KAHN: A big part of the credit goes to Louis Armstrong, but the tradition of great New Orleans trumpeters was well established by the time Satchmo came along in the 1920s.

Mr. NICHOLAS PAYTON (Musician): In New Orleans music, trumpet is king. It's something about the sound of the trumpet. It's expressiveness, it's sort of regal quality.

KAHN: Nicholas Payton is among the best reasons that the long line of great New Orleans trumpeters survives today. His city is in his sound, even as he explores more up-to-date styles. One of his albums proves that point, when he took a well-known New Orleans standard and turned it into a much more modern ballad.

(Soundbite of When the Saints Go Marching In)

Mr. PAYTON: When the Saints Go Marching In, from my Gumbo Nouveau CD, was just so different from what you think of when you hear the Saints Go Marching In. A lot of people dug it.

(Soundbite of When the Saints Go Marching In)

KAHN: Like many in New Orleans, Nicholas Payton was born into music.

Mr. PAYTON: You're talking about families, like the Paulin family, Doc Paulin and Roger Paulin and all these people, the Marsalises, obviously, the Jordans. I mean we have generations upon generations, you know, of musicians that have come through these families. My father Walter is a bassist and my mother Maria is a former operatic singer as well as a classical pianist.

(Soundbite of music)

KAHN: At the ripe age of eight, Payton became one of the youngest members of the Young Tuxedo Brass Band. By his teenage years he was earning his way as a musician, and by the 1990s he began to make his mark on the international jazz scene. He's now made seven CDs as a leader, and played on over 80, including one with the late, great trumpeter Doc Cheatham.

(Soundbite of music)

KAHN: Payton is now 33, and has already reached veteran status a lot earlier than most. He's comfortable playing bebop or swing, hip-hop or more experimental free-form style.

(Soundbite of music)

KAHN: You started in the streets with the marching bands in New Orleans and where you've taken it is sort of like the history of jazz encapsulated in your own career. I mean...

Mr. PAYTON: You know, I never really thought about it that way, but yeah, I guess so. My bag is no bag. I don't like to be boxed in to a certain type of thing. You know, musicians in New Orleans I find to be very, very open. It's about the music and the chemistry and the camaraderie, you know. It's not about the genre.

(Soundbite of music)

KAHN: Jazz Fest has played a seminal role for many musicians in New Orleans, especially for Nicholas Payton.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. PAYTON: The very first time I played on stage was at Jazz Fest, and there's actually a picture of that my mother has, of me standing there playing the trombone kazoo. And it wasn't until later that I looked at the picture and realized that the microphone was unplugged. But it was an experience, you know.

(Soundbite of music)

KAHN: This year's Jazz Fest is the first since Katrina. Payton is one of the lucky ones. He doesn't have far to travel to be part of the music.

Mr. PAYTON: I live in an area called Bywater. Five blocks away is total, complete devastation. So, it's like, man, what a blessing. How thankful we are to be able to have a home to go to and to know where our children are and to know we have a roof over our heads. Like very simple things, like it's so deep, you know, I can't really, I don't even really like to talk about it.

KAHN: It's difficult to hear the music of celebration in New Orleans and not feel the weight of recent tragedy or the long road to recovery, but when Nicholas Payton plays the trumpet there's a joy that lightens the load, and that could only come from one place in the world.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. PAYTON: No matter what I do, regardless of how disassociated it may appear to be from New Orleans, there's always just that thing somewhere in there that says New Orleans.

(Soundbite of music)

MONTAGNE: Ashley Kahn is the author of the book The House that Trane Built: The Story of Impulse Records, which will be published next month.

(Soundbite of music)

MONTAGNE: More music and coverage of Jazz Fest at npr.org. This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

YDSTIE: And I'm John Ydstie.

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