FARAI CHIDEYA, host:
This is News & Notes, I'm Farai Chideya. New jazz from trumpeter Nicholas Payton.
(Soundbite of jazz music of Nicholas Peyton)
CHIDEYA: These days it's rare to hear music like this coming to the radio but that hasn't stopped the art form from inspiring new generations of musicians. That's why all this month we'll be looking at all that jazz. What is jazz, who makes it and how does it fit in to our 21st century lives? Here to help provide some answers are two accomplished young purveyors of jazz music. Trumpeter Nicholas Payton is here. He is a Grammy Award winner and one of the best known musicians in the under 40 crowd. His new CD is called "Into the Blue." Also with us is drummer Kendrick Scott, Kendrick is making his own ways as an up and coming drummer with his own record label World Culture Music. His latest record his called "Oracle." Hi, gentlemen.
Mr. KENDRICK SCOTT (Drummer; Owner, World Culture Music): Hello.
Mr. NICHOLAS PAYTON (Trumpeter; Grammy Award Winner): Hi, how are you doing?
CHIDEYA: Let me admit, straight up, that I'm a jazz novice. And getting a little more sophisticated but not there yet. So, I'm sure if you ask 10 different people what jazz is you might get 10 different answers. So, I'm going to ask each of you, Nicholas first, how do you define jazz?
Mr. PAYTON: It's a very good question because to me jazz is a living thing, so I think it's very hard to say distinctly what it is. Being from New Orleans, tied to the roots of where this music came from, I mean, even in this inception, New Orleans is the only place that it could have developed because of its very diverse amount of cultural influences such as, you know, obviously the African, Native American, European classical music. New Orleans was the first - the only place in America where these slaves were allowed to continue their tradition of playing drums and so forth in Congo Square. So, that's a very important part of why jazz was founded there.
CHIDEYA: Congo Square being a place where you now have a huge statue of Louis Armstrong.
Mr. PAYTON: Right. That's, that's the area. So, you know, I don't, I don't know, I don't know if you can say exactly what jazz is, for every person you asked, like you said, you have a different opinion of what it is.
CHIDEYA: Kendrick, how do you see it?
Mr. SCOTT: The way I see jazz is definitely a marriage between improvisation, living in the moment. And also between, you know, kind of the primal thing underneath, most jazz which is the blues, the feeling of the blues not necessarily the form of it, all the time, and the swing rhythm, you know, as a drummer, you know, it's easy for me to key in on the swing rhythm. The swing rhythm has evolved in so many different ways from New Orleans. You know, great drummer like Baby Dods(ph), you can see how it's evolved, the shimmies and all those different thing, how they have evolved across the line and all the way up until today, you know. So when I think of jazz I think of those things along with the things that Nicholas was saying.
CHIDEYA: Well, Kendrick, we asked each of you to come up with a song that inspired you to do what you're doing.
Mr. SCOTT: Right.
CHIDEYA: And what's your pick?
Mr. SCOTT: Well, my pick was Miles Davis "Seven Steps to Heaven."
(Soundbite of Miles Davis "Seven Steps to Heaven")
Mr. SCOTT: So, I came from a family of musicians, my mother played piano, my dad used to play the trombone. My brother played the piano and the organ. And you know, I got to a point in Houston, Texas where I wanted to be in the marching band, and that was like my ultimate goal. And I got to the end of middle school, and I had the opportunity to either go to one of the best marching band schools in Houston or go try to get in the Performing Arts High School.
And so my teacher started working with me on a solo, and it was "Seven Steps to Heaven" and I tuned - I had like five tom-toms, and I tuned the tom-toms to the melody. And that's when I took that step towards playing music for - as a living. So, my mom was like, you know, when I had the decision, she said, do you see any professional snare drummers in the world? And that you know, I had to be like, oh, I guess not. So she put me on the path to go my Performing Arts High School and "Seven Steps to Heaven" when I heard the record, me and my teacher got together when we worked out of solo for me - for my audition to get into the Performing Arts High School and that's what kind of spurred my way.
CHIDEYA: Nicholas, let me turn to you. You talked about being born and raised in New Orleans but your father was a musician. And was this clear that playing jazz was something that you wanted to do with your life?
Mr. PAYTON: Not early on. I was born into a musical family. My father plays bass, my mother is a former operatic singer and classical pianist. So, I grew up in an environment where music was very prevalent all the time. My father brought me a trumpet when I was four years old so that's when I started playing. But I didn't really get serious about jazz music until I was about 12. Coincidentally, the guy who sort of turn me around was, like Kendrick, Miles Davis as well. I started playing with a lot of brass bands around town, and for those who may not be familiar with the brass band tradition in New Orleans, it's a big thing. You know, that we march, you know, it's like a sousaphone in the group, several trumpets, clarinetist, bass drum, and a snare drum. So actually in New Orleans, there are professional snare drum players.
Mr. SCOTT: Oh! Absolutely yeah.
Mr. PAYTON: You know, so you could have moved to New Orleans.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. PAYTON: But thank God you play the drum set because you're a beast.
Mr. SCOTT: Thanks, man.
(Soundbite of laughter)
CHIDEYA: So, one of the pieces of music that you found influential was "Potato Head Blues" by Louis Armstrong. Let's take a listen.
(Soundbite of Louis Armstrong, "Potato Head Blues")
CHIDEYA: And as we were talking, you know, we mentioned Congo Square and the statue of Louis Armstrong. I was in New Orleans right after Katrina and saw that statue up to its ankles in water and it was really sad and amazing moments, you know, to see it's still standing, but kind of in that state. But let's get back to the music. Why did you pick that selection?
Mr. PAYTON: Well, Louis Armstrong as jazz musician, his influence is inescapable. I mean, there were many great jazz musicians before him but he sort of redefined the art of improvisation as we know it today. And no matter how modern it is, no matter how removed it may be from Louis Armstrong, there's still a hint of him if it is jazz music. As a trumpet player, he did things that no one thought was possible, physically to do on the instrument. So, his influence, not only in jazz, is important but in the American music and music period.
CHIDEYA: Kendrick, let me turn to the issue of distribution. You have a record label, and I want to talk about that in a second, but jazz is not played heavily on the radio. You can go through the, you know, the jack FM station that's playing kind 80s music and R&B hip hop, reggae tone, whatever, and keep on trucking before you find even one jazz station. Is it important that jazz be played on the radio?
Mr. SCOTT: Well, I think it's very important that jazz receives a wider audience, to open people's mind to what jazz is. I mean, I think sometime people have a misconstrued view of what jazz is sometimes. So I think, definitely having it on the radio is going to help people, you know, be open to it. You know, I think the more we close it off and put it in the corner, the less people are going to open up to it.
CHIDEYA: So, tell me about your label, World Culture Music. How - when did you start it? How did you start it? And what are you doing with it?
Mr. SCOTT: Well, we started about a year ago. The record industry is constantly changing and with that change, myself and three other artists, we decided to take our CDs and put them together as one, as an artist collective to gain strength in numbers, and you know, to pretty much take control over our music, owning our music and putting it out there, you know, how we wanted to be portrayed and everything. Each of us made our own CDs and at some point, trying to shop it around to different people and everything. And then, you know, you just wake up and say, you know what, let's just do it ourselves, and it's been great. It's been a Godsend for us.
CHIDEYA: Nicholas, how do you try to get your music out there and, you know, not just you, but other musicians, you know, when radio may or may not have a huge distribution across the country, when some audiences get it and some audiences, at this point in our lifetimes, don't really plug into it? How do you get the music out there?
Mr. PAYTON: In order to really reach people, I think that a new musician has to really be conscious every performance that they touch the people in a very personal way. I mean, when I first started working as a band leader, and - it's very difficult when you're first starting because you don't have a track record. Records just come out. People don't really know who you are, so it's kind of hard to negotiate the type of fees that it takes to keep a band on the road and to pay all the expenses. But when you're presented with that opportunity, to have a gig and to play at a club, you just really have to try to really reach the people and to give them an unforgettable experience every time you play, every time out, you just have to try to make sure that you give everything that you have.
And once you do that, when you reach a certain amount of people, they become your fans for life. And the next time you come to town, they come and they bring their friends, and you just sort of develop a base of people who support you throughout your career. And it's the same for jazz music in general. I just think, a lot of times, jazz has a rap - and musicians particularly - of not really caring about what the audience thinks. A lot of people misunderstand, you know. And they say, oh, Miles Davis played with his back to the audience. He didn't really care what people think.
And that's not true, because when you listen to Miles' music, you can really hear the romanticism and the humanity. But one little thing like that taken out of context makes people get the wrong idea about jazz. And a lot of times, you know, I think a lot of musicians have to just be conscious with that, and not be so self-indulgent in what you're doing, that you lose sight of the reason that we're there is to move people and to engage the listener.
CHIDEYA: Let me take a different cut on this for a second. You know, we cover all kinds of music on our show. This is part of our special series, you know, our month-long series on jazz. But we also did a hip-hop series, and so much of hip-hop these days is kind of computerized loops. A lot of it is done with computers and sequencers, all that stuff. Do you think it's important - Kendrick first and the Nicholas - that people learn to play traditional instruments, the kinds that are used in jazz? And do you think that there's enough learning going on, teaching new people to play instruments?
Mr. SCOTT: Well, yeah. It's just - it's really bad right now in the school systems, you know. They're making music out, taking the arts out. And I think that kids need that in their lives whether they play music or not, you know, going forward. You know, I think those experiences, even as I grow up and some of my friends who stopped playing music, you know, we all have that common bond and knowledge about music itself and you know about the instruments that make the music. And I feel bad sometimes when, you know, I see young kids now who don't know what a trumpet is or have never seen a violin, you know. All they're hearing is a track sometimes, and they have no idea what kind of instrument it is. So, I just wish, you know, more music was in schools and that we would, you know, allocate more funds to schools and for teachers and for instruments, because that's very vital to our culture, you know.
CHIDEYA: What do you think, Nicholas?
Mr. PAYTON: I agree 100 percent with what Kendrick has said, you know. Oftentimes, I've gone into schools and that we walk in and they see a bass and they don't even, like, know what it is. And I think it's a sad reflection on our culture that, you know, these kids don't have the sensibility, you know, just about, like, what an instrument is and what it sounds like. Just overall, I think that has a lot to do with perhaps the dwindling support or the acknowledgment of not only jazz music, but instrumental music period.
Mr. SCOTT: In the end, you know, if the radio - if they go home and the radio is pumping 50 or is pumping Kanye, like all the time, and they have no other avenue to listen to any kind of other music, it's hard for them to appreciate any other kind of music, not even just jazz, you know. So, I just think that kids need variety, and I think that's one of the reasons jazz has kind of suffered, you know. It's because people aren't exposed to different types of music from childhood on, and you know, that's really important to me.
CHIDEYA: You guys were absolutely fabulous. I feel like my jazz I.Q. has gone up by at least 20 points. So thanks a lot, guys.
Mr. SCOTT: Thank you.
Mr. PAYTON: Thank you.
CHIDEYA: We were joined by trumpeter Nicholas Payton. Payton's new CD is called "Into the Blue." Nicholas joined us from the studios of KJZZ in Tempe, Arizona. And drummer Kendrick Scott, his latest CD is called "Oracle." It comes to us through his own record label World Culture Music. Kendrick joined us from our New York bureau. And since we came into this segment with Nicholas' music, we'll go out with the music of Kendrick. Here's "Mantra."
(Soundbite of jazz music)
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.