Five Questions with Nicholas Payton

Nicholas Payton
Nicholas Payton

With Nicholas Payton, things are black and white. Read his blog. He is in your face, and, it seems, that’s right where he wants to be. The New Orleans born, GRAMMY® – winning trumpeter/composer/pianist/ loves to start, and end, a rukus.

For instance, just play any of the videos on his site.  Just when he has a band playing his notes, his thoughts, cookin his own stew, his solo comes around, and he deconstructs everything, taking you back to the beginning of time, back to primeval man, back to the earth’s roots. Or check the vid of him at the Jazz Showcase in Chicago, playing keys and trumpet both, as part of a quartet where he is 1/2 the quartet. Nicholas Payton plays/does/says it all.

I’ve listened to NP’s stuff for years, but didn’t really tune in to him ’til 2009’s THE BLUE NOTE 7, Mosaic: A Celebration Of Blue Note Records. I am acquaintances with two of Nick’s gentler friends, the beautiful alto player, Steve Wilson, and drum-master Lewis Nash. When I heard that record, including the aforementioned, plus virtuoso pianist Bill Charlap, the remarkable bassist Peter Washington, sweet guitarist Peter Bernstein, and tenor heir Ravi Coltrane, it was Nicholas I tuned into most, even among those heavy hitters. Could it be that his fat tone reminds me a little of Freddy? (Hubbard) Can I hear hip-hop in his solos? Yup. Not sure of all of the ‘why’s’, but I woke up to Nicholas Payton then, and I’ve tuned in ever since.

We became Facebook friends, and he makes me laugh there. He is so extreme &  controversial with statements on race, gender, sex, politics, sports, all aspects of life.

He’s 41, he’s badass, he’s just coming into the prime of his playing career, and he’s blowin’ cocky as hell. Here are his answers to FIVE QUESTIONS.

1) Will you talk about practicing? How long and what do you do? How do you practice on the road?

NP – Practice? We talking about practice? Not a game, but practice? What can I say, the older I get practice becomes more fundamental to everything I do. I practice more now than ever. Thing is, I hate practice. I hate it. But I hate it more how it would feel if I didn’t do it.

It’s not about how long you practice, but more about that you do it almost everyday. Not everyday, but almost everyday. I try to adhere to a schedule of never playing or practicing more than 6 days a week. I figure if the Lord rested on the 7th day, then so shall I. You need that time away from your instrument to give you perspective, so that some of the things you’ve been working on have time to settle in. Rest is as important as practice. Sometimes I have periods of days or weeks away from my instruments. That way, when I come back to them, I bring the totality of my experiences with me. You can learn more being apart from your instrument than on it. You are the instrument.

Practice ain’t like cramming for an exam. It’s cumulative. It’s better to do a solid half and hour daily, than 8 hours one day and slacking for the rest of the week. You are training your body to perform in all conditions, so I practice in all conditions. I practice when I don’t feel like it, which is most of the time. I practice when I feel like it. I practice when I’m tired, mad, happy, sad, hungry, cold, hot, when it’s raining and when it’s not, so I can play in all of those conditions.

My practice regiment on the road is not much different than home other than it’s probably more intense and consistent. The more I play, the more it’s necessary to practice. I can’t get away from the fundamentals. I’m still practicing the same shit I used to practice in grade school, and it still sounds like shit, as it did in grade school. If it sounds good, then you ain’t practicing, you playing. Practicing is about reinforcing good habits, but also about introducing your body and mind to things past its comfort zone. You over train to make your foundation much broader than necessary in the field of play.

2) Who are your favorite people in the world to play music with?

NP – Anybody I hire on a consistent basis is a favorite person to play with. Anybody who I work with as a guest consistently is either a favorite person to play with or they’re paying me a shitload of money.

3) Who are the players today that are killin it in your opinion?

NP – Though I deal within the realm of what is known as improvisational music, there are very few true improvisers. Cats who really change it up and don’t play the same shit night after night. I’m going to say shit a lot in this interview, by the way. Steve Wilson, Sonny Rollins, Kevin Hays, Benny Green, Keith Jarrett, and Lenny White, to name a few, and others I’ve hired on a consistent basis.

4) How do you keep it fresh musically?

NP – The music is just a byproduct of how you live. Being fresh musically is a symptom of being fresh spiritually. I don’t wear out one particular area too much. The ground isn’t as fertile when you do that. I think farmers call it “rotating crops.” I call it “rotating chops.” Life is bigger than music.

5) What are you looking forward to? Projects in the works?

NP – I look forward to waking up every day. Being alive. After that, the rest is easy. My biggest concern is having enough time to do all the shit I want to do. I have more projects than I have time to do it all, which is a luxury problem, I guess. I have a few trio configurations, quartets, quintets, big band, all the way up to full symphonic orchestra. Every day I wake is another opportunity to tackle it all.

VISIT Nicholas Payton’s website

VISIT Nicholas Payton’s blog





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