Saturday, December 10, 2011

Further Ado about Nicholas Payton

Nicholas Payton, whom I think can sing!
Holy Sashimi! I'm still reeling over the activity generated by my previous post. Just to recap: I've been on tour in Japan with vocalist Debbie Deane, and I was looking for some blog material. I had just purchased Nicholas Payton's CD entitled "Bitches", and I was impressed from the first note. So I wanted to talk about it. And then I was made aware of Payton's blogposts on his own site regarding why jazz isn't "cool" anymore, and I kind of sifted through some of the brewing controversy. And then I found a really mean-spirited post regarding Payton's CD, and I felt the need to defend Payton. It took me a little while, and I wanted to make sure I made intelligent comments about the CD, so I listened and re-listened. Then I posted the article, thinking that my fans will find it interesting,
but not expecting anything earth-shattering.

Am I drunk or are there 130 comments on jazztruth?
I woke up from a jet-lagged Sake- soaked nap to find the most comments I had ever received! At this writing, there are 130 comments. This post, more than any of my previous work, created a real firestorm! Obviously, I don't condone a lot of the commenting, but I have to say I'm excited about the attention. Hopefully, this will make more people interested in reading my shall we say less controversial posts. After all, the vast majority of my work here is rather mundane: CD reviews, lessons, interviews, and spotlighting great jazz artists.

The key issues were the discussion of the music on Payton's CD, his recent blog posts, and a response to a really unfair critic. I feel like I accomplished my mission in an intellectual way. The comments went into a rather unpleasant zone, but I decided to let it play out, mostly because I'm traveling and I don't have the time to delete any posts. Let's face it, this is not the first time that some forum on the internet has led to Word Wars. Fortunately, no one gets hurt physically( I hope not!). And even regarding the writer with whom I had a disagreement, I tried to be respectful, and I even tried to defend him in some instances. It got really heated, but in the end, we decided to agree to disagree. And after all, it's only music. (Maybe this passion would be better used about something political, which has an effect on so much more in our world.....)Still, it's fascinating to see how this becomes a raucous virtual town hall meeting so quickly.

One issue that Payton is very passionate about is what we call the music. Many musicians feel as though the label jazz is limiting, outdated, and downright disrespectful(based on one of the legendary origin stories of the word, which is that jazz is a word for sex, or worse, although some say the term is documented as being used in baseball). Payton suggested BAM, or Black American Music. I think it's a great idea. It's too early to tell whether it will catch on or not! I think that after over 100 years of this music being called jazz, maybe it's time for some kind of a change. However, I received this message from another great trumpeter, Wallace Roney, in response to this notion:

Wallace Roney
You know, George, Miles didn't hate the word Jazz! He hated what he felt America perceived Jazz to be! Do your homework! A couple of people, including me, put video or links to Miles explaining it in interview where you can see him! Plus, you have to remember Miles is from the generation where his mother thought Jazz was the Devil's music and didn't want him to play it or the trumpet! She wanted him to play the violin! So he was trying to dignify playing with Charlie Parker and this music in general in her eyes! But do your homework and look at Miles in Munich, and Miles in His Own Words and see what he really felt!

Overall, most people have been supportive. There's still some conflicts to be resolved, and I hope that they will be, because jazztruth most of the time is a lover and not a fighter! I think it's time to move on to a different topic for a while. I have many interviews, tour diaries,  and so forth to share. But I will leave you with something sent to me by Anders Chan-Tideman, who is a booking agent for Kurt Rosenwinkel and many others:

I first met Nicholas Payton in 1991, when he came through the Montmartre club in Copenhagen which I was booking. He was part of Elvin Jones band. Nicholas was very young, barely in his twenties, but he not only looked like a classic trumpeter, he played like one. Big, huge, warm tone, great lines, rootsy when he wanted it to be, advanced bebop when he felt that. Cue to about 10 years later, I saw Nicholas on stage at the Blue Note here in NYC. He was then performing in Roy Haynes band that also featured Kenny Garrett, David Kikoski and Chris McBride. Nicholas impressed me just as much again, he played with all the same qualities as when he was with Elvin, but now with even more maturity. I find it deeply offensive that anyone who can carry himself like that on bandstands like these should find himself put on some silly-ass scale like "not even among the 5 best trumpeters" or "have you heard Enrico Rava" (not to take anything away from him). To have been on the bandstand with folks like Elvin and Roy and played like THAT is to embody the very core of the spirit of this music, at it's most exalted, and there is no question that someone like that has some lessons to teach anybody who has NOT been there or might not even have an idea of what that means.

I also find it off-putting, to say the least, that somehow tearing Larry Carlton apart should justify doing it to any other musician. Sure, I do not listen much to Larry Carlton's music myself these days, but here's a guy who has contributed enormously to many culturally and historically highly significant albums, who can definitely play the shit out of the music he chooses to perform, and who, as a musician that has lasted 40+ years in this incredibly difficult business, has shown himself to be a dedicated and highly professional musician. Does he not deserve respect, or is it the job of some hack to come in and tear him apart because, for some reason, his music does not appeal to that persons aesthetic? 

In my years in the business I don't think any profession has heaped more shit on this music than the so-called critics. It's not just writers. When we also hosted one Mr. Dizzy Gillespie at the Montmartre club in 1991, 2 radio people from an independent station called Radio Jazz showed up at Dizzy's hotel to try and interview him. Dizzy had had very little rest, was 73 years old and needed to play 2 sets that evening. I told them to not show up unannounced at our artists hotels without first consulting with the club. Dizzy chose to go eat at a restaurant right next to the venue about an hour later, I was running around a bit, then came into the restaurant only to find the same 2 radio people sitting in front of Dizzy, while he was trying to eat, with a microphone up his nose. As I was walking toward the table I heard one of them ask Dizzy: "How did you feel when Miles Davis died"? This was about 1 month after Miles had passed away. I think I nearly got violent with them. The level of disrespect that they showed to a Dizzy Gillespie was just unfathomable to me, one of the greatest creators that this music has ever seen. And the weird part is these guys thought that somehow Dizzy OWED it to them, because, hey, they were working for very little compensation and trying to promote so-called jazz, and so all the rest of us in the biz, and most of all the musicians, had some kind of debt to them that they could cash in whenever they pleased.  

I have detested that attitude ever since. I have practiced saxophone for just long enough to know that getting good at this music is requiring almost super-human effort. I am not talking about getting great. Good! But let me take that back. Being able to play this music with any kind of proficiency is a serious, serious accomplishment, one which ought to make anybody who professes to love (this) music show some serious respect.

That's not to say that a critic can't or shouldn't be critical of an artists creation. That's part of their job. However, as a professional they should always leave room for the potential audience to discover their own opinion about a piece of music, unless it is so badly executed and below any kind of professional standard that it simply doesn't deserve that. I have not yet listened to "Bitches", which I will be sure to do now, but it is unfathomable to me that Nicholas would be capable of anything but a super-high level in whatever he chooses to put out. He's too great of an artist.

As for the title "Bitches". Now, speaking as someone who loves Notorious B.I.G, who loves "Bitches Brew", I find that anybody that takes serious offense at a title like that to be in the lineage of Tipper Gore's reaction to rap/hip-hop. I remember in Tupac's movie "Resurrection" that he spoke about bringing "images" into peoples minds that was as powerful as Vietnam war photographers images that created the opposition to the war. Only this time it was the war on poor people in the ghetto's all over the United States. That resonates with me. Black artists transformation of language through the art form of hip-hop, but dating back to coded language when slavery was still a "sacred institution", has been well publicized and has become a world-wide movement just like jazz was in the 20ties and 30ties still resonating to this day. I don't think there's any question that all of that comes from the same source, namely a black source unique to America. So "Bitches" as well as "Nigga" are words that are used differently inside that community than when spoken by a white person inside THEIR community, and thus the same standard cannot be applied to it. A black person calling another person "nigga" doesn't have the same connotation as a white person calling a black person that.  

That said, it's a loaded term, and it is true that using it causes controversy. Even inside the black community. Just the other day I was at an eMusic event where parts of Robert Glasper's new album "Black Radio", out in 2012, was played for a select group of people. The "N-word" was part of the lyrics of one track, and when the audience was given a chance to ask Robert some questions, there was one black man, in his 50ties, who was quite upset the word was even in there. Robert defended it by saying that in the context of the song and the lyric, the word wasn't used but rather "looked at" as if under a magnifying glass. I don't think that really satisfied the gentleman though.

But part of what artist do and SHOULD do is to provoke. Controversy is part of any leap forward, whether it's Darwin or the arts. Witness the reaction of the 1st audience that heard Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring". A riot almost broke out. I don't even know how a term like "Bitches" can provoke ANYTHING in this day and age, when the age of any kind of innocence is so clearly long gone, and with the abject ugliness that constitutes American politics - especially on the right-wing/Republican side of things. The shit THEY say day in and day out on TV is so profane that a word like "Bitches" PALES (pardon the pun) in comparison. Perhaps Nicholas title refers to them, and if it does then it's a mild term and I guess a function of his retiring nature and the fact that "fascist shitheads" would have sounded even worse.

One last thing Mr. Brent Black (hilarious that this is your last name given this debate). How did Miles Davis "fail" in making his music in the 80/90ties? You go pick up the Miles Davis DVD from 1985 from Montreal. Miles plays his ASS off with John Scofield, Darryl Jones etc. "Star People" is a hidden gem. "Tutu" was a seminal album for many of us, and definitely helped pull me into the jazz-sphere back then. And Miles playing is beautiful on it - as always. Perhaps I didn't love Amandla quite as much, it was a little too slick for my taste...and I think for Miles taste too. So he wanted to go raw with Doo-bop, didn't get to finish the album, but was definitely onto a new direction that it would have been great to see him pursue. Look at him playing "Human Nature" with his band live in Paris in 1991 (on Youtube), 2 months before he passed away. Here is this wonderful, fantastic icon of this music, a true heavy-weight champion of the world, playing so hauntingly beautiful and people are loving it. Yeah, he's not playing "Cherokee" like Clifford Brown at this point, but so what (been there, done that): He's communicating real beauty to real people, and the history of HIS music - black music - is all the way up in there in every note he plays. The critics have never stopped giving Miles Davis shit, even to this day with you only being one example. Us music lovers can't get enough of him. 

In the final analysis I do agree with the person that suggests that it's sad that we always have to discuss race. It makes all of us squirm a little, I think (and hope), and I do believe we are all the same. But given the fact that black people have been cheated out of so much in this country, and even inside their own music (Paul Whiteman the "King of Jazz", Dave Brubeck and Chet Baker over Bud Powell and Miles Davis etc etc), it's natural that there's weariness in that community and a desire to at least reclaim what they feel is legitimately "theirs". I do believe it's futile to try and rename "jazz" now, because among most fans it's a term of endearment and doesn't have any negative connotations. It's just the critics and the industry, with it's penchant for segmentation, that makes it that way, using "jazz" to sideline their efforts on it's behalf. 

But having said that I do miss more attempts - like Nicholas and Robert's - to make jazz music for more people. Back in the 70ties there were all kinds of people that did that with integrity: People like Grover Washington Jr., The Crusaders, Herbie's Headhunters and bands like that. I read an interview with Dizzy Gillespie from 1948 in which he said: "When jazz loses it's dancebeat, it loses it's audience". Primarily white critics have snubbed any attempt by jazz musicians to heed that call. Nooo, every jazz musician has a duty to up the ante on Live At The Plugged Knickel and A Love Supreme, or else he/she is a failure and is selling out. That's just ridiculous and by the way - it's not going to happen. I applaud Nicholas and Robert's attempts at bringing their and this music to a wider group of people than just intellectual snob's...another group that may well have been who Nicholas meant when he called his album "Bitches".

All the best,

Anders Chan-Tidemann


  1. Very interesting and thoughtful comment from Anders. The only thing I can think of to add to it is to speak, again, to the issue of credibility. So much of jazz criticism is objectionable to me for the same reason much writing on jazz history (especially the early stuff) is, because it's produced by amateurs with no serious musical or scholastic training. Sometimes this plays out as undiscerning fan-boy valorization of lightweight stuff, like Bunk Johnson's seriously sub par late work, or the uncritical acceptance as fact of his self-serving "historical" reminiscences. More often it takes the form of negative crititicism lacking in any basis in actual musical-historical analysis, what Brent Black defends as his "opinion." I have no idea what Mr. Black's qualifications as a critic are, but I suspect they include no serious musical training. If they did, why not talk about the music in a substantive way, instead of just dumping an "opinion' on it.

    to me, this is just another level of disrespect for the music. No serious publication would ever hire a classical music critic without formal musical training, but jazz gets lumped in with the "pop" stuff, and is too often written about by folks who don't have the knowlege to discuss ANY kind of music in a substantive way, and thus focus on "opinion" stuff.

    I don't care about anyone's "opinion,' as I'm perfectly capable of forming my own. Tell me about the music.

  2. Beautiful piece by Anders Chan-Tidemann, a very good writer. I need to catch up on what is happening on the NP blog. All I know for sure is that he's one of my favorite contemporary musicians, in any category.
    -Joe Locke

  3. Thanks for the kind words John and Joe, as well as for posting George!

    So I am listening to "Bitches" right now, and I actually think Nicholas is quite a good singer! I am quite frankly a little bit surprised HOW good! This is not a train wreck by any means! Nicholas has a pleasant voice, a little bit of Luther Vandross in there, and the performance of Esperanza on the 2nd track (a duet with Nicholas) is really wonderful. Boy she can sing but Nicholas holds his own by staying in his own comfort zone, vocally speaking. I think it's an effective track, it's got a great groove too! And it's not the only one. I am on track 7 now and I haven't felt the urge to skip any. Guess how often that happens?

    It's not an album about blowing in an acoustic jazz context, although there are plenty of beautiful trumpet moments and parts. Witness the opening to "You Are The Spark".

    Speaking as someone that has to think about "positioning" and how to market artists, it is always difficult to find a way to explain to an audience - especially of an artist that is already established and primarily known for one thing, in Nicholas case for being a great Jazz (whoops!) trumpeter - that this artist is now primarily a vocalist on his album. It's a challenge to make that transition work in marketing terms because of the complexity of the message. Our age doesn't deal well with complexity!

    And this kind of album has to go out there and compete head-on with the Usher's, the Jay-Z's etc., and it has to be viewed favorably in that context, not just in terms of the songs, the playing, the singing but also production values when those kind of albums have had sometimes millions of dollars and man-years of work put into them by highly skilled and talented people. I am not saying "Bitches" falls short, but just that that's the measure it will be held up against. Because many jazz stations won't play this music, and many jazz critics, like Brent Black, will write it off as this or that. Sometimes musicians primarily known to play improvisational music want to make the transition into more popular genres, but it is a very difficult thing to pull off, because now you also have to put that artist in different venues than he's ever played before (Nicholas is not going to play a concept like "Bitches" at the Village Vanguard that's for sure), with a different group of promoters that might not have any history or reverence for this artist etc etc. Huge challenge!

    But I think Nicholas has crafted a very nice sounding album, he definitely sounds good as a vocalist, he still plays beautiful trumpet, he's got some interesting guests and the album functions well in multiple settings, so I hope that he'll be successful in getting this across to as many people as possible!

  4. George, what is Wallace talking about? "You know, George, Miles didn't hate the word Jazz! He hated what he felt America perceived Jazz to be!"

    Uh, hello? That's exactly what I said. Had Wallace bothered to read or understood what I wrote he'd see I have the same problem as Miles with "The J Word", the negative cultural connotations and its racial implications. It's not about the spelling or the word itself. Duh!

    Here's the thing, even if Miles loved "The J Word", I don't ultimately give a fuck. It's only "JA**" musicians who place more value on the beliefs of the past then those of their own. What do YOU think Wallace? Do you have any thoughts beyond what Miles would do? I think the fact that a man in his 50s still tries to dress and sound like someone did 50 years ago speaks to the heart of what is wrong with "The J Word".

    Necrophilia is alive and well.


    -Nicholas Payton aka The Creator of BAM aka The Savior of Archaic Pop

  5. well, Anders was ok (sort of) until he let us know that only dance music is real jazz. So write off Paul Bley, Roscoe Mitchell, Albert Ayler (yeah, right, I'm sure a lot of you out there danced to Albert), Bud Powell (ditto), Lennie Tristano - I play a lot of blues but I don't want anybody out there dancing. We play listening music. And I'm glad we're back to the "black music" argument; see Ralph Ellison on this one, and tell me about the white saxophonist Dave Schildkraut, whom Dizzy himself told me was "the only alto saxophonist to capture the rhythmic essence of Bird." So much for racialist theories. But I digress.Payton is a fool, great trumpeter but a fool, especially for demeaning Louis Armstrong (who did NOT bow and scrape)....

  6. The first person to voice an opinion like Nicholas Payton's was John Beaty, Felix Pastorius, Chris Ward and Zaccai Curtis with the Stretch Movement. I would check our their website
    Richard Bona, Bobby Sanabria, and many others were publicly supporting these young guys long before Nicholas Payton even blogged Jazz is Dead. Just saying...

  7. Let's see Nicholas: you've tried to punk out Louis Armstrong, Marcus Strickland, and now Wallace Roney. Strick and Roney didn't take it to any personal place, but you and your short fuse "have to go there."

    Seems like you don't need white critics to treat black musicians with a lack of respect. You're doing that very well on your own.

  8. I've been saying "The J Word" was dead since 2009.... FYI

  9. Gerard: Louis Armstrong? How did I try to "punk out" Pops?

    You don't have any idea about my personal relationships nor do you know exactly what was done and said to me for me to say what I have about anyone.

    It's not your business, but Marcus has since apologized and we're having dinner tonight.


    - Nicholas Payton aka The Creator of BAM aka The Savior of Archaic Pop

  10. Hey, I wanna have dinner with you cats!LOL

  11. This seems like nothing more than a fight between a few of the elites of the jazz world. The vast majority of jazz fans knows nothing of nor could care less about this issue. They are looking for entertainment. Blog fights like this occur in other areas outside of jazz and they always end by flaming out with nothing being accomplished except a bunch of bruised egos. The word Jazz won’t go away because there is too much money attached to it. At best, BAM might develop into a handy way to market a diverse field of talent under one tent, but trust me, the word jazz will wiggle its way into the mix. With a shrinking arts dollar due to hard economic times, BAM might be used constructively to build a bigger economic pie for the artist involved. Outside of the jazz scene, this whole fight comes off as downright ridiculous.

    PS You might want to copyright BAM since I’m sure marketers are already figuring out how to steal it from you.

  12. Well this whole issue should finally kill off the last three paying fans of live jazz. The Jazzpocalypse is now complete.

  13. perhaps if nicholas spent as much time playing his horn as he does trolling the internet he could be on the charts again...this is all about publicity. jazz has their own snoop dog and its nicholas "have you seen my career lately" payton.

  14. BAM will catch on when the rich white people controlling the music industry decide it's a good idea... which is exactly what happened to "jazz" and generated this whole controversy, so you guys can already start thinking about another name for the thing... or just make some more music.
    I'm nobody, just sayin'

  15. who are these rich white people? Names, please.

  16. I'm tired of listening to white MEN and black MEN argue about whether "bitches" is offensive. I'm a black woman, a jazz musician, and I'm offended when I see a picture of a black woman with the word "bitch" on it or anywhere near it. It's for album sales, don't get it twisted. Quit trying to justify it.

  17. Thank you for the good writeup. It in fact was a amusement account it. Look advanced to far added agreeable from you! By the way, how could we communicate?

  18. payton mentions picasso. i want to change the name of what he does to WEA. its for everybody though.

  19. anyone thinking payton can sing should check out the tune "in the zone" on you tube...what a joke! the other person was right - name of the new album "have you seen my career lately"....HOMIE CAN NOT SING! not all black folk can sing but some of us think we can. just sad......

  20. I downloaded Bitches and I played it on itunes and thought the first tune was awful and formed a pretty bad opinion then the 2nd tune played and I said wow this is really funky maybe I was wrong go ahead Nick! Turned out it was on shuffle and it was a track from Snoop Dogg. He's just mad that his precious BAM was co-opted by musically ignorant post adolescents decades ago. There's no doubt that great American Jazz music was originated by blacks from New Orleans, just not anymore. Talk all you want, Snoop is way better.

  21. Remember the good old days when the furor was over the quality of music like in the Bebop era or when Coltrane was going out in the 60's? Jazz really is dead. Maybe the internet blog will become an art form in and of itself and NP (Black American Moron) will go down in history as its great originator when the Facebook era is remembered. Facebook will make a great tool for future fascist dictators, plenty of empty-headed sheep out there waiting for a strong man no matter how weak his credentials.

  22. I have an idea. These guys call Jazz the J-word which is obviously a reference to the N-word. The music was great when it was routinely called Jazz and its originators were routinely thought of and referred to as niggers. Maybe we're going about this the wrong way. Instead of calling it BAM, we should call it nigger. You'll definitely attract a young black audience with that (not to mention white hipsters and horny white women). What better way to keep whitey from trying to play it. It's a win-win. Unfortunately the music usually comes before the word so it doesn't matter. Unless all you really care about is money and fame.

  23. Mawg (middle aged white guy)February 1, 2012 at 5:59 PM

    This whole thing makes me sad. Brent Black and his transparent aliases are bad enough, but the fact that a great trumpeter like Nicholas Payton has to smack down anyone who disagrees with him, including musicians, is even more depressing. I wonder if he ever apologizes to anybody. Add in bullying, sexism, and a sense of contempt for your own fans, and it's no wonder the music has such a small audience. if you think that contempt doesn't communicate to listeners, you are sadly mistaken.
    Thanks you for all the great music Nicholas, Marcus, Dwayne, George, Allen. I hope you get the credit and rewards you deserve.

  24. nicholas payton has sure changed his view on the word jazz:

    check out how much reverence he gives it on HIS OWN BLOG SITE:


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