Nicholas Payton was born September 26, 1973, in New Orleans, Louisiana. His mother was an operatic singer and classical pianist. His father is a respected bassist and retired school teacher. Young Nicholas literally had thousands of records at his disposal from Scott Joplin, Louis Armstrong and King Oliver to Earth Wind & Fire, Stevie Wonder and Run-DMC. Over the years, he has been influenced by them all. Nicholas also benefited from musicians coming to the house for rehearsals which his father allowed him to watch. He began gigging at eight years-old with his dad, eventually playing with the All-Star Brass Band, a traditional jazz youth group that played across the United States and abroad. His trumpet heroes are Wendell Brunious, Leroy Jones, Clyde Kerr, Jr. and Theodore Riley.
Payton later enrolled at the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts (where Sonic Trance also happens to have been mixed), then studied with Ellis Marsalis at the University of New Orleans. He went on to perform and record with some of the most respected giants of jazz, including Joe Henderson, Clark Terry, Jimmy Smith and Elvin Jones, who appointed him musical director of his renowned Jazz Machine at the age of nineteen.
Instrument: Trumpet| AMT Products Used: P800
“Sound is the single most important factor of my performance. When I’m playing, I need a microphone that can deliver my sound as close as possible to it’s natural state with consistency. The AMT microphone offers me just that!”
– Nicholas Payton
Nicholas Payton launched his recording career as a leader in 1995 with From This Moment. The follow-up, 1996’s Gumbo Nouveau, was the maiden voyage for a quintet (featuring Tim Warfield on sax, Anthony Wonsey on piano, Reuben Rogers on bass and Adonis Rose on drums) he led for an astounding six years. In `96, Nicholas also portrayed legendary trumpeter Oran “Hot Lips” Page in director Robert Altman’s film Kansas City, which spawned two soundtracks.
1997 found esteemed jazz trumpeter Doc Cheatham lovingly passing the torch to Payton in an album of sublime collaborations, titled Doc Cheatham & Nicholas Payton. A 24-year-old Payton earned a Grammy in the Best Solo Jazz Performance category for “Stardust” on that recording. Cheatham was among several mentors from generations past to whom Payton dedicated his next album, 1998’s Payton’s Place, which marked the beginnings of his expanding compositional palette.
He has been a participant in a series of European concerts called “The Trumpet Summit, ” that find him playing among peers like Jon Faddis, Wynton Marsalis and Roy Hargrove. This year he will also be spending a portion of his schedule as part of drummer Roy Haynes’ Birds Of A Feather quintet (with Kenny Garrett, Christian Mc Bride and Dave Kikowski).
His most recent recording was a centennial tribute to Louis Armstrong for big band. Titled Dear Louis, that 2001 release found Payton arranging and performing 12 pieces of music closely associated with the master, plus composing the breathtaking title track. He’s also added singing to his resume on that recording with the comical “I’ll Be Glad When You’re Dead You Rascal You” and “I’ll Never Be The Same” as a bittersweet bossa.
As a musician for hire since the age of 11, he has shown a keen interest in all styles of music, particularly R&B, Latin and funk. He’s even played rap and heavy metal…on trumpet! Payton possesses no musical prejudices. Though Nick has never wanted to be viewed purely as a traditionalist, he doesn’t want to appear to be cutting himself off from a rich past either. “To denigrate any part of my past, ” he states, “would be like denigrating where I’m going. What I’m doing now with Sonic Trance is what Miles and Duke did in their eras.”
Pointing with pride to what his new ensemble achieves on stage, Payton emphasizes being in the moment. “We approach the sets the same way we did when we recorded the album. We have cues and signals so everyone knows where to go, but the pieces are open enough so that they change form, color, shape and groove every night. It’s all contingent upon how we feel. It’s difficult, but it’s been rewarding because it’s not about having your chops up or your stock licks ready. It’s about focusing not just on our personal energies, but listening to each other. You can’t be on automatic pilot with this concept. Every night is spiritual.”
“We’re like a jam band, only with an expanded palette of colors.”
– A. Scott Galloway