Trumpeter, composer, and bandleader Nicholas Payton is returning to Wilmington, Delaware for the Dupont Clifford Brown Jazz Festival after his last performance in 2005. Payton, who hails from New Orleans, a town chock-full of trumpet players, originally followed in the footsteps of a mile-long line of tradition-based players including Buddy Bolden, Louis Armstrong, Al Hirt, and of course, Wynton Marsalis. Payton is the son of Walter Payton a well-known bassist on the Crescent City music scene. His mother played piano. Given his upbringing in a musical family, Payton often spent upwards of ten hours a day practicing trumpet in his youth. He began playing trumpet as a four-year-old, after asking his father to get him one. He began accompanying his father to shows at clubs in his youth and had the chance to hear many great trumpet players.
“I had a chance to hear some great trumpeters like Wendell Brunious, Leroy Jones, Clyde Kerr Jr., and Teddy Riley,” Payton said in a 2003 interview, and he also recalled seeing Wynton Marsalis when he was in high school. “I got to hear a bunch of people play trumpet in a town that has been noted for trumpet players since Buddy Bolden. For me, trumpet fit my personality. It suited my voice. You’re able to express a wide range of emotions on the instrument,” he said.
The turning point for the young Payton came when he was 11, when he heard a Miles Davis quintet album that was in his parents’ record collection. With the opening notes of the recording, he knew then he would pursue a life as a trumpet player and artist. He started performing publicly as a 10-year-old and began playing in the streets as a year later. He worked everywhere from funerals to weddings to bar mitzvahs, and played on the streets for tips. Although he knew he wanted to be a musician, he also knew “you can’t make a living in New Orleans being a genre-oriented musician.” Payton said, “A lot of the guys my father played with in bands were school teachers during the day, and they would play gigs at night and on weekends.”
“When I was younger, I wanted to get so inside their character that I could improvise a solo a la Miles 1956, or, say, 1958, or 1963, without necessarily playing any of his licks verbatim. Same thing with Louis Armstrong. Same thing with Clifford Brown. I wanted to be at the point where I could sort of summon their spirits, so that it was free improvisation, not just verbatim regurgitation of licks and phrases. Approaching it like that perhaps makes it easier for me to feel expressive within an idiom, because I’m not looking at it like a style, I’m looking at it like an expression. When you do that, it’s open for all and anything to happen.”
Payton signed with Warner Bros. in 2001, releasing the ’70s fusion-influenced Sonic Trance 2003. He returned with Into the Blue on Nonesuch in 2008. Well known as a risk taker, Payton took one of his grandest on 2011’s Bitches. A concept recording that details the stages and ending of a romantic relationship, Payton composed and arranged all 16 songs (which include lyrics), played every instrument, sang and played trumpet throughout, and produced the entire set. He is accompanied on the album by special guest vocalists Cassandra Wilson, Esperanza Spalding, N’Dambi, Chinah Blac, and Saunders Sermons.
Payton, one of the great stars of the present-day trumpet, says of Clifford Brown “I doubt if we’ll ever see the trumpet played that way again.”
This year’s Clifford Brown Jazz Festival will take place June 21 – 25 in Rodney Square in downtown Wilmington. Visit the Dupont Clifford Brown Jazz Festival website to view Nicholas Payton’s performance details as well as additional festival artist announcements, updates and information.