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Nicholas Payton: Where Raw Talent Meets Controversy

The wild world of jazz’s most provocative trumpeter

Nicholas Payton
Nicholas Payton

As the New Orleans-born son of musical parents, 37-year-old Nicholas Payton found his calling long ago. His status as one of the world’s fiercest, most knowledgeable jazz trumpet players hasn’t been in dispute since his emergence on record in the early 1990s. But figuring out Payton and his art isn’t as simple as that description might suggest.

Leading his XXX trio at New York’s Iridium in early August, Payton continued his now common practice of playing trumpet and Fender Rhodes, often at the same time-not just a feat of coordination, but a unique musical experience, like watching a split-screen without the screen. Payton also plays every instrument, and sings, on his forthcoming album, Bitches, an outpouring of straight-up R&B with 15 original songs divided into two “acts.” It’s a studio creation to the hilt, yet Payton has found ways to present the material live. If you caught his big band, the Nicholas Payton Television Studio Orchestra (TSO), this past March at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola in New York, you heard songs from Bitches in radically different form.

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