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Nicholas Payton: In Conversation

By Published: October 1, 2003

AAJ-VCR: Do you see the blurring of the line between acoustic and synthetic sound as a kind of literacy for the future of jazz?

NP: I think so. I think so many doors can be opened with the use of some of the wonderful things that we have. My feeling is: why not explore that along with the acoustic thing? That's why on all the tracks (on Sonic Trance ), you hear us playing acoustic bass. For the most part, Tim Warfield, the saxophonist, is completely unaffected. On a lot of tracks, I just play the natural trumpet as well, because we want keep that element of rawness and I wanted this to be a total experience in sonic texture. I think'having all this electronic tapestry going on with the very primal sound of congas gives it a certain feel of something futuristic and something very primal. And I like playing, and toying with, that element.

AAJ-VCR: You touched on the idea of how this record came together in the studio. How do you see it coming about live?

NP: Well, the whole concept of Sonic Trance, for me, is to not get into any particular mode'that's why I misplaced a lot of the same tunes in different versions, in different incarnations: to show that our live act is to bring something different to the set every night. Sometimes we repeat the same tune in a set, just play it in a different, particular mood. I really don't want to get into recreating the record because I think part of what makes the record special is that the musicians were allowed to create freely whatever they felt the ride was at the time. And I want to stay as close to that as possible. I don't want to go for recreating what we did there.

AAJ-VCR:: I hear a lot of hip-hop in this record. How legitimate is hip-hop as a form? What future does it hold for you?

NP: I don't think a lot of people thought that it would be around as long as it has been. It's been here well over 20 years and it's continuing to hold strong. I think the problem is that'most of what we see and hear is not necessarily the best representation of what's going on in the creative side of the field. And I think, sometimes, some of the negative imagery that comes along with some of the popularity, some of the things that we see, has branded it as not being artful.

For one, I think it's the voice of the youth today. I think it has validity in terms of the youth being expressive in poetic form. Also in musical form, particularly with regards to what they're doing with rhythm.

I think it's completely fresh and innovative, and I'm trying to draw from that because I come from that culture. I come from an era where that's the sound that I grew up hearing and feeling. You know, we used to break dance on the linoleum mats and everything just like everyone else. I'm interested in really exploring that on a much deeper level than I have before. And hopefully, because of that and a lot of other artists who are incorporating'more of those elements into the music, it will give more of a voice to it ' and maybe open some people's eyes to it that otherwise have been shrugging it off as some kind of gangster music or some kind of violent thing.

I just think we have to be open-minded to different things in this culture, and I think there's a lot of important things being said in hip-hop, and I want to be a reflection of the positive.

AAJ-VCR:: You are at a very interesting age. You're turning 30 pretty soon. How do you think that you're going to continue the tradition of forging ahead in jazz in the future?

NP: I feel good about where I'm at right now. I think I'm old enough now, and experienced enough to have (by trial and error) figured a lot of things out about musically where I come from and what's the best way to go about trying to see my vision through. At the same time, I think I'm young enough to still have, as you say, many years ahead to try to explore this period that I'm at now'I'm just beginning to realize the fruits of all these things so I want to take the time to just kick into high gear and work double time. I don't feel like I want to rest on my laurels and say, 'I've accomplished XYZ.'

I feel even more inspired now because of where I'm at ' in between generations, to really try to make a concerted effort to make some kind of contribution, make a positive statement and be an encouragement to those who are under me.


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