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Nicholas Payton: Sketches of Brilliance

Nicholas F. Mondello By

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AAJ: Your rhythm section of Vicente Archer (bass), Marcus Gilmore (drums) and Daniel Sadownick (percussion). We're like 55 years ahead now from Paul Chambers and Jimmy Cobb. And Miles, of course, had a certain range of his playing abilities and so forth. Talk to me about the rhythm section on your "Sketches" and how they blended into the entire performance.

NP: We've been playing together for awhile now. I feel very comfortable playing with them and the language that we've developed over the years with one another. And, I felt it would be ideal to—because of their understanding of not only the history of this music, but, to the type of repartee we have established with one another. I felt it would be easier for us to make Sketches of Spain our own with deference and respect to Miles and Gil obviously, but not for it to be some type of repertory thing where we're just trying to recreate what they did and that it wouldn't be contrived,; that it would be a very natural expression.

AAJ: BMF Records. This is your own company?

NP: Yes.

AAJ: Please speak to me about why you initiated that business—you know, from a creative standpoint.

NP: Well, one thing ... I think I got tired of the idea of looking for another situation—another business model—to fit my identity. And, I think with all I've talked about over the years with the Black autonomy and with Black people having their own businesses and establishing their own economic base, it just seemed like the right time to go ahead and to create a business model that is a home for the things that I espouse on a conceptual level.

AAJ: Are you looking to have other artists on the label?

NP: Eventually, yes.

AAJ: Let's talk a bit about your "Black American Symphony." What was your thinking on that? Can you describe it for our readers?

NP: Sure. With that piece it was written right in the middle of the BAM movement. And, it was my symphonic interpretation and the musical culmination of all those ideas. Basically, I used what Dvorak called "Negro melodies." So, often times when musicians do projects with strings, it's a way of perhaps legitimizing what they do in trying to fit within a European construct. My idea was to take an orchestra—something largely associated with a European construct—but to rely heavily and totally on the Black aesthetic.

AAJ: Do they swing?

NP: Not in a literal sense. I didn't write any rhythms that require them to swing—from a purely rhythmic standpoint. But, to me, swing is not necessarily a triplet—it's not a notated feel. No, there are no swing eighth notes in terms of what I wrote for the orchestra. I didn't write any of that in the piece. I just had them as a pad and used the language of voice leading and the harmonic language.

AAJ: Full orchestra with strings?

NP: 73 pieces—Strings, French Horns. Oboes, English Horns.

AAJ: When will we hear it?

NP: I'm hoping to release it sometime before the end of the year or early next year.

AAJ: To jump back again to Sketches of Spain. What's been the reception? What have you heard on your end?

NP: So far it's been favorable.

AAJ: In your liner notes you mention that the charts are transcriptions.

NP: They are not Gil Evans' originals. So, they are not his original charts. They're transcriptions of the original performance. We did get them from the Gil Evans estate, but they are not in his pen or from the original score. I assume that the estate doesn't have them, but, I don't know if they even exist. So, I don't know who transcribed them, but, it's a transcription of the original.

AAJ: What's coming down the pike for Nicholas Payton? Projects? Things you can share.

NP: Speaking of working with other artists for the label, I'm currently working on a project with a young band that I've taken an interest in—they're called "Butcher Brown." They're based out of the Virginia area. This young drummer who's been working with me—his name is Corey Fonville. I actually met him when he was in college and I started using him on gigs when he got out. He has this band that plays funk—funky music—in an era when I see a lot of people are sort obscuring the beat and this whole Hip-Hop thing that it's like based off the One and sort of flamming, and kinda mixing duple and triple meter against each other, they're just straight down the pike and funky and it feels good. It's not "retro," but it has the feel of dance music when it felt good—like in the 70s. that sort of thing. So we're working on a record, an album right now.

AAJ: And, you're heading to Japan soon?

NP: Yes, I'm doing a tour with Sadao Watanabe. Heading out end of the month.

AAJ: What horn are you playing now?

NP: Bach, a Mt. Vernon.

AAJ: Mouthpiece?

NP: A Greg Black. I've been with him since '06-'07.

AAJ: Anything with your big band?

NP: Yeah, we're trying to work out some dates.

AAJ: You're like the cat on the old Ed Sullivan Show—the guy spinning all the plates.

NP: It keeps the mind active.

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