Monday, September 20, 2010

A Great Day in Harlem

Yep. That's me in the bottom photo. I finally got a chance to visit the holy site of the "A Great Day In Harlem" photo recently. If you're not familiar with it, it is a famous 1958 black and white portrait of 57 well-known jazz musicians. The photo was taken by Art Kane, a photographer for Esquire magazine, who set up his camera in front of a brownstone on 126th Street between Fifth Ave. and Madison Ave. in Harlem.

My trip to this hallowed ground got me thinking about just how many great jazz trumpet players were featured in the original photo. The photo serves as a great introduction to both the greats and some of the lesser-known players on the instrument. Below you can see the original photo (click to see a larger view) with each trumpet player circled. I've also included a video or an audio clip with each.

Starting at the top, we have Art Farmer. Farmer came onto the scene in the 50's performing with Gigi Gryce, Gerry Mulligan and Horace Silver. He's probably best know for his group, the Jazztet with Benny Golson. He had an original, lyrical relaxed post-bop style, which made him an ideal collaborator with players such as Golson and Mulligan. He was particularly adept at ballads, building beautiful, well-constructed solos. I always thought he had a unique trumpet sound, pinched and warm a the same time. Farmer loved playing flugelhorn and did so almost exclusively in his later years. He eventually ended up with a "flumpet," a horn designed by Dave Monette which is a hybrid of a trumpet and flugelhorn. The clip below shows Farmer in his heyday with is own group.

Next up are Buck Clayton and Emmet Berry. Buck Clayton was a famous as a soloist with the old testament Basie Band, which he played with until just after the end of World War II. Clayton was also in demand as a headliner. He was known for his brash sound and swinging solo style, indicative of the classic Basie sound. I always think of him as the jam session trumpeter. In the 40's and 50's, he put out a variety of jam session records with a fellow swing era sidemen as well as the boppers of the late 40's and 50's, and he was never afraid to do battle with anyone. I first heard him battling Charlie Shavers on the video "The Trumpet Kings." (I thought Shavers won that one.) Below, I've included a video of him with Emmet Berry, who is also in the "Great Day In Harlem" photo. For those of you not familiar with Emmet Berry, he is one of the swingingest trumpet players in the history of the music. He had a fat sound, and his solos were always both exciting and thoughtful. Berry played with both Fletcher Henderson's and Count Basie's band among others and he did some great work backing up Billie Holiday on some of her studio sessions. Check him out below. Shavers is shows off his range here, but man is Berry swingin! (Note: Berry is the player on the left in the video and Clayton is in the middle.)

Next up is Red Allen, another underrated trumpet player, in my opinion. Allen's early career shadowed that of his biggest influence, Louis Armstrong. Both musicians grew up in New Orleans and left to join King Oliver's band in Chicago. Allen's style was deeply rooted in the New Orleans sound and the innovations of Armstrong, but his approach was darker and more gritty than Armstrong's. Allen went on to play with a host of early greats including Fletcher Henderson, Fats Waller, and Jelly Roll Morton. The video below shows him at the age of 51 in a famous appearance on the TV show "The Sound of Jazz" in 1957 sounding strong and really on his game.

Do I really need to introduce Dizzy Gillespie? He's was the pioneer of modern jazz with Charlie Parker, an ambassador of jazz to the world, expert in Afrocuban music, and social activist. In terms of the trumpet, he developed the first major new style after Louis Armstrong, expanded the range of the horn and reinvented the language. I'll just let the video below say the rest...

Next up is Roy Eldridge, another player who really doesn't need an introduction. His style alternated between exciting trumpet pyrotechnics and long chromatic lines that leaned towards what would come later with bebop. He is generally considered a bridge between Louis Armstrong and Dizzy Gillespie, but he earned a place as an innovator in his own right.

Next up is Rex Stewart. I love Rex Stewart. Technically, he was a cornettist, as he rarely played the trumpet. He is best known for his association with Duke Ellington, who found ways to incorporate Stewart's interesting trumpet idiosyncracies. I especially like the way Rex Stewart used half-valving. Trumpet tricks aside, he was an exciting player with plenty of range and techique to go around. Throughout his career, he played with a who's who of bandleaders including Fletcher Henderson, Django Reinhardt, Sydney Bechet and Coleman Hawkins.

I was less familiar with the last three players in the photo. Taft Jordan I knew as a member of Duke Ellington's band, but I hadn't checked him out that much. Turns out, he got his start in Chick Webb's band before playing with Duke for four years. He also toured with Benny Goodman and even played in the section on Miles Davis' "Sketches of Spain." Although he recorded four tunes as a leader, he's definitely known best as a swing era sideman. The recording below is of Jordan with Chick Webb's orchestra.

I wasn't familiar at all with Max Kaminsky until writing this blog entry. Kaminsky was known mostly for his associations with early jazz pioneers as well as some big names in the swing era. In the 1930's he played smaller groups led by Eddie Condon and Benny Carter as well as with big bands led by Tommy Dorsey and Artie Shaw. In the 1940's he continued working with jazz greats such as Willie "The Lion" Smith, Sydney Bechet and Jack Teagarden. Kaminsky even did some work in television serving as the bandleader on one of Jackie Gleason's shows in the 1960s. He continued to play into the 70's and even published a jazz autobiography called "My Life In Jazz," which I'm going to have to check out. The clip below features Kaminsky with his band from a 1945 radio broadcast.

Last but not least, we have Joe Thomas, another trumpet player who is new to me. This guy has played with a long list of big names from the early days of jazz through the swing era including James P. Johnson, Teddy Wilson, Art Tatum, Fletcher Henderson, Earl Hines and Coleman Hawkins. His style is marked by an extremely laid back time feel and very logical, almost cerebral solo lines. I learned a lot about the career of this obscure trumpet player from an entry on the blog "Jazz Lives." Check it out to learn more about this under-appreciated player.

Monday, July 26, 2010

My Lesson with Eddie Henderson

Finally, my first lesson for the blog!

I've long been a fan of trumpeter Eddie Henderson. In addition to being a creative improviser, I've always admired his crisp, clean attack and dark, centered trumpet sound. Henderson's notes really pop, giving him a rhythmic intensity that reminds me quite a bit of Freddie Hubbard. This clean, controlled approach to jazz trumpet playing gives him the ability to play fast, fluid passages with a high degree of clarity. 
I recently ran into Eddie at a gig I was playing at Smoke and asked him for a lesson. He was very gracious and we set up a time. A couple of weeks later, I jumped on the Metro North to visit his apartment in Mamaraneck. Before I talk about what I learned, I should talk a little about his career for those of you who aren't familiar with his playing.

Born here in New York City in 1940, Eddie Henderson came up in a family connected to the jazz world. His mother was one of the dancers in the original Cotton Club and his father sang with the popular vocal act, Bill Williams and the Charioteers. On top of that, his stepfather was a doctor to jazz greats such as Miles Davis, Duke Ellington and John Coltrane. If that's not enough of a head start in jazz, Eddie got to take his very first trumpet lesson at age 9 from none other than Louis Armstrong!

u would think with a background like that, Eddie would be destined for a life in jazz. But like a lot of young people in the arts, he went in pursuit of a "real job" and ended up in the Air Force for three years. Then he enrolled at U.C. Berkeley, graduating with a B.S. in zoology in 1964. He followed this with med school at Howard University in Washington, DC, but his passion for playing jazz never left him. In fact, he regularly drove up to New York on the weekends during med school to hang at Freddie Hubbard's house and practice with him. He'd tag along with Hubbard to his gigs on Saturday night and then get up and and go to Lee Morgan's house to practice with him on Sunday. It's one thing to know these great trumpeters and to hear them play, but to actually practice with them must have been incredible. In my eyes, this makes Eddie Henderson an invaluable resource pedagogically speaking. Fortunately, Eddie showed me some of the things he saw these guys shedding (more on that later).
After med school, Eddie moved back to the west coast to do his medical internship and residency, all the while continuing to practice and gig. It was then that he landed a gig with Herbie Hancock's Mwandishi band that lasted for three years. The experience changed his life and opened doors to gigs with Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, Dexter Gordon, Roy Haynes, Jackie McLean, Joe Henderson, and McCoy Tyner. At this point, he realized he had built a significant career as a jazz musician. While he kept practicing medicine part time for a while, he has now devoted himself solely to music and continues to play in New York and all over the world.

Although Eddie came up playing straight-ahead jazz, he made his first splash on the jazz scene as a sideman on Herbie Hancock's Sextant recordings. Therefore, it was natural that he would continue along this trajectory in his early solo recordings. 
These days, he's playing mostly straight-ahead and sounding as great as ever:

Now on to the lesson! As I mentioned, I've always loved Eddie's attack on the trumpet, so that was the first thing I asked him about. I thought maybe he has some special way of tonguing that gives him that pop I mentioned. As it turns out, he just uses a regular classical attack behind the front teeth. He practices this articulation with tonguing exercises, all the while thinking of the syllable "tah." Of course, this is straight out of trumpet fundamentals 101. But in an effort to vary our attacks or to play fast, a lot of jazz players lose site of proper tonguing technique and end up articulating everything a "da" sound, which can make your playing sound a little wimpy and rhythmically bland. This idea of sticking to fundamentals ended up being the main theme of my lesson with Eddie. He reinforced the idea that there are no tricks or shortcuts to trumpet playing.

We started off by talking about trumpet playing in general. Pretty much all of Eddie's philosophies on trumpet playing fall right in line with mine. Here are some bits of knowledge he discussed that might help you with your own practicing:

  • Practice every variation of tonguing imaginable from single to double to triple to doodle-tonguing. While we obviously don't use double or triple tonguing that much in jazz, it's great for technique because it helps with tongue coordination as well as embouchure control.
  • The key to practicing effectively is to play softly. In order for your embouchure to work correctly, the aperture must be in a position so that the slightest bit of air will create a buzz. If you have to blow hard to get a sound, your embouchure isn't working efficiently. Playing soft is the ultimate cure for this problem.
  • Practice in 20 to 25-minute increments. You always want to approach the trumpet feeling fresh. If you practice for too long, you'll become fatigued and start to make subtle adjustments to compensate. That will eventually lead you down the path to playing with bad habits. Eddie reminded me that the Orbicularis Oris muscles that we use to play the trumpet are paper thin and abusing those muscles can have serious consequences later in your career. (The man is a medical doctor, so you have to take that advice seriously.)
Like the trumpeter that I am, I had to ask Eddie about how he approaches range and endurance. Again, he emphasized practicing at a soft volume. This was something he learned directly from the master of the stratosphere himself, Jon Faddis. Faddis recommended practicing long tones, tonguing exercises and eventually lip slurs at a whisper volume, and moving them up chromatically to the limit of your range. Slowly but surely, you will increase the your range by pushing yourself to higher and higher notes, never going on until you've mastered the note before. It's no different than a body builder who has to work up from low weights to huge barbells. Eddie claimed he dramatically improved his range in a relatively short amount of time using this method. Once these notes began to come easily at a soft volume, it was just a matter of adding more air to give them more volume. But the key, he said, is to relax, not tense up over high C and to be stingy with your air.

Next we talked about improvising. Eddie gave me a packet of information he had put together called "Trumpet Jazz Techniques" that covered most of the basic information required to be a fluent improviser. Again, Eddie emphasized the fundamentals. First and foremost an improviser must know the following scales in all keys: Major, relative, harmonic and melodic minors, chromatic, diminished, whole tone and pentatonic.

Of course, scales alone are just the first step. They are merely building blocks for ideas, much in the same way that the alphabet alone will not help someone speak a language. The next step is to learn how the letters in the alphabet (or notes in a scale) can assembled to form musical ideas. The most important way to do this is to transcribe licks from recorded solos. Another way is to learn some patterns based on these scales. Eddie showed me some really great patterns that he hear players like Freddie Hubbard and Lee Morgan practicing in their down time. For instance, here is a pattern Eddie used to hear Freddie practicing:

This pattern is based on the simplest of scales, the major scale. However, it's made up of seven-note groupings, which sounds really cool over 4/4 time. According to Eddie, Freddie used to walk around his living room playing this lick in all twelve keys.

Lee Morgan, on the other hand, was really fond of the whole tone scale. Much like the diminished scale, this is a symmetrical scale, which means it has it's own built-in tonality and can be used almost anywhere. Here's one of the licks Lee used to practice and put in his solos:

Finally, here's a lick based on the chromatic scale that he learned from Donald Byrd, one of the most fluid players of the 1960s:

I would be remiss if I didn't insert a quick caveat of my own here. Patterns should be used in solos sparingly as they are only a tiny piece of the vast musical language of jazz. Think of them instead as useful exercises to gain more fluency with scales, not as a crutch to fall back on to get through the changes. Too many players become obsessed with patterns and their solos end up sounding like practice routines. Of course, when you practice patterns, they naturally come out every once in a while in your solos. But too many of them will actually make your solo sound bland and sterile. Just something to bear in mind...

Next, Eddie talked about the diminished scale. He said John Coltrane emphasized to him the importance of exploring this scale. Because it is a symmetrical scale, it offers soloists limitless possibilities harmonically and melodically. Eddie spent some time talking about how the scale could be used in solos as well as how it can be used as a means of superimposing new chord changes, but that's a topic for another post.

I ended the lesson by asking Eddie the ten questions I ask all jazz trumpeters I take lessons from. Here they are along with Eddie's answers:

When did you begin to play trumpet and when did you begin learning jazz?

I took lessons in New York from 1950-1954. My first lesson was actually with Louis Armstrong and by the age of 13, I had gone through whole Arbans book. Then my family moved to San Francisco where I studied trumpet and music theory at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music and performed with the San Francisco Conservatory Symphony Orchestra until 1958. Miles was staying at my parents house at one point and I remember going to one of his gigs and becoming fascinated with jazz. I knew about jazz, but that was the first time I had heard anything on that level.

What is your practice routine?

My practice routine focuses on basic trumpet technique and includes things like long tones, scales and lip slurs. I feel it is important to always reinforce correct practice habits.

What traits of the great jazz trumpet players of the past do you value the most, and what have you done to address those aspects in your playing?

In my estimation, the greatest musicians practiced their fundamentals to an extent that they were in complete control of their instrument. This control was reflected in their personalities and confidence on stage. When they walked onto the bandstand, musicians like Lee Morgan, Freddie Hubbard and Miles Davis exuded a confidence in their playing that drew the listener in immediately. You knew something serious was about to happen.

What have you tried to do to make your playing unique?

Players who are able to find their own voice display the highest level of maturity in their playing. I strive to play in a way that conveys a connection to the tradition of the music, but with a sound and harmonic approach that is my own.

What equipment do you play and how much does equipment play a factor in your approach?

I own two Selmer Paris 80J’s, and two Selmer Paris Concept TTs. The horn is certainly important in that it needs to fit the unique needs of the player. For instance, I used to have Conn Constellation because I saw Freddie play one but it didn’t work for me. However, I do play the very same Couesnon flugel that Freddie used on his amazing solo on "Here's That Rainy Day" from his album “Straight Life.”

Do you subscribe to any particular systems of trumpet technique (Caruso, Reinhardt, etc.)?


Do you practice classical music, and if so, why?

I do practice some classical music for technique, but my focus is primarily on jazz.

Do you play any other instruments? If so, how do you think that impacts your conception of jazz trumpet playing?

I am familiar with the piano, although I am not fluent enough to play gigs on it. However, it's vital for a jazz musician to be able to play chords on the piano in order to have a deeper understanding of jazz harmony.

Do you have any particular advice for aspiring jazz trumpet players?

It's a difficult time to learn jazz in that the era of apprenticeship is over. Players like Freddie Hubbard, Lee Morgan and myself earned their stripes by playing with Art Blakey. However, institutions like that are no longer available, and a lot of players lack a level of maturity because of it. Jazz has also become institutionalized by the schools and now a lot of kids come out of school and become instant headliners. However, they haven't had the time yet to develop and find their own voice. You used to be able to tell who was playing by listening to one note. These days, a lot of the players today sound like carbon copies of each other.

What do you think of the jazz scene today?

The jazz audience in the states is pretty small. I earn my living now playing in Japan and Europe. Over there, they come out to listen to the music and they respect the musicians more than the general public here in the states.
I recently discovered that my electric albums are really popular in Europe, and I'm thinking about doing something in that vein again.

Well, that's it. I hope you've gotten something out of this. I know I did. And if you want more information, I encourage you to take a lesson from Eddie personally, or just go and see him play the next time he's in your neighborhood. Eddie's site can be found here.

Until next time...

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Nicholas Payton Sexxxtet Concert: Jun 24, 2010

On the 24th of June, I headed downtown to check out Nicholas Payton's group at Le Poisson Rouge. I should preface this by saying that Nicholas Payton is one of my favorite jazz trumpet players of all time. I really think he is one of the greats. In addition to dominating the trumpet, he is a brilliant improvisor with a truly unique sound. I'm particularly fascinated with what he's been up to lately. Like many other artists of today's generation, Payton has moved away from playing purely "straight-ahead jazz" (if that term even means anything anymore) and is now experimenting with the blending of other musical elements into the jazz format. Of course, people have been melding jazz with other genres since the beginning of the music, but a new crop of musicians are successfully mixing jazz with hip hop. I say "successfully" because this idea of cross-pollinating jazz with hip hop has been going on since the 90's and hasn't always worked. The problem with many of the early attempts is that they seemed unable to adopt the new beats without sacrificing the sense of freedom, interaction and harmonic/rhythmic sophistication that makes jazz so exciting to listen to. The result often sounded more like an instrumental hip hop record. Some, even veered into smooth jazz territory.

In my opinion, it is the latest generation of musicians who have finally blended hip hop and jazz in an organic and honest way. I'm talking about musicians like pianist Robert Glasper and drummer Chris Daddy Dave. Unlike a lot of the older players, these aren't jazz traditionalists trying to infuse hip hop into jazz in a contrived way. The new generation of jazz musicians actually grew up with hip hop, and like a child who grows up bilingual, many of them can speak both languages fluently. They also take hip hop just as seriously as they do jazz.

Even though Nicholas Payton came into prominence at the end of the "young lions" period in the 90's, he seems just as at home with the newer crop of forward-thinking jazz musicians. His last CD, "Into the Blue" is a cool mix of hip-hop elements with both Latin and New Orleans beats, all packaged in a funky, cool, rhodes-soaked sound. The fact that Payton ventured into contemporary territory was a surprise for many people. (Roy Hargrove had already gone down this road with his RH Factor albums.) But, after recording his Louis Armstrong big band tribute "Dear Louis," Payton seemingly took a left turn with "Sonic Trance," an album that attempted to fuse everything from electronica to mariachi music to ragtime.

This first attempt at a new sound definitely stirred up a backlash from many of his fans. I myself never thought it was that strange. I felt like it was a natural progression from one of my favorite earlier Nicholas Payton joints, "Nick @ Night," which blended straight ahead jazz with funk and R&B beats. Payton also worked in some unusual instruments for jazz like the celeste and harpsichord. Yet, he did it in a way that sounded totally natural. The writing on this album is really creative. The first track, "Beyond the Stars" is a clever mix of jazz harmony, Bach-like polyphony and funky straight-eight grooves. Payton's next album, "Sonic Trance," pushed the envelope even more, but it I think Payton has really settled on his new sound with "Into the Blue." The album proves that Payton is more than a brilliant trumpeter and improvisor. He is a creative thinker, which believe it or not, isn't always the case with jazz musicians.

Which leads me to a quick gripe session. I love to swing as much as the next guy, but sometimes I think today's jazz musicians are their own worst enemies. In the 80's and 90's, it seemed natural to be focusing one straight ahead jazz. There was a real feeling of a rediscovery going on. This was the era of Wynton, Lincoln Center, Ken Burns Jazz, IAJE, and Verve Records with their stable of young lions (one of which was Nicholas Payton himself). But every period must come to an end and this one was no different. Since those days, IAJE has folded and Verve has dropped almost everyone on their jazz roster except a handful of jazz(ish) vocalists. These days, a lot of the straight ahead albums sound tired, like the musicians themselves are sick of playing the same tunes from the 30's through the 60's but don't want to admit it.

The truth is, if we don't adapt and grow, our music is going to become obsolete. A lot of purists see jazz artists looking to hip hop for inspiration and act like they are completely throwing the jazz tradition to the wayside. But that just isn't true. These guys clearly have a healthy respect for the rich history of this music. Nicholas Payton can play in the style of Louis Armstrong better than anyone I've ever heard, and Robert Glasper has clearly checked out the greats on piano, especially Herbie Hancock. In other words, these guys are serious jazz heads. But they've also investigated the greats in hip hop from Dr. Dre to RZA.

Jazz has gone global people. This is the age of the internet. It's time to embrace it, not fight it. More than ever in it's history, music from all over the world is seeping into jazz and vice versa. Hip hop is just one example. Jazz will inevitably fuse itself to countless musical genres and I for one think it's exciting. Maybe jazz will loose some of it's sense of identity in the process, but I don't really think so. We'll always have the recordings of masters like Miles and Coltrane to keep us humble. And remember, Miles himself thought it was a good idea to experiment with other forms of music way back in the 60's. Maybe 50 years later, it's time to finally let go and follow him down that path.

Sorry. Enough of my ranting. On to the concert! The event was produced by a company called Revive Da Live. I suggest you check their site out here. The company is run by Meghan Stabile, a former Berklee student who now devotes herself to promoting events where jazz musicians and hip hop artists can collaborate. I can really relate to what she's trying to do. I like that her events bring people together from different hemispheres on the musical globe. I wish we had more devoted, out-of the box thinkers in the jazz business like her. This particular event was produced in conjunction with the Carefusion Jazz Festival-New York. It featured both Nicholas Payton's group as well as the Revive Da Live Big Band (more on that later).

Let me just start off by saying Nicholas' band was killing! He
was backed by Marcus Strickland on drums, Daniel Sadownick on percussion, Vincente Archer on bass and Lawrence Fields on piano. As a jazz trumpeter who has followed Payton since his Verve days, I can tell you his playing has changed dramatically. When I saw him perform in the mid 90's, he was a truly superhuman trumpet player. He played with the biggest sound I had ever heard. He seemed to have infinite chops and endurance, and his solos were always filled with amazing feats of daring and creative trumpet playing. Then I began hearing rumors that he was having an embouchure crisis, something a lot of great trumpet players have gone through at some point in their career.

As is so often the case in life, adversity can lead to positive change. In this case, Payton addressed his trumpet issues and began developing a more mature, thoughtful style. On this particular night at Le Poisson Rouge, I heard an improvisor playing with altogether different mindset than he had as a young upstart. The flash and technique are still there when he needs them, but now his solos are more expansive, exploratory and textural.

I can't help being reminded of when Miles Davis decided to move away from bebop in the late 50's. I remember watching an interview in which Davis said he felt the harmonies of bebop had forced him to fall back on cliches. This was one of the primary reasons he began experimenting with modal concepts, which he famously introduced with the album "Kind of Blue." It seems to me like Payton is on a similar path of finding freedom through simplification. His album "Into the Blue" feels like it's a reaction to the jazz traditionalists of today in the same way that "Kind of Blue" was in its day. Even the titles of the albums sound suspiciously similar.

Most of the tunes featured on the Le Poisson Rouge concert were from the "Into the Blue" album and often featured vamps with just a couple of chords. Over these sonic backdrops, Payton would build long complex solos with the incredibly simple devices. He might take a tiny melodic idea and repeat it over and over again, playing with it each time, turning it inside out and upside down. At one point, I remember him just playing a single note over and over, and varying the articulation, rhythmic placement and tone each time he played it. He'd take that one note and play it waaay back on the beat, and then drop it right back into the pocket. At another point, he played a simple two-note trill and sat on it for what seemed like a minute or two and circular breathed. But the coolest part was what he was he was doing rhythmically. He'd speed the trill up so the two notes sounded like sixteenth notes and then slow them down to triplets. It was like the two notes were in constant rhythmic flux.

I also found it interesting that Payton's solos as a whole seemed to break the single-climax story arc which most jazz solos follow. If the typical jazz solo is a short story, Payton's solos were novels. They usually began with a few sparsely placed ideas separated by long pauses. He took a lot of patience in slowly developing these motifs while he built the intensity of his solos higher and higher, until finally he reached a huge climax. But instead of trailing off and ending the solo like most people would, he'd veer of into another musical direction. His solos ebbed and flowed, sometimes resulting in two or three high points.

As for the music itself, I was really impressed by the way the entire concert felt like one musical stream of consciousness. It wasn't just that there were transitions from song to song. It was like the songs actually melded into each other. The best example I can think of is Payton's tune "Triptych," which ended with an repeating eight-bar vamp. As Payton soloed over the vamp, he started playing the head from "Days of Wine and Roses." At first, I just thought he was being clever by quoting the tune. But, he kept repeating the melody and I started to realize something was about to happen. Sure enough, the band was suddenly off and swinging into "Days of Wine and Roses." I thought, transition. Then, a few choruses into the tune, the piano player starting playing the vamp of "Triptych" again. I thought maybe they were going to go back to the previous tune, but I realized they were still playing "Days of Wine and Roses." They were just superimposing the changes from the last tune. It was like the two tunes had been fused together in some fundamental way. It was really hip.

I also noticed that Payton used the following lick several times during the concert to signal the end of vamp:
This is a lick I've heard him use since his days with the Sonic Trance band. He'd be blowing over a vamp and out of nowhere he'd play this lick and the band would stop on a dime. This ending was like a leitmotif that showed up at various points of different tunes and kind of tied the whole concert together in a nice bow.

You might have noticed the band was called the Nicholas Payton SeXXXtet. Despite the provocative name there were only five people on stage most of the time, and I never saw any of them having sex. Seriously though, there were a couple of occasions when the band brought up a sixth member; a fantastic vocalist named Somi. She came out on a couple of tunes and sang lyrics to tunes such as "Triptych," which Payton had originally recorded as an instrumental. She had a beautiful voice, but it looked like she was sight-reading the music and was there more as an added texture. Still, I really liked her voice and hope he uses her on a future project.

That brings me to the last event of the night, the "Revive Da Live Big Band." Led by trumpeter Igmar Thomas, the band was made up of an interesting mix of New York musicians. In the trumpet section, I noticed Philip Dizack, whom I played with in Caruso Competition. I also noticed Dwayne Eubanks and Maurice Brown. The band was backed by Payton's rhythm section and featured some special guests.

Admittedly, the "hip hop big band" concept didn't always work, but when it did, it was really cool. I especially enjoyed the two tunes from Payton's "Into the Blue" album that were adapted for the big band. They reminded me of Freddie Hubbard's CTI recordings, but with a distinctly hip hop vibe. Payton and his guest singer also came out and sang on a couple of these tunes. In addition to being the opening act, Payton was also the special guest for the big band portion of the concert, and he blew over most of the tunes. The band also brought out some special guests to sit in including a group of tap dancers as well as the famous Brooklyn emcee, Talib Kweli. All in all, the event really impressed me. The company producing the concert, Revive Da Live, could have just booked Payton, rented the room and sold tickets. Instead, they put a lot of work and care into creating an event that really pushed the envelope by putting people together who might not normally collaborate. The result was a concert that felt truly unique and special.

(Check out the videos below for some live coverage from the show I found on Youtube...)

Well, that's my review, long-winded as it may be. It's just that Nicholas Payton is one of the few trumpet players today making music I even want to talk about. I'm curious what you think of his recordings and playing, so make sure you leave some comments. I'm especially interested if anyone knows more about his embouchure issues and what he did to address them. I hope to take a lesson from Nicholas sometime in the future and share what I learn with you, so stay tuned. In the meantime, be sure to visit Nicholas Payton's page here, Le Poisson Rouge's page here, and Revive Da Live's page here to stay up-to-date on coming events.