He should have been exhausted, but instead played the Tiny Desk with incredible stamina, holding a single trumpet note that lasted longer than most people can hold their breath. In the days just before this performance, Nicholas Payton played at the Joy of Jazz Festival in Johannesburg, South Africa, in Buenos Aires, Argentina, then Santiago, Chile and, finally, New York City. A member of his team drove them the four hours from NYC so he could nap in the car and be ready to play.
Payton dazzled the audience, simultaneously playing his trumpet and a Fender Rhodes. It’s his signature, resonant sound. With the rest of his trio - the rhythmic precision of drummer Jonathan Barber and bassist Ben Williams - Payton’s genius virtuosity captivated both faithful fans and anyone in the NPR crowd just discovering his music for the first time.
All three compositions in this set are from Payton’s 2017 album, Afro-Caribbean Mixtape. “It is often said that New Orleans is the northernmost region of the Caribbean,” says Payton on his website. “Africa is the source of all rhythms. The Afro-Caribbean Mixtape is a study of how those rhythms were dispersed by way of the Middle Passage throughout Cuba, Haiti, and Puerto Rico, then funneled through the mouthpiece of New Orleans to North America and the rest of the world.”
Racial constructs are notably relevant in the last tune, “Jazz Is A Four-Letter Word,” which was inspired by the autobiography of drummer and activist Max Roach. You can even hear Roach’s sampled voice, fused into the infectious groove, a narrative of black consciousness on display. Ideology aside, the music was on point and the audience couldn’t help but sing and clap as the trio took us out on a soulful rhythmic vamp.
“Jazz Is A Four-Letter Word”
Producers: Suraya Mohamed, Morgan Noelle Smith; Creative Director: Bob Boilen; Audio Engineer: Josh Rogosin; Videographers: Morgan Noelle Smith, Kaylee Domzalski, Beck Harlan; Editor: Production Assistant: Brie Martin; Photo: Cameron Pollack/NPR