The remarkable ability of New Orleans to produce trumpet (and cornet) players — which began with Buddy Bolden and reached its zenith with Louis Armstrong — shows no sign of abating. One of the latest entrants is Nicholas Payton. Here is part of Payton’s Wikipedia profile:
The son of bassist and sousaphonist Walter Payton, he took up the trumpet at the age of four and by the time he was nine he was playing in the Young Tuxedo Brass Band alongside his father. Upon leaving school, he enrolled first at the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts and then at the University of New Orleans, where he studied with Ellis Marsalis.
After touring with Marcus Roberts and Elvin Jones in the early 90s, Payton signed a recording contract with Verve; his first album, From This Moment, appeared in 1994. In 1996 he performed on the soundtrack of the movie Kansas City, and in 1997 received a Grammy Award (Best Instrumental Solo) for his playing on the album Doc Cheatham & Nicholas Payton. After seven albums on Verve, Payton signed with Warner Bros. Records, releasing Sonic Trance, his first album on the new label, in 2003. Besides his recordings under his own name, Payton has also played and recorded with Wynton Marsalis, Dr. Michael White, Christian McBride, Joshua Redman, Roy Hargrove, Doc Cheatham and Joe Henderson. (Continue Reading…)
Louis Armstrong is my favorite musician — not only for how he played, but for who he was. And, perhaps more than anyone who ever lived, Armstrong is the American story, both the good and the bad. What made him great — triumphant — wasn’t that he revolutionized American music (though that isn’t bad). It was that he came through it all smiling and happily settled down in Corona, New York.
I always am interested in what other musicians say about Armstrong. It is particularly interesting in Payton’s case, because he is one of Armstrong’s artistic grandchildren. This is what he posted on his blog four years ago in a poem entitled “On Louis Armstrong:”
Louis Armstrong’s trumpet is like the voice of God.
He’s not asking; he’s telling you.
Miles is more malleable; compassionate like Christ.
Pops is so Old Testament.
His voice dry.
His articulation crisp.
His phrasing so sharp and spot on.
He favors melodies with repetitive notes as if to drive his point home to you.
Armstrong’s is the trumpet of tough love.
I have three reactions to this. First, it is interesting that Payton mixes the emotional/subjective (“Old Testament”) with the professional’s comparison of the styles of Armstrong and Miles Davis. Secondly, Louis Armstrong and his smile certainly don’t pop into my mind when I read the Old Testament, which isn’t a lot of laughs. Finally, I don’t think Payton would mind that half of a post that is supposed to be about him ended up being a discussion of Louis Armstrong. (On a side note, Payton seems to enjoy blogging as much as playing the trumpet. He doesn’t lack strong opinions.)
Above is “Bag’s Groove” and below is “When It’s Sleepy Time Down South,” which was performed with The Barcelona Jazz Orchestra.
Broadway World had an item on Monday on a short film, Trane and Miles, that chronicles the making of Kind of Blue, which the story says is the best-selling album in jazz history. A trailer for the film is below, and there is more information at the site. Above is So What (with, according to a note a YouTube, Paul Chambers of Contrabass, Wynton Kelly on piano and Philly Joe Jones on drums).
The relationship between John Coltrane and Miles Davis is an important one in jazz history. It has been written about in many places. I don’t have the background to assess it myself, but can point to some good resources.
For instance, the blog Elsewhere featured a post by Graham Reid entitled John Coltrane and Miles Davis: Genius at Work and Playing, 1955-1961. Reid offers insight into the interesting back story on how the two hooked up. Somehow, it all worked out:
Davis – at 29 and four months the saxophonist’s senior – had rarely seen Coltrane play and, on the few occasions he had, was unimpressed. Yet, perhaps desperate as the recording date approached, he made the call. Coltrane joined Davis’ band only a month before its Columbia recording debut on October 26, 1955.
It was an occasionally volatile relationship with Coltrane twice leaving and being replaced by Rollins. Yet the music made for Columbia by the Davis-led line-ups – Round About Midnight, Milestones and, in particular, Kind of Blue – defined an intellectual style of jazz others could only attempt to emulate.
A few years ago, Ben Leubner reviewed a book entitled Clawing the Limits of Cool by Farrah Jasmine Griffin and Salim Washington at the site Critical Studies in Improvisation. As usual in these cases, the review is more about the subject than the book, per se. Leubner writes:
The trumpeter and the saxophonist complemented each other perfectly precisely because they were completely different from one another, a dynamic which Griffin and Washington explore at great length. Davis, in his life, was extroverted, intense, even violent. In his playing, though, he was cool, humble, reticent. Coltrane, in his life, was cool, humble, and reticent, while his playing was extroverted, intense, and violent, or, to use a favorite word of Coltrane critics during the late 1950s, “angry.” In a 1960 interview with Coltrane (during his last tour with Davis, a European jaunt), Swedish radio host Karl-Erik Lindgren assumes that because “the playing mirrors the personality,” Coltrane must have an angry demeanor, or at least angry thoughts on his mind. When asked if he feels angry, though, Coltrane replies calmly, “No, I don’t” (Davis). Perhaps the playing does mirror the personality, but in the sense of reversing it, not in the sense of replicating it exactly. This, at least, seems to be the case with both Davis and Coltrane during the years of their collaboration.
The third piece I found on the relationship between Coltrane and Davis is a long one at Tripod. Brian Knight covers a lot of ground, including a nice explanation of why Davis simply sounded different than other trumpeters – it’s sometimes hard to remember that he was playing the same instrument as Louis Armstrong or Red Allen:
What made Miles Davis stand out and truly becomes a jazz music icon was more than his compositions, it was his unique playing style. In comparison to other great trumpeters such as Dizzy Gillepsie, Davis mastered the lower register of the trumpet’s sounds and preferred to play at a much slower tempo which made moodier, more contemplative pieces of music. The key ingredient to creating this mood pieces was Davis’ use of the Harmon mute. Coupled with the economical use of notes and phrasings through which Davis tried not to overwhelm a composition with excessive notes, Davis created a unique playing style that would influence generations of musicians to come. In contrast, John Coltrane preferred a faster tempo and he attempted to bombard the listener with notes. As Miles Davis was economical, Coltrane used his notes like a child with a ten-dollar bill in a penny candy shop.
There are, of course, many other posts and articles about the collaboration of the two giants. These three – and the short film, which was directed by Scott Essman – are good places to start.
Wikipedia leads its profile with a snapshot of Wayne Shorter’s importance:
Jazz critic Ben Ratliff of the New York Times wrote that Shorter is “generally acknowledged to be jazz’s greatest living composer.” Many of Shorter’s compositions have become jazz standards. His output has earned worldwide recognition, critical praise and various commendations, including multipleGrammy Awards.
Shorter first came to wide prominence in the late 1950s as a member of, and eventually primary composer for, Art Blakey‘s Jazz Messengers. In the 1960s, he went on to join Miles Davis‘s Second Great Quintet, and from there he co-founded the jazz fusion band Weather Report. He has recorded over 20 albums as a bandleader. (Continue Reading…)
Many folks reading this post know more about Miles Davis than I do. So it makes little sense for me to write anything about the second most important trumpet player who ever lived.
One quote seems appropriate. It is from Jon Pareles and ran in The New York Times obit that was published on August 29, 1991, the day after Davis died:
His solos, whether ruminating on a whispered ballad melody or jabbing against a beat, have been models for generations of jazz musicians. Other trumpeters play faster and higher, but more than in any technical feats Mr. Davis’s influence lay in his phrasing and sense of space. “I always listen to what I can leave out,” he would say.
Equally important, Mr. Davis never settled into one style; every few years he created a new lineup and format for his groups. Each phase brought denunciations from critics; each, except for the most recent one, has set off repercussions throughout modern jazz. “I have to change,” he once said. “It’s like a curse.”
Here are All Blues, Agitation, a very late version of Summertime and Freddie Freeloader. Information on Davis can be found at dozens of sites, including NPR and Miles Ahead. Don’t laugh–a good condensed bio for those unfamiliar with the outlines of the Davis story is at PBS Kids.