Nicholas Payton

Grammy-winning Nicholas Payton is a trumpet virtuoso, multi-instrumentalist musician, composer, and writer whose performances dazzle crowds and whose writings have sparked spirited discussions on the deepest meanings of jazz and race.

Nicholas Payton, born in 1973, is the son of jazz bassist and sousaphonist Walter Payton, a music educator and member of several of the city’s venerable brass bands. Young Nicholas began playing trumpet beside his father, was mentored by the legendary Danny Barker, and had his first professional gig when he was ten, as a member of James Andrews’ All-Star Brass Band. Payton attended the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts and, for a short time, the University of New Orleans, studying under Ellis Marsalis and Harold Battiste. 

Payton began his adult professional career in the early 1990s touring with jazz luminaries Marcus Roberts and Elvin Jones, and released his first album, From This Moment, in 1995 on the Verve label. A year later he and Doc Cheatham released a highly-acclaimed record together, for which Payton won a Grammy Award for Best Instrumental Solo on “Stardust.” He has also garnered Grammy nominations for his albums Dear Louis (1997, Best Large Jazz Ensemble), and Sonic Trance (2001, Best Contemporary Jazz). On his 2011 release, Bitches, he played every instrument, sang, and wrote all of the music. He has released 17 albums to date, most recently the 2019 Relaxin’ With Nick.

The multi-instrumentalist Payton - who will sometimes play both trumpet and the Fender Rhodes organ simultaneously on stage - excels across musical genres. He co-founded the San Francisco Jazz Collective and created the Television Studio Orchestra, a 21-piece big band. In 2012 he was awarded a commission by the Czech National Symphony Orchestra to compose his first full orchestral work, The Black American Symphony, which later enjoyed its U.S. debut with the Colorado Springs Philharmonic. He also performed Miles Davis’s “Sketches of Spain” with Switzerland’s Basel Symphony Orchestra. In 1996 he performed on the soundtrack of the movie Kansas City, and even made a 2018 appearance on NPR’s Tiny Desk concert series. He also heads his own Paytone record label. 

Payton has performed and recorded with, or arranged for, a Who’s Who of contemporary music, including Allen Toussaint, Jimmy Smith, Ray Charles, Herbie Hancock, Eric Alexander, Joanne Brackeen, Christian McBride, Mark Whitfield, Trey Anastasio of Phish, Brian Blade, Chucho Valdez, Ray Brown, Daniel Lanois, Dr. John, Stanley Jordan, Roy Haynes, Zigaboo Modeliste of The Meters, Wes “Warmdaddy” Anderson, Marcus Roberts, Clark Terry, Nancy Wilson, Dr. Michael White, Jill Scott, Elvin Jones, Jane Monheit, and Joe Henderson.

Payton is also a noted essayist. His 2011 opus, "On Why Jazz isn't Cool Anymore," suggesting that jazz be re-named “Black American Music,” sparked considerable controversy and generated international debate on jazz, race, oppression, the tyranny of the musical genre, and nationality. 

Nicholas Payton can be heard in New Orleans, New York, and around the world in clubs and festivals.

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