Shady Grove

On Art, Community, and the Culture of Commerce

The world is sick and art is the only thing that can heal it. The problem is that mankind has eschewed the discipline of artistry in favor of private pursuits. The current trend is to elevate the ideals of the individual over what is best for the whole. This creates a chasm within our society, which is tantamount to separating a tree from its roots. Art is a direct line to our ancestors and it is the artist’s job to be a conduit between the physical and supernatural realms.

Shady Grove

When this connection to the ancestors is broken we do a great disservice to ourselves. In the hands of the unenlightened, the practice of art can become a very dangerous tool. What was meant to be a force of unity is now a source of destruction. The way our system is setup is the antipode of how things should be.  Holidays that are supposed to celebrate family and friends are now merely guideposts toward consumerism. An LED TV is the new Love. We’d rather stand in line at Best Buy than to be in line with our Best Selves. There is more deference paid to the material than to our spiritual well-being.

We assert control in areas we should accept and accept things where we should exert control.

Regardless of what you may or may not believe, art reminds us that there is something greater than ourselves; that there is more to our existence than what we see before us. Whereas love at times can be elusive and ethereal, art has a way of translating love into something very tangible and palpable. Most things packaged as art today distract us from the real reason we are here: to help one another evolve.

In our efforts to understand what this all means, we’ve created illusory constructs that compartmentalize our existence here on Earth. When you categorize something you detach it from the source. And instead of these categories bringing us to a deeper level of understanding — more often than not — it drives people further from the truth.

Commerce thrives on categories, but categories kill art. What art needs to survive is community.

Just several days ago marked the 2-year anniversary, or #BAMiversary, of my essay: On Why Jazz Isn’t Cool Anymore. It was the impetus behind the subsequent Black American Music Movement. Aided by The Ancestors and many supporters, my desire has been to restore what has been lost in the Black community due to categorizations like “Jazz.” Unlike Jazz, Black American Music is not a category. It is an acknowledgement of our ancestors, without whom, art means nothing.

#BAM is not divisive; it seeks to unify a music and a people who are in need of connecting with their true nature. Jazz is about music, but #BAM is about life. When Black America, as well as other indigenous cultures, repairs what has been broken, we will witness a shift in our global consciousness, and reclaim our Human Nature.


Let the healing begin…


— Nicholas Payton aka The Creator of the #BAM Movement


Why Jazz Still Isn’t Cool: The 2nd #BAMiversary in Review

It’s been almost 2 years since my legendary post On Why Jazz Isn’t Cool Anymore and many followup posts explaining exactly why in great detail, international conferences, videos, etc., and most folks still don’t get it.


The great irony here is that for all the creative “improvisational” types that jazz is supposed to attract, jazzheads are some of the most inflexible, obstinate, ignorant, lazy, entitled, cowardly and greedy people I have ever come across. For a genre that prides itself on community, jazzheads are a selfish and narcissistic bunch of hypocrites.

It’s been 100 years and you all are still arguing about what is and what is not jazz. Not only have many of the ancestors laid it out for you, but through them, I’ve exhaustively tailored the message in every fathomable way one possibly can. I’ve said it, played it, expressed it profanely and profoundly, and most of y’all continue to remain in the dark about it all. You don’t know and you don’t want to know.

It’s very simple: Jazz is dead. It died in 1959 and it ain’t ever coming back. Wynton can’t save it; Robert Glasper can’t save it; Esperanza can’t save it and Jesus Christ can’t save it. It’s gone. It ain’t shit now. Never was shit. Never gon’ be shit.

“OK, so this is a wonderful idea that Nicholas Payton has — and Max Roach said it, too. And Art Blakey said it, and Rahsaan Roland Kirk said it. I just wish they would all stay with it so that, when I’m listening to WBGO, they will say, ‘That’s Black American music, as interpreted by’ so and so. It is correct.”

— Bill Cosby

What’s most disappointing is to see the amount of Black people who are championing a terminology that sought to separate Black people from their music and the money. And it still continues, to this very day. Don’t y’all get it? Have you not heard what I said? I know y’all listenin’. It ain’t that hard to grasp.


What are you so afraid of? That cats are going to start bullshitting, stop swingin’ and people won’t know Jazz from Shinola? Afraid that you won’t be relevant? Well, guess what? That happened a long time ago. You will never get the masses to embrace jazz as something that’s cool and to be revered. It’s not cool. Jazz is not worthy of our respect. Jazz continues to be a stain and a source of shame on the Black community. Like Stanley Turrentine said, “Let It Go.”


There’s a term to express exactly what I speak of here. It’s called “cognitive dissonance.” Cognitive dissonance is what one feels when caught between what one believes and what is true.

For instance:

“JAZZ” is a White, racist terminology (vs.) Black Americans created The Music

Now, if you don’t think the term “JAZZ” is racist, you will inevitably feel conflict for a variety of reasons. 1.) You feel jazz is beyond color and is equally indebted to a cross section of peoples. 2.) In your mind, we’ve grown beyond any negative historical connotations that jazz may have held and can reclaim the term to mean something else entirely. 3.) You love jazz and that’s just the way it is.

If you agree that Black Americans created The Music, you may also find yourself in conflict. Why? 1.) You can’t understand why after all these years you still have to argue that The Music came through the Black community. 2.) You hate the term, “JAZZ.” 3.) You love jazz and that’s just the way it is.

Black people are a complex people. How you gon’ take the music of Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Lester Young, Billie Holiday, Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk, Art Blakey, Miles Davis, Charles Mingus, John Coltrane and Ornette Coleman and call it “JAZZ”? Their music doesn’t all sound the same. In many cases, they didn’t necessarily like each others’ music. And what makes them socially different from Ray Charles, James Brown, Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, Marvin Gaye and Michael Jackson?

Herbie Hancock and Maurice White could have been neighbors, been in the same class at the same school, listened to the same records and went to the same dances. There is no such thing as a “jazz” anything. What the above listed share in common is that they are Black Americans, not jazz musicians, and their music is indicative of the Black experience—which is multidimensional.


“I myself don’t recognize the word ‘jazz.’ I mean, we are sold under that name, but to me, the word doesn’t exist.”

— John Coltrane

You see, genre is not a Black thing, neither is race. These are European constructs that were designed to divide, classify and marginalize. Race and genre establish false hierarchal systems that engenders an environment of entitlement for some and exclusion for others. From an African or ancient perspective, geography and genealogy are what’s important. It’s more about whom begat whom, where, than what begets what, when — lineage as opposed to linearity.

And to be honest, the African or ancient way is not always the best either. The rigidity of those traditions were bound to be broken at some point. We have global colonization to thank for that. People need room to evolve. There is a reason for The Middle Passage, The Holocaust and the extermination of native peoples all over the world. Yes, we were colonized, but we were colonized before we were colonized.

To break the construct, you must first embrace the construct. To deny or ignore only gives more power to the opposition. It’s best to face the truth head-on, open and honestly. Black music has outgrown Ragtime, Jazz, Blues, Gospel, Soul, R&B and Hiphop. Africans have outgrown Africa and Americans have outgrown America. Homogeneity is pandemic in modern society. It’s time to marry the Old World view with the New World. We don’t all need to be the same, but we do need to learn to respect and celebrate differences.

Relevancy is not what’s important. It’s all about survival.

We don’t create tomorrow. What you do now is what matters most. The future is a byproduct of what we do today. We must call upon the ancestors for healing as they look to us rectify the wrongs of the past. We are their agents on Earth and they are our intermediaries to the supernatural. Without each other, we are nothing.




— Nicholas Payton aka The Savior of Archaic Pop

On Truth and Beauty in the Age of Bullshit

Does anything meaningful even matter anymore? Mediocrity has reached such a peak that genius is more of a liability than an advantage. Dumbing down is the new enlightening. No one has the patience to dig deep anymore. If something doesn’t reveal all of its layers in a matter of seconds, no one wants anything to do with it.

It’s really sad because we’re in such a fertile time for creative people. The Internet has leveled the playing field so that corporations can no longer control all of the information anymore. The drawback to that is that there’s so much information out there, it makes it difficult to siphon through the bullshit to get to the beautiful shit. That fosters an environment where the allure on the surface eclipses the qualitative substance underneath.

We’ve created a culture where depth no longer matters. The less time it takes to understand what something is, the more desirable. Reductive sound bytes are given more credance than well fleshed out ideas. Memes have become more stimulating than Monets. Escapism and deniability is what’s fashionable and confronting truth is passé.

I’m not one of those folks who believes that our best days are behind us. I just feel that our sense of character has not caught up with technology. We’ve abandoned our humanity for the sake of devices and we’re too lazy to do the work required to bring ourselves up to a level of accountability for our actions. There are reasons to support all of this.

The demands of modern life require that we earn money to sustain our livelihoods, and the reality of it is that most people have to earn that money doing things they don’t like to do. Most children and adults get up early 5 days a week to go do something they have absolutely no interest in. Your profession ain’t necessarily your passion.

And there’s nothing wrong with any of this, per se, but at a certain point your soul needs to be fed or it throws everything out of whack. For the sake of survival, we’ve erected constructs to give order to our surroundings and make sense of it all, but how much thought is given to what happens when we collectively outgrow those constructs and they become obsolete? That leaves no room for evolution and we begin to recycle outdated modes of thought because no one has time to build another world on top of the one we’re already in. Who has time to think ahead when we don’t even make time to be in the moment?

The temporary solution has become to create a world where we don’t really have to deal with any of it. There was a time where the average person looked to an artist to be a light into their souls. And instead of seeking outlets that inspire us to reconcile this fundamental split in our existence, we look for ways to engage in things that deaden the senses as to not address it. Over time, what winds up happening is we don’t do the work necessary for spiritual growth. However, our survival depends on it. You can only avoid the truth for so long before things implode on themselves. Globally, we are near that point.

Art exists not to make you feel good about yourself, but to make you deal with yourself, which is good for you.

The problem with humans is that when the next new thing comes along, we throw out all the old shit. We got rid of all our albums when CDs came out, now we’ve gotten rid of all our CDs for files. We need more space for more shit to fill the void inside that’s being neglected. But you can only run for so long. If you don’t take time for yourself, life has a way of making you.

How do we find ourselves in the midst of the Information Age, but being less informed than ever? There’s no experience attached to anything anymore. You want to listen to something and you can hear it on Youtube or Spotify in a matter of seconds. Years ago, I remember waiting weeks, months or years to get my hands on an album. There was no database online to streamline my search and target exactly where it might be. On my travels, I would have to visit local record stores in every city with the hopes of finding it. Along the way, I accumulated a lot of other important albums and met some important people. When I finally got that album, I wasn’t only listening to that music, I was reliving the journey.

Now, I click a button, order the album and may not even listen to it.

Why can’t we marry our worlds so that we carry the entirety of our ancestral footprints with us wherever we go? Why can’t we get rid of the partisan and bipartisan political systems that no longer serve the needs of the people? We can keep the MP3s along with some of our old VHS tapes, CDs, cassettes and albums.

Stop looking for an easy out and focus on creating a more effortless in. It won’t kill you to do the work. To the contrary, by avoiding confrontation with the truth, you’re doing more damage. There’s nothing wrong with working hard because you want the best things for you and yours. And don’t shortchange yourself because it may create a bit of discomfort from time to time.

We’re not here for comfort, we’re here to grow.


— Nicholas Payton aka The Savior of Archaic Pop


Too Loose in Toulouse

FREE MUSIC: Courtesy of BMF Records…


Well, here it is, folks. The complete unedited last gig of the XXX’s European fall tour, in sequential order. The sound quality is a bit better on this unedited version than the broken up one I posted several days ago.

Here’s a setlist:

The Backward Step – Nicholas Payton

No Lonely Nights – Keith Jarrett

Triptych – N. Payton

Return of The African Tinge/The Days of Wine and Roses – N. Payton/Henry Mancini

Bass Interlude/Let It Ride/Stablemates – Vicente Archer/N. Payton/Benny Golson

Shades of Hue – N. Payton

I Wanna Stay in New Orleans – N. Payton

The Nicholas Payton XXX is:


Nicholas Payton – Trumpet/Fender Rhodes/Piano/Vocals


Vicente Archer – Bass


Adonis Rose – Drums


photos by


— Nicholas Payton aka The Creator of #BAM

The Complete Nicholas Payton Interview with Richard Scheinin

Here, in its full glory, is my interview with trumpeter Nicholas Payton. In this expanded version, you’ll find him expounding on Charlie Parker, Steve Coleman, Barack Obama and much else that didn’t make it into the version posted on the Mercury News’s website.

With one moaned note, trumpeter Nicholas Payton can telegraph a 100-year tradition. This formidable musician also is a businessman with his own label (BMF Records; you can guess what the acronym stands for) and a pointed essayist, via his Twitter feed (@paynic) and blog ( Slyly titled “The Cherub Speaks,” the blog is where he riffs at length, stirring things up, talking about race and the economics of music.

Last week, Payton turned 40 and released his new album, “Sketches of Spain,” a live re-make of the Miles Davis-Gil Evans collaboration from 1959-60. He also penned an essay titled “Why Hiphop Isn’t Cool Anymore,” a sequel to 2011’s “On Why Jazz Isn’t Cool Anymore,” in which he declared that “Jazz ain’t cool, it’s cold, like necrophilia.” Payton wrote that jazz died half a century ago – and that the word “jazz” is a racist term imposed on black musicians by white marketers. He prefers to call it by another name: #BAM, or Black American Music.

I spent two hours on the phone with Payton, who grew up in New Orleans and still lives there. He spoke of his father (the late bassist Walter Payton) and of Professor Longhair (who used to rehearse in the Payton family’s living room). He discussed his “Black American Symphony,” which he composed and recently recorded with his band and the Sinfonie Orchester Basel. He expanded on various Tweets and essays, on topics ranging from Miley Cyrus (Payton isn’t a fan) to Marvin Gaye (he’s Payton’s hero) to #BAM. As soft-spoken and amicable as he is directly opinionated, he also talked about his own surprise at his increasingly public role as a writer, and how he is viewed by some as a rabble-rouser, by others as a truth-teller.

— foreward and the following questions by Richard Scheinin

Q: When did you get into writing essays, setting down your opinions?
A: I’ve been writing a while, since even before I was blogging or before Facebook existed. I used to do these email blasts similar to what I blog about, but not as long form – short aphorisms or what have you. But, yeah, when blogging became more prevalent, it just seemed like a better format and a way to access more people.

Q: Why do you have the blog? And has it changed the way people perceive you? Do they now see you as a hero, a villain, a militant? Have you lost any gigs because of your writings?
A: I feel it’s important, what I’m doing. It has caused some degree of trouble in certain instances. I have had people not want to give me gigs based on what I’m blogging. But to me that’s really silly. Because to me that should be based on “does the cat show up on time, dress well and show up ready to play?” — and that’s my reputation, for all that. Because I say “mothafucka” on a blog post, is that any reason to not want to hire me?

My reputation is that I’m a gentleman and I treat people with kindness. But if you disrespect me, then I’m going to say something about it.

Q: Do you feel isolated, expressing your opinions publically?
A: Artists don’t stand up for themselves these days. They’ve become more like politicians. And they’re afraid of losing whatever — afraid of not getting a gig. And yet things keep deteriorating. The kind of offers that are acceptable now, they wouldn’t have flown years ago. I’ve found out that I’ve had to say, “No, I will not stay at that hotel.” Certain conditions have become unacceptable.

Q: Musicians have told me they’re earning a lot less in clubs these days.
A: I just can’t do it, man. It becomes a thing where you do become in some instances a troublemaker. But I’d rather have that and have someone respect me than accept any kind of offer. Because I came up under cats like Clark Terry, Ray Brown, Elvin Jones, and these guys didn’t take stuff from people. They were nice guys, but they set the bar. If they were disrespected, they spoke up.

And I find that in many instances I’m the lone soldier, and I’m trying to keep the bar where they set it. I don’t consider myself an old cat, but with the passing of so many of the masters, I am responsible for making sure that stuff doesn’t go haywire and absolutely out of control. And I’ve come into that role a lot sooner than I’d expected. It’s not necessarily something I do to be a rabble-rouser or a provocateur.

But I have to have a voice. My life would be a lot simpler in some instances if I’d just shut the fuck up and play the gig. But being an artist is being a lot more than that, so I’m left with a choice. What do I do? Just shut the fuck up and play the gig, or make a stand for what I was taught was right, and to speak out for the music and its cultural ties in terms of the Black community and things that I think are important?

They should actually be taking some of the falls.

Q: Who should be taking the falls? Other musicians?
A: Yes. It shouldn’t solely be focused on me. A lot of the things that I’m saying are a lot of things that they believe and they know. There are a lot of conversations that have happened in the back of the dressing room. I can’t tell you how many e-mails and talks I have with cats saying, “You’re right.”

Q: When we first exchanged e-mails, you told me that I’d misunderstood your #BAM posts – that you’ve never set the goal of removing the word “jazz” from common parlance, as I’d written. You explained that you personally object to the word, but that you’re not trying to get others to deep-six the word.

But you’ve put the word “jazz” in the same sentence as the N-word, drawing a connection between them. So to me, it doesn’t feel like a huge leap to think that you’re trying to create a movement where the music moves forward while the word “jazz” is left behind and replaced with your term – #BAM, or Black American Music.

A: First of all, I don’t think it’s realistic or necessary. As much as I talk about racism, do I seek to try and create to live in a world where there’s no prejudice? No, that’s part of the human experience, and I think people should be allowed to feel hate or whatever.

If a musician would like to call what they play “jazz” – okay, and jazz does exist. And most of the music that is called jazz IS jazz. But as far as the real true spirit of music and ancestry, that is not jazz. So if people want to call what they do jazz and whatever comes along with that, I respect that. I’m not trying to change that. Because that deserves to be here, too. I’m not trying to sanitize the world and try to create some kind of utopia where only the good things exist.

Q: Will you lay out your arguments for what you object to in the word “jazz.”
A: Jazz is the white appropriation of Black American music. It’s a caricaturization of the music that Bolden and King Oliver and Armstrong and others created, and the first documented jazz recording was by the Original Dixieland Jazz Band. And as for “Dixieland” — we know the connotation that “Dixie” has to the Confederate South and slavery. And “jazz,” the word itself, is of dubious origin at best. The first documented printed use of the word is tied to baseball.

It had to do with some kind of English or pizzazz that you put on the ball. I think it was like 1913, and was published in the San Francisco Chronicle or some place out there.

And a lot of the early musicians refuted the title. They didn’t want the association with the word. And even cats like Louis Armstrong said, “We didn’t call it that.” It was not called that in New Orleans. It would’ve been “blues” or “ragtime.” And the first band that made a record and called it “jazz,” that was the Original Dixieland Jazz Band. It was minstrelsy. The cats were making animal sounds and a mockery of this beautiful music made by the likes of King Oliver and Louis Armstrong.

I don’t consider those cats (the Original Dixieland Jazz Band) to be historically significant in terms of the true expression of the music. It’s kind of like Miley Cyrus’s shenanigans today, where Black people appear almost as props. She wants to adopt a Black sound, but all the imagery is stereotypical and what they think is a Negro sound, without really dealing with the people. And the people become objects and you don’t deal with the cultural part.

The most important part to me is the Black part. And that’s not to say who can and cannot play this music. But without addressing the community part and who created the music – that’s wrong. Historically, the music was important to break down barriers and establish whatever liberation we’ve been able to craft – that has come through the music, long before the civil rights era and the March on Washington.

Q: When you say “the music,” what are you referring to?
A: Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong. Louis Armstrong was the world’s first pop star. He was the Michael Jackson of his time. There hadn’t been a star that had existed like that before, because his artistic rise sort of happened at the same time as the rise of the phonograph. So here was the new kid with the voice coming along at the same time as this new technology — sort of like what happened with the music video and Michael Jackson.

It exponentially increased the potential of Louis’s voice getting to as many people as possible.

Yet when these cats started going on the road and traveling, they still had to go to the stage through the back of the kitchen. People were still riding in the back of the bus, if they could get on the bus at all. They had to stay on the Black side of town and in boarding houses; couldn’t stay or dine as equals at many of the establishments. And in many cases, they played where Black people otherwise were not allowed, like the Cotton Club.

Black folks were not looked at as human beings, and when this great art was created by masters like Ellington and Armstrong and Count Basie, they ran into this white supremacist system. Yet it was undeniable that these people were far more intelligent than given credit — you had to look at them as intellectuals, which we were not treated as at that time. So the music is largely responsible for breaking down those barriers, long before there was the March on Washington.

It broke down the racial barriers long before the actual civil rights movement. Think about integration: white cats and Black cats working together. That happened in the music long before the March on Washington. It was already happening in the ‘20s and ‘30s: Benny Goodman hiring Teddy Wilson and Lionel Hampton and Charlie Christian. So this music has been very important.
You can look at the very existence of the music: Congo Square was one of the only places where the enslaved Africans were allowed to practice their traditions — the drumming, the dancing and so forth. The music has roots in that. Its language is part of the African expression.

Q: The names you’re mentioning are the names of musicians generally described as jazz musicians. So, again, when you talk about “the music,” are you talking about jazz, or so-called jazz, as you would say, or are you talking about all types of Black American music?
A: I’m talking about it all, because I don’t make the distinctions. And I don’t think the musicians make those distinctions. Those were categories placed on the music by promoters and marketers.

First of all, just the idea of recording is not a Black aesthetic — to think about, “Oh, let’s record.” In fact, some of the early musicians – Buddy Bolden was afraid to record, because he thought it might steal his soul. Black people have more of an oral aesthetic, while we live in a world that is so Eurocentric in thought. I’m not necessarily saying that one is better than the other, but they’re certainly different.

But going back to Congo Square and the roots of the music: The moment you say “jazz” and you appropriate it and you minstrelize it – then you enslave the music and the spirit of it. That’s my whole issue with the word.

When you say “jazz,” or, “I’m going to open a jazz school” – it’s a way of dealing with the surface of the music and not having to deal with the people who created it. For instance, look at how Charlie Parker’s music is taught in jazz programs. Institutions have codified bebop and Charlie Parker specifically into a series of licks. They make Bird’s voice one of harmonic importance, first. But the primary thing about Parker is not the harmony or which specific notes he played, it’s where Bird placed those phrases that set him apart from his predecessors. It’s his rhythmic placement, but you can’t codify free rhythmic thought.

Q: In the ‘70s, I wrote a story about a similar discussion: Jimmy Owens, Reggie Workman, Roland Kirk and others were talking about replacing the word “jazz” (along with the word’s early associations with New Orleans bordellos) with the term “Black classical music” or “American classical music.” I always thought that conversation kind of backfired on the musicians, that it led the music in directions they hadn’t intended. You could argue that institutions gradually seized on that “classical” idea and kind of moved in and took over jazz, building programs and codifying the music.
A: The “classical” connotation is already European. It’s like saying that the European aesthetic is the standard. So, yeah.

Q: Still, a lot of musicians describe themselves as “jazz musicians” with pride, because, whatever the word may have meant in the beginning, they feel it means something different today. And they feel it places them in a great tradition: For instance, to have been a member of the Jazz Messengers is almost to have been a high priest of the tradition. So over the last year or so, I’ve been asking various musicians for their thoughts about your essays and blog posts on #BAM.

Can I read you part of what Herbie Hancock said about it? He’s one of the musicians who feel enormous pride in being “jazz” musicians.

A: I’d like to hear it.

Q: Responding to the idea that the word “jazz” is offensive and shouldn’t be used, he said, “I think that it’s just like Obama Care. YOU can make it, you can define it. In other words, we don’t have to change the word. We define it by what we create and by our behavior. So whatever the definition that was with `jazz’ when it first started, it is no longer that. So I think it’s more important to focus on the development of the music, and creating a new definition of the word, than changing the word. If you change the word, you don’t change the music. What have you done? Nothing. If you change the word, that doesn’t help the evolution of the music. I don’t think it does.”

He continued: “That’s not what I’m going to focus on, because I don’t think it’s germane to what we offer to humanity in playing this great music. It’s a great music.”

He also said, “America’s funny, because the music isn’t as popular here as it is in France or Germany. You go outside America and you mention `jazz’ and people are ready to give you the royal treatment. And that’s without changing the word. That’s what it means to them.

Do you want to respond to that?

A: I’ve heard that argument. I don’t see that. I don’t see saying “jazz” in Europe and getting respect. All you have to do is look at the jazz festivals and see what they program. Most of it is not of the tradition. People have the right to call whatever they do whatever they want. When you have a “jazz” anything, it can be a hodgepodge of anything. Take a look at the North Sea Jazz Festival or any of the others. Anything can be on it.

Q: You’re saying that most so-called jazz festivals include a lot of rock and pop and whatnot? That’s true of the New Orleans festival, too, right?
A: Yeah. So what does that word mean? It doesn’t mean anything. You can put anything together and say it’s “jazz,” even if it doesn’t have the overt racial connotation.

Q: You’re saying that the definition of the word, and what it refers to, has been confused.
A: It’s like, now we have a Black president, or a president who is Black. And he didn’t even address the racial issues in America until he had to, in the wake of Trayvon Martin, when the whole country was in a war over the trial. He had to say something.
And just the hypocrisy of his speaking at the (August 28 commemoration of the) March on Washington.

Q: He didn’t speak at the first of the two events at the Lincoln Memorial in August – the one Al Sharpton led (on Aug. 24.)
A: Right. If I had to guess, if Martin Luther King were alive today, he would not be pleased with Obama’s politics, particularly the violent bullying that goes on in American politics, and the number of lives of innocent mothers and children that are lost because of America’s policing of the world.
And from what I hear, even Sharpton’s event was lacking something. These events feel – I don’t know, they feel staged. Empty symbolic gestures are not necessarily going to lead us to any growth, any change. Is Obama being of a skin color that is considered Black a milestone achievement if the actual politics don’t speak to helping the Black community at all? The promises that he made before his candidacy, he hasn’t lived up to. And a lot of the rumblings amongst the Black community were, “Let’s just get him to a second term” — and now that we’re into a second term, this is it. And there’s not a lot more time to get things done.

I just think that the definition of who is to be used to keep the forces of supremacy and privilege in place – that definition of whiteness now is being expanded to people of color. You see the same with George Zimmerman, because he’s brown-skinned. So now the name of George Zimmerman is being used as a means of saying that, “Well, this racism that people speak of, it doesn’t exist anymore.”

At one time, Polish or Italians or Jews were not accepted into white privilege. They were viewed as being on the outside. And now it’s been expanded again; certain people of color are being given access, like Clarence Thomas, who was part of the 5-4 decision to strike down the Voting Rights Act. I look at that and think, “Four of these guys are white and one is Black. Well, that Black guy could have been the difference in fighting for something that Martin Luther King and Medgar Evers died for.”

The new face of racism allows that people of color — Black people or Mexican or whatever non-whites — are also able to further supremacy and privilege.

Q: What did your father think of the word “jazz”?
A: He never really discussed it.
And to be honest, for most of the older musicians, that was never a discussion. They never discussed “jazz” or “let’s play jazz” or “this is jazz” or “this is not jazz.” If anything, at a certain point when I was coming up, he was more open-minded than me. I had a more purist view of what jazz is, and I had to ask him, “Why are you playing all this other music on your gigs, stuff that’s not swinging?”

But before that, when I was coming up, I didn’t like jazz. Because I thought it was old music. I wanted to listen to Run-D.M.C. or whatever.

Q: I want to ask you what your mission is as a musician. You recently wrote this blog post. I’ll quote you: “I’m a cultural diplomat who gets out of bed every day, I practice my craft and bear my soul on stage with the mission of imbuing more truth, pathos and beauty in the world. I was born to do this.”
So that’s what it’s about?
A: (Pause.) For me, life is bigger than music. Music is just a conduit, and one way in which I express that artistry. I also express it through my blog and how I speak. It’s a holistic approach.

But I would say that I was placed in an ideal position from the start. I don’t want to say “the spirits chose me.” But my upbringing was very ideal for what I do: Born in New Orleans, where this music came through, to two musical parents in an environment that was just very musical. We had rehearsals at the house. Our house was the place where everyone rehearsed. We had a grand piano and a large living room, and so it was sort of ideal.

The greatest musicians were in my living room. I was three or four years old, and here’s Professor Longhair in my living room. I used to love to sit under the piano and hear the music — Ellis Marsalis, all that force.

I didn’t know I would be a musician. It’s just a thing that I did. I loved being around musicians. I loved being around the music. My parents might go to bed at 2 or 3 in the morning, and I’d be up. The cats were rehearsing.

Q: Were you playing, too?
A: I was a kid. I wasn’t really playing. But there is a story of them having a rehearsal one time, and they were listening to some record and they couldn’t figure out one chord. And I had this little toy piano and I went over to it and laid my hands down on the keys, and played the chord. And how do you explain that?

So it was a great environment, but it certainly was not just given to me. I spent and still do spend many hard hours working and practicing. I rest on no laurels. I work hard to cultivate that experience, to develop and discipline myself.

Q: On “#BAM Live at Bohemian Caverns,” your recent album, you play Fender Rhodes, as well as trumpet. I’ve seen you play really great upright bass. You’ve always played a bunch of instruments?
A: Yes, I’d take a break and I would jump on the drums or pick this up or that up. My father taught music at the elementary school I went to, and I would often stay after school. And the band room was filled with clarinets and horns, and I would just stay after school and start playing them. And my father saw that I was taking an interest, that I was learning the fingerings on all the instruments and getting a basic sound from them. So after a while it became my job to teach the beginning students.

I didn’t know I was developing the skills to be a multi-instrumentalist. It was very organic.

Also, in the mid-‘80s, I was a big Prince fan, so much so that my parents bought me a piano book, with all the music to “Purple Rain.” And I remember reading that Prince played like 20 instruments. Then there was Stevie Wonder. A lot of my idols were people who made whole albums by themselves being the primary musicians, playing all the instruments.

Q: So what’s your mission? To move the music ahead? To support Black culture? To re-develop a Black audience for the music?

A: All those things you just said. One that’s important is that Black people know they created this music. In most cases, I’d say Black people tend to associate jazz music with white people. That’s who they see in the clubs — Kenny G or whoever.
The other thing to me is that “jazz” is a derogatory term, a nebulous term at best. I don’t think that will ever change. I don’t think you will ever get people to see its roots and acknowledge them. People like Herbie Hancock; he knows what it is. But the average person is not intelligent enough or knowledgeable enough to understand it.

If people play mariachi music, you know you’re dealing with Mexico and you’re going to deal with Mexican culture. Or if you’re going to deal with Cuban music or Haitian music; you’re going to deal with broad cultural aspects. You hear “jazz,” and you don’t have to do that – and it’s actually frowned on. The more the connection to the root and the Black community, the less you’ll be celebrated.

Pick up a copy of Downbeat or any of the magazines and see what’s celebrated. Most of what the critics celebrate is listless, or played in odd meters. I don’t have any problem with playing in odd meters, but most of what gets celebrated is devoid of blues, devoid of groove. These things are looked at as old and not important. And the more your music has a Black sensibility, the less potential it has to be celebrated.

Q: There’s quite a bit of new music that comes at you as a barrage, without a lot of breathing space. It can be incredibly virtuosic; the handling of all the odd meters is amazing. But there also are times when it can feel overly clever and more clinical than grooving. Steve Coleman’s playing isn’t like that, but he’s the guy behind a lot of this odd-meter stuff. His influence is huge.
A: When Steve does it, it’s different. He’s coming out of a tradition, and from what I understand of him, he’s very mathematically minded and he’s developed these formulas and an interesting style of notation. Steve and Greg Osby, they’re one thing. A lot of the cats who come after that, who are protégés or whatever, I think they got the wrong idea. The way they analyze and interpret is a lot different.

When I hear Steve, the African-ness – we have a word, “groid,” short for “Negroid” – that’s there. It’s very palpable. And Osby, I hear the same thing. A lot of the people who came after, not always so much.

Coleman, he was a guy who’d hang out with Von Freeman and Sonny Stitt in Chicago. How he relates to his music is way different from someone who’s analyzing that. Analyzing that is not necessarily what it is; it’s similar to what the schools are doing to Bird.

It’s the same thing with Mark Turner and Chris Potter. They’re rooted in the tradition, played with masters. I remember when Mark Turner was living in New Orleans, studying up on his Joe Henderson. Chris Potter came up playing with Red Rodney. They understand and have roots in the tradition. But a lot of the cats who’ve been influenced by them have no roots; a tree without roots can’t stand.

And what I find now is a lot of music is being created for other musicians. And I can’t listen to a lot of that “musician music” for too long because it leaves me cold — and I’m a musician. So you take an audience member who’s not as theoretically knowledgeable, I can’t even imagine what they think.

You can play a lot of notes, you can play in multiple rhythms – Louis Armstrong was dong a lot of that, too, playing five over four and using rhythmic displacements. But when you start to take the music out of the environment and it becomes an intellectual pursuit, it’s problematic. And that’s why it leaves a lot of people cold. I’m a musician and I don’t want to hear it.

Q: Is your music ever intended as a response to this?
A: To me, my music has always been reverent and irreverent. I don’t feel like I’m playing more “bluesy” just because cats are not dealing with tradition and ancestry. That’s always been the aesthetic.

My idea, even when I did believe in such a thing as “jazz,” it was never devoid of blues and it was never about this kind of super-heady over-intellectualizing. That’s not to me where it springs forth. I want to reach the people and I attribute that to my upbringing in New Orleans, playing in Second Line bands and playing for people who danced. And the biggest difference between musicians now and musicians back in the day is that they played for people who danced.

To me, even if it’s free form or out of time, that dance sensibility should be implied. Even if there’s going to be a meter change in every bar, that feeling and passion should be there. There’s a lot of things that a lot of young cats haven’t figured out. But most of them don’t know what it feels like to swing and to have the audience respond to it. Once you’ve felt that swing and you can connect in that way, it would be pretty hard to leave that. You’re always going to want to connect in that way, because it feels good.

But for them it’s boring, because they haven’t learned how to do it.

How do you learn how to swing? That’s really elusive. Can’t put it in a book. How to establish a really good “two” feel or play a walking ballad in four? A lot of cats don’t understand that — can’t comprehend the art in it that sometimes takes years to develop it, and you never really stop developing it. It’s that feel that makes people want to dance.

Q: I read that Marvin Gaye and Miles Davis are your two favorite musicians. Why Marvin Gaye?
A: He’s a true artist. Like Billie Holiday, he wore his heart on his sleeve. Whatever he was going through, he put that into his music, fearlessly. A very vulnerable artist, perhaps so much so that it contributed to his demise in many ways. We know about him historically that he tended to the self-destructive. But there’s such an honesty in what he did, which to me is the hallmark of any great artist. It’s about their lives. When they sing a song, that’s what they’re giving you; it’s bigger than the music. It’s about his wife, or someone who was leaving him, or his stressed relationship with his father.

He did a whole record about meeting Anna Gordy – Berry Gordy’s sister, who became his wife — and their marriage, and then their divorce. It’s the whole record “Here, My Dear.”

Q: I was looking through your Twitter feed. The other day, you tweeted something about preferring Miley Cyrus to Janis Joplin.
A: I don’t like either one. But I can at least sit through a Miley Cyrus song. I can’t sit through a Janis Joplin song for a minute. It just disturbs me. The voice – I just don’t hear it. I just hear an unseasoned, untrained voice.

Q: In the same string of Tweets, you say you really like Amy Winehouse.
A: Yeah. To me, and this is just my opinion, she is what those other artists are trying to get to. It’s not contrived when she does it. I really feel it when she does it. She is a really great blues singer, without trying to be that. She was one of the great phrasers and interpreters of our time, and I don’t think she’s been totally given credit for doing that.

I dismissed her initially, just because she was so hyped up that, when I heard her, it made it hard for me to hear her musically. It took a couple of years for that hype to get out of mind and for me to hear it for what it is. If you’re going to talk about white singers who are able to sing the blues, Amy Winehouse is a good example. I can’t say that Janis Joplin is.

Q: You’ve also had a bunch of critical tweets and blog essays about hip-hop and sampling. You wrote that “Hiphop is a predatory art form… a bastion of cannibalism. … If they’d had sampling back in the day (in Africa), mothafuckas woulda never learned how to play the drums.”
Was this in response to all the discussions about “Blurred Lines” and Robin Thicke ripping off Marvin Gaye?
A: I had written about it before, but the current news certainly sparked more conversation. I’ve talked about the flatness of beat-making – this idea now that we have these “beat makers” who are not musicians; they haven’t been musically trained. This is not me looking down at them. I do think some incredible people who have not been trained have done some wonderful things. But after a certain point it becomes limited or limiting. If everybody’s a sampler, then who is creating?

Yes, there is an art to that. J Dilla – Jay Dee — represents the best of those who are able to do that, like Andy Warhol with collages, or Romare Bearden. But everybody is not him; everybody is not a Jay Dee. Everybody does not have the ears that he had.

But even Jay Dee: If those earlier artists had not created the music that he then sampled — what would anyone have to sample? We’re kind of putting the cart before the horse when we glorify the sampling over the actual performers. It’s become backwards.

And then there’s a certain sense of entitlement that you see in the samplers, where not only do they have the right to do what they do, but the artists being sampled should be grateful for being sampled.

Do we really think a bunch of 13 year-old girls listening to “Blurred Lines” are now going to be Marvin Gaye fans? I don’t see that happening. It would be great. More realistically, what that cultivates is another generation that becomes parasitic. It doesn’t create more Marvin Gayes, it creates more Robin Thickes. It’s almost like you keep copying a tape from a tape, and by the time you get to the 20th generation, it becomes a reflection of an illusion and then a reflection of a reflection of an illusion.

Q: You’re an eloquent guy, Nicholas. Were you a good writer as a kid?
A: Hated it. Hated creative writing. That’s kind of the irony to me, that I’ve become such a writer, because I did not like creative writing at all.

Q: I was re-reading “On Why Jazz Isn’t Cool,” your manifesto from a couple of years ago. How long did it take you to write that? It’s filled with memorable lines.
A: Under an hour.

Q: Come on.
A: Actually it was not a piece, or was not intended as one. I was tweeting one afternoon before a gig. And it was a stream of consciousness, and that stream became the blog.

While I was tweeting, some people responded. Some people were getting excited and some people were getting upset. And when I finished tweeting, I just put it together line by line, in sequence.

Q: What do you think about the plight of women instrumentalists?
A: Before we talk about the music, we would have to talk about the lack of respect with which women are treated in this patriarchal system that we have. And how they’re treated in the music is a reflection of that. They’re not viewed as human beings, really; they’re viewed as “less than,” and it’s problematic.

Q: You’ve hired quite a few women instrumentalists, especially in your big band. Are you conscious of creating more of a gender balance?
A: I hire who I feel will work best and who I like to play with. Just by virtue of me doing that, sometimes it’s going to be women; just by averages. It’s certainly not “lemme get some women in my band.” I’m hiring who I feel will work best in this concept, and a percentage of them is going to be women.

Q: Your recent projects are ambitious. You’ve got your own record label. You’ve been recording albums with a symphony orchestra. How are you pulling this off? I mean, how can you even afford to do it?
A: Good question. I believe when you set forth a goal — when I say, “I want to do something” — I don’t necessarily know how it’s going to happen or how I’m going to do it, but you draw that energy to you by sheer will. And failure is not an option. Everything I’ve set out to do, I’ve done.

Q: Tell me about recording your “Black American Symphony.”
A: After I performed the symphony the first time, I said, “Well, I want to record it,” and it just so happened that my label was in place, so I could release it. I’m just a strong believer in – it’s the power of energy and thought, and what you conjure in terms of just sheer will is amazing if you put your mind to it and if you focus intensely on bringing that to life. I just don’t worry about things too much. Like, failing is not an option. It will happen when it’s time.

Q: Will you describe the piece?
A: The “Black American Symphony” basically is one that I wrote in the wake of the #BAM movement. It was my symphonic interpretation of creating a work that would use a construct largely associated with the European aesthetic, but without relying on the European language. Instead, I used what Dvorak called “Negro melodies.”

I wanted to use an orchestra, but to have all the language and the aesthetic be of one that’s African and Black in nature. And it’s been interesting doing it, because I’ve come away with a much deeper understanding of the Black American aesthetic. Because these are not pops orchestras that I was dealing with. These were musicians trained in playing the European classical repertoire.

If I didn’t know the differences before, I definitely know them now.

Q: Between Black and European aesthetics?
A: They’re different languages. Just because you use Arabic letters and the word looks the same, they’re not necessarily the same word and it doesn’t mean the same thing. For instance, you use a dominant seventh chord: That is the foundation of the blues right there, that one chord. “Jungle Blues” by Jelly Roll Morton: That’s one of the first modal tunes, 30 years before Miles Davis. Those are the roots right there. Same thing, McCoy Tyner’s “Passion Dance”… There’s an endless possibility to what you can do with that chord. But in European classical music, that chord doesn’t work the same way.

I was modifying the harp part for my symphony, and the harpist told me, “Yeah, you know I’m not used to playing” – she said the word – “jazz harmonies.” And that struck me, because here’s someone who plays Debussy and Ravel — same kind of sharp-nine sounds that they say Duke Ellington took from Debussy. Yet this harpist says, “I’m not used to these chords.”
That interaction really illustrated that European harmony is not the same as Black harmony. Same notes in some cases, but a different language, a different function.

Q: Well, how did it turn out?
A: I’m happy with the result, but it took some work.
And I was very conscious not to write out any swing rhythms, because I didn’t want the orchestra to have to interpret that kind of feel. Which was very challenging for me, to write the whole 50 minutes and not have anything that was swinging.

Q: But a “Black American Symphony” has got to have some swing in it. Who’s swinging? Does your band play with the orchestra?
A: Yes. That’s going to be the rhythmic basis. Obviously, the rhythm is going to be important if we’re talking about Black music, but I didn’t want to deal with the orchestra having to swing. Maybe they COULD swing; I don’t know. But I wanted the score to be universally adaptable.

You know, there’s this forward motion in Black music; that’s the other thing that I’ve found. There were instances where there were time issues with the orchestra, because the way we play time and the way European musicians play time is different. Classical music is more languid and it kind of breathes and it stops. That kind of forward motion that you hear with Elvin and Coltrane and McCoy and Jimmy Garrison on “Chasin’ the Trane” – that doesn’t exist in European music. I always thought that if you wrote it down and handed it to European classical musicians, they’d play it. But it doesn’t work that way.

Q: How much time did you have to put the performance together? And who was in your band?
A: Three rehearsals. Marcus Gilmore is on drums, Daniel Sadownick on percussion, Vicente Archer on bass. I play keyboards and trumpet, and I sing.

Q: And you hope to release the recording later this year?
A: That’s the plan. It’s being mixed now.
“Sketches of Spain,” the other one, is out this month.

Q: “Sketches of Spain” also is with a symphony orchestra? Or is it with a big band playing Gil Evans’ arrangements?
A: We did Gil’s arrangements exactly, same instrumentation that Gil used, so I didn’t rearrange the material. We just reinterpreted the grooves, and the improvisations are different. I first did this at the Hollywood Bowl in ’09.

Q: Do you consider Gil Evans to be part of Black American Music?
A: I can’t say what Gil would say, but I do, personally — particularly with his work with Miles, and I would even say on his own. To me he’s cut from the same sonic cloth as Ellington. And I believe he even said that’s what he was trying to do, but with different instrumentation.
A lot of what he did with Miles – those basically are orchestrations of Ahmad Jamal. Some of them are direct lifts from Ahmad Jamal trio records. How he would use French horns, how he would punctuate, syncopate – that was Ahmad Jamal’s left hand. And there’s a lot of blues in what Gil did.

Q: I used to see Gil’s big band a lot in the ‘70s. That band had some great soloists – Howard Johnson, Billy Harper and Hannibal Peterson, the trumpeter. All great blues players. Have you seen Hannibal play? He’s amazing, but has kind of vanished from the scene.
A: My uncle, who’s a sculptor – he and Hannibal are great friends. We just had lunch the other day. That was my first time meeting him.

Q: What other projects are in your head?
A: I’m going to Virginia to see these young cats who I’ve taken an interest in — a guy who plays drums with me, Corey Fonville. He has a band called Butcher Brown. In an era where a lot of younger cats are playing Hiphop and are kind of obscuring this whole Dilla concept of kind of flamming the beat or pulling back — they’re just funky and they’re just playing in the pocket and it feels good. They’re one of my favorite young bands today, if not my favorite. We’re going into the studio and we’ll see what develops. Devonne Harris (DJ Harrison) also is in that band.

Q: What else?
A: Man, I have like five albums of stuff that I really haven’t finished working on. And now that I have my own label, I just want to release more of my own product. I don’t have to stick to that model of releasing one album a year.

Q: How is the label doing? Are you making any money?
A: Greater than I imagined. In a couple of months, I’m already in the profit zone. That would never happen on a major label.

Q: Your label’s logo is the Sankofa bird. Will you explain what that is?
A: Sankofa is a Ghanaian concept of going back to get the best things of the past, to bring things to the now, to lead a better way to the future. And the symbol is a bird reaching back and getting an egg, and this is really the essence of everything I’m doing.

Everything that I say and play is with extreme respect of the past and the masters and the lineage and the ancestry. And the idea is to get the best things, maybe even learning what some of the things are that we SHOULDN’T do. The idea is to take the best of what works and give them voice now without being so reverent that we don’t stay current — where we become so deferential that we don’t allow for time and change and movement. The idea is to use these things to leave the world in a better state for our children and those who come after us. It’s essentially why I blog, too. It’s for my child. The end result is not necessarily for right now. It’s for now, and it’s for the past; for me this concept of time is a continuum.

For Africans, that separation of time doesn’t really exist. You’re always connected to ancestry.


— answers by The Savior of Archaic Pop (Nicholas Payton)


Why Hiphop Isn’t Cool Anymore

Hiphop is dead.

Kiss it goodbye, because it’s gone.

Hiphop was doomed from the moment it became Hiphop.

All forms die; only the formless lives forever.

Drake can’t save Hiphop and Kendrick can’t save it.

It’s gone.

Whenever Niggas come up with some hip shit, all it takes is a White man to come along to see how he can exploit it for profit to kill it.

But what is Hiphop? What does it mean?

Is it new or just the same ol’ shit Black folks been doing since the beginning of time?

Hiphop ain’t new.

As Gil Scott-Heron said, “Ain’t No New Thing.”


Bird was playing Hiphop in the ’40s.

Miles Davis’ “On The Corner” was one of the first great Hiphop albums.

James Brown’s “Mother Popcorn” is a great Hiphop record.

Donald Byrd was Hiphop before Hiphop was Hiphop.

So why we keep holding on to Hiphop like it’s the last great thing Black folks will ever invent?


When White people latch on to something in Black culture it has always been the cue to switch gears and regroup.

We been stuck on Hiphop for the past 40 years and it’s killing Black music.

The problem with a lot of Hiphop cats who know better is that they won’t call “Bullshit!” They protect bullshit producers like the Catholic Church shuffles around sex offender priests.

It used to be we produced great singers, musicians and artists. Now all anybody wants to be is a beatmaker or MC.

We are losing our music for the sake of Hiphop. And I say, if Hiphop is getting in the way, let it go.

What was magical about Hiphop at its best was that it was linked to Afrikan Tribal DNA.

Afrikan Tribal DNA is the rhythmic code that exists in all great Black music.

From Armstrong to MJ, from Duke to Dilla; all great Black music has that rhythmic lilt to it.

As Ellington said, “It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing.”

Hiphop doesn’t swing anymore.

Hiphop today is a long ways away from “Funky Drummer.”

Most of the young MCs out here today have no rhythmic inflection to their flow.

An album by A Tribe Called Quest still sounds good today.

You’re not going to want to listen to most of this shit today 10 years from now.

Funk is the only thing that lasts forever. This other bullshit has a short shelf life.

“You say Fan-Ta-Saraw. You say hahn, what, you know. It’s that sh–!”

^^^That’s that shit. Funk!

Hiphop don’t feel good no mo’.

Stop chasin’ “Voodoo” and Dilla and get back to the groove.

Everybody’s flamming all over the place and loping the beat tryna sound like machines.

Fuck that; be human.

Don’t let the instrument be you; be the instrument.

All these faux-ducers out here ain’t shit if you take away samples and their machines, but a real musician can make music without a device.

And the argument that Hiphop turns younger people on to older music is wack.

If people didn’t suffer from having short attention spans they could learn the history by doing their homework.

Expand your mind and listen to a vintage Ohio Players album or Kool and the Gang.


There’s way more information in those records than any sample could give you.

Sampling culture has turned in on itself.

It’s not even sampling anymore; it’s a sample of a sample of a sample.

It’s incest.

Sampling has turned Hiphop into the deformed child of a mother who’s been fucked by her own son.

This ain’t no anti-beatmaking campaign; it’s an anti-bullshit manifesto.

Stop looking for great moments on other people’s records to steal and learn enough music to create your own great moments.

The Beat ain’t in a machine; The Beat is inside you.

Time to go back to what made Black records great in the first place; real people playing real music.

Let Robin Thicke and Miley Cyrus have Hiphop.

Let Kenny G have Jazz.

Like the Special Man say, “Let ’em have it.”


Stop bullshittin’ and play some real fucking music.


— Nicholas Payton aka The Savior of Archaic Pop

Western Thought and the African Dilemma

The world is very troubled right now and I think a large part of that is due to how most people have been conditioned to think. Just the idea of thought itself is problematic. To many, thought is often seen as an active proposition — but at its best — thinking is more of a passive state. Thought is very elusive, as the harder you think, the less thoughtful you are.

The mind is like a glass; it’s most useful when empty.

The question is: With what are we filling that glass?

When Europeans colonized, raped and pillaged Africa, it wrought devastation upon the Motherland from which she still has yet to recover. Of all the atrocities the Europeans committed against Mother Africa and her peoples, perhaps the biggest was Christianity. Of all the infectious disease they brought with them, religion may have been the worst. The Europeans’ distorted recount on the history of Jesus has proved to be one of the most effective means of enslaving Africans. Shackles are easy to shake, but to free a conditioned mind is near impossible.

What I am expressing here is not anti-Jesus. I love Jesus, what I don’t dig is what has been done in His name.

The good news is that Black people have known themselves longer than not. With respect to the history of the world, African displacement — both physical and mental — is a relatively new construct. From that point of view, 500 years isn’t that long at all. Which means the amount of work required to remember who we are may not be as bad as some might think.

The biggest obstacle towards reclaiming Black Thought is not teaching Africans who have forgotten their old ways, but how to get them to think outside of the Western ideal.

New habits are easy to adopt, but bad habits die slowly.

We were taught that everything we practiced was wrong; our spiritual ceremonies, our gods, our relationship with the ancestors — all of it. Most African people are ashamed of their history and the only impression they have of it is typically the one they’ve been given.

Blacks in America are taught to be afraid of voodoo; that to connect and communicate with the spirits of the otherworld is evil and can be deadly. And if one violates what God and Christ wants, your soul will be damned to hell. This is all untrue.

The truth is: Our survival depends on ancestry. It is our insight into the past, present and future. Without a connection to them, we are not really alive. When a White woman bonds with her White Virgin Mary, she is connecting to her ancestor. As a Black woman, don’t you deserve the same?

This physical world is only a finite reflection of a vast spiritual universe that exists beyond. The ancestors act as intermediaries. We, too, are ancestors, but by denying our agents on the other side, we deny ourselves.

This ain’t no spooky stuff I’m talking about here. This is all about energy. Energy is a force of life and that which is living never dies; it just changes form. I don’t know if I believe in reincarnation in the traditional sense, or a heaven that people go to when they leave their physical bodies — but as energetic beings — our loved ones never leave us. And in that sense, an earthly loss is an ancestral gain.

We actually know all this already, but most of us have either forgotten or have suppressed it because we are taught to be afraid. The reality of it is there’s more harm in us not establishing a relationship with our ancestors. We need them. They also need us. We have a responsibility to help and heal each other. There’s an ongoing dialog that is to take place between us and them. In fact, there is no “us” and “them.” We are one.

We don’t learn anything, we just reawaken the dormant areas of our mind.

We are trained to think in binary terms, so if you are not for something, you must be against it. Life is more colorful than that. It’s almost like saying you can’t be spiritual and scientific. The idea that these are diametrically opposed to one another is a hindrance towards understanding the full spectrum.

For instance, there often appears to be a fundamental split between those who operate by logic versus intuition, whereas the only difference in my mind between these two things is the process by which how quickly one comes to a resolution. Another example of how the Western concept of time creates a conundrum.

Those who play music should be intimately attuned to negotiating between the physical and spiritual realms. Sound is an invisible but quantifiable force. We use physical instruments to produce a spiritual result. This is why music is a universal language. It defies category.

It’s why I don’t consider myself a musician at all. I am an artist, who at times uses music as a means of expression. Music is a very powerful tool, and the space from which it emanates within one’s soul is of primary importance.

The greatest artists are not working with music, they’re building sonic mythologies by which people can use to breakdown the elusive obstacles that tend to separate us from our best selves.

So, that is what music does at its best. So what can music do at its worst? Well, it can do just the opposite. It can be used to create or reinforce chasms with the individual’s mind/body/spirit or divide people up amongst themselves. Conversely, it can be used to bring people together.

Music is inherently empty, it takes a life lived to imbue a set of notes, chords and rhythms with meaningful purpose.

When I speak of the African Dilemma and Black Thought, there’s a larger operation at play here. I speak of reclaiming what’s originally ours; that our gods and methods were good enough that we didn’t have to adopt those of our oppressor. And I’m not sure if the gist of what I’m saying here is an anti-West sentiment. I can’t say for certain that Western thought is intrinsically bad, but for the Black mind, it has proven to be quite harmful.

For the Black American community, music has been our greatest ally. It has swept contempt from the corners of our oppressor’s mind that the broom of justice could never reach.

The Black artist is needed to change the images his people identify with, by asserting Black feeling, Black mind, Black judgement. 

— Amiri Baraka

The commodification of our cultural language has served to put a damper on what progress we’ve made post-chattel slavery. Along with our desires to be accepted and assimilate into Western culture, it has been our downfall. To the point where the more superficially dangerous we appear to be on the outside, it’s likely we’re less of a threat to the system.

We’re slow to pay deference towards our great ancestors, but will hastily give our last dollar to adorn ourselves with the physical trappings of a failing capitalist structure that was designed to keep us on the outside. And we will remain this way as long as we allow others to define who we are, what we do and how we do it — and that’s no JAZZ.

We have been removed so far from our ancestors, for so long, we don’t recognize them when they show up. We’ve erected such a massive wall of protection just to survive, that we’ve obscured the vulnerability and humility needed to dialog with them. We have shut our ancestors out. Our circuitry needs to be rewired — posthaste.

Our strength is in our sensitivity.

We need to embrace our traditions now more than ever. The light on our recall is growing dim and the spark needs to be reignited, in the name of all things Black. We must work tirelessly to reestablish and fortify our genealogical ties with those who came before us so that we leave a better place for those to come.

Even though we haven’t really been listening, the ancestors still talk to us. Those whom I’ve known and many I don’t know have shown up in my life often — particularly while I’m in performance. There’s something about the bandstand that attracts a high ancestral presence, especially if you emit a certain energy that is conducive towards their kinship.

I don’t practice to sound good; I practice to prepare my temple for whenever The Spirit or The Ancestors decide to pass through my playing. If you don’t create a comfortable environment for them, they may not show up.

And — Black or not — we’re all African!


— Nicholas Payton aka The Creator of #BAM


Has Hiphop and Sampling Killed Music?

It’s gotten to the point when I hear a new record that I dig — which is rare — my first thought is, “I wonder where they stole this from?” It’s really a shame that it has to be a point of consideration, but given the growing climate of musical plagiarism these days, it’s a valid concern.

What’s Really Going On Here?


As usual, I pissed some folks off with my last two posts about the Robin Thicke sues Marvin Gaye thing. See? Just to see that in print doesn’t feel right in my body. How the hell you gon’ sue an ancestor that you straight-up swaggerjacked? Though T.I. and Pharrell are involved in the claim, I directed most of my criticism towards Thicke because it’s his record and he stands to benefit the most from all of the publicity. It’s already the most listened to song on the radio, ever. Ain’t that somethin’?

A lot of Hiphop heads and DJs found my thoughts on the subject highly offensive. Me using terminology like “sampling” and “interpolation” immediately set them off. But as I’ve found since I’ve been writing heavily the last several years, most people can’t read — and if they can read — they can’t comprehend. As I said, I hate repeating myself, but I find myself having to do so because some people just don’t get it. Rather than throw my hands up in the air or tell them to go fuck themselves, I’ve had to develop the art of learning how to make these virtual encounters a teaching moment. You never know when you can help someone turn the corner of their own understanding.

“When it comes to the truth,  folks have a short attention span and are low on patience.”

— Nicholas Payton

First off, I never said that the Thicke song — if we can call it his or a song — was a sample or Hiphop. I said that his rip is where sampling culture goes wrong. And I never called his song an “interpolation,” I said Marvin Gaye’s song was an interpolation of blues, funk, good disco, cha-cha-cha and other Caribbean elements. Let’s be honest: Marvin himself stole music from other people, but I don’t recall him having the hubris to sue someone he knowingly ripped. Now that’s all I care to speak of in this post about Thicke’s wack ass.

Access Denied!

SuzeOrmanDenied1I may lose my Hiphop card with the following sentiments, but I don’t really care, this needs to be said. I think it’s time to reassess what sampling and Hiphop is doing to Black culture. And I hope those who need to hear this can approach it from a stance of critical thought and not get their panties all in a bunch whilst reading this.

At the risk of coming off like an old fuddy-duddy, Hiphop is a predatory art form — and over the years — has more and more become a bastion of musical cannibalism. As many people know, Hiphop has roots in DJ culture; taking the best parts of records, making loops, sampling sounds and an MC rockin’ the mic, all in the spirit of keeping people on the dance floor.

Keeper Of The Drums

I’m not anti-sampling, but: If they’d had samplers in Africa back in the day, mothafuckas woulda never learned how to play the drums, then who would you sample?


“Nick, several years ago, I met a young brother, and I asked him, ‘What do you do, son?’ He said, ‘I make beats.’ I said, ‘You make beats, huh?’ He said, ‘Yeah.’ I said, ‘Naw, son, IIIIIIIII make beats! Can you sit down here (on the drums) and make a beat?’ He said, ‘No.’ And I said, ‘Alright, then, you don’t make beats, you TAKE beats!’ ”

— Marvin “Smitty” Smith

Culture Vultures

VulturesIt’s become a parasitic culture that glorifies picking over others’ remains, indulging in the sonic equivalent of sloppy seconds, and finishing off in a bukkake over the souls of our great ancestors. And if the necrophiliacs can’t find someone dead to fuck over, they will find some young upstart who desperately wants to get in business so bad that he or she is willing to sign away their publishing rights for a chance to be on a hit record. If this young cat reaches a level of fame, he or she typically continues the cycle of abuse, by finding another young upstart to initiate in the business — textbook case of the oppressed becoming the oppressor.

What’s baffling about it is the entitlement that has become pervasive within the Hiphop community. Like if some grave, I mean, crate-digging producer found a dope two-bar section on a relatively unpopular record, samples and/or loops it and it becomes an international success, that producer feels like he or she did you a favor by reinvigorating your has-been, never-been ass. They put you on. Not only do they not owe you money, you owe them, because now a bunch of kids who never cared about your music, may actually give a shit about you.

Wow. Thanks?

It’s the dream of many so-called jazz musicians to get on some Pop star’s band for the perceived clout it may bring to their brand. But it’s all fakery. Most of these Pop stars don’t have as much money as they claim and tend to pay low salaries. When you’re making mediocre music, you don’t need to surround yourself with the best musicians. And the stars that are smart enough to get good musicians, usually wind up ripping them off for their talents and claim songs that the band members have written as their own.

Jack The Rapper

It used to be that if you wanted music at your party or event, you had to hire musicians. With the advent of the phonograph player, it became increasingly popular to have a disc jockey instead. Why not? It’s much cheaper than hiring a band. But at what point does our soul suffer by not hearing live music? What are the spiritual ramifications of being in a room with real instruments that move air and possess the propensity to change the molecular structure of a space? How much more intense is the real thing over a recording? They say, “Music soothes the savage beast.” Then I’m curious as to the cumulative effects of what samples do to that beast over time. From my observation, it appears to make people more aggressive.


Of course, we all benefit from the convenience of digital technology, but at what cost to our cosmic consciousness? Genuine human interaction has been replaced by virtual communication. Social networks have usurped social engagement. Some of the most highly celebrated musicians today are praised for their ability to sound like samples. Really? Is that where we are with it?

The Right Way To Steal A Song

“[a]fter one of the shows, one night somewhere, James called me into the dressing room and grunted a bass line of a rhythmic thing (demonstrates), which turned out to be ‘Cold Sweat.’ I was very much influenced by Miles Davis and had been listening to ‘So What’ six or seven years earlier and that crept into the making of ‘Cold Sweat.’ You could call it subliminal, but the horn line is based on Miles Davis’ ‘So What.’ I wrote that on the bus between New York and Cincinnati. The next day we pulled up in front of King Records studio, got off the bus, got in the studio, set up, and I went over the rhythm with the band. By the time we got the groove going, James showed up, added a few touches—changed the guitar part, which made it real funky—had the drummer do something different. He was a genius at it. Between the two of us, we put it together one afternoon. He put the lyrics on it. The band set up in a semicircle in the studio with one microphone. It was recorded live in the studio. One take. It was like a performance. We didn’t do overdubbing. ”

— “Pee Wee” Ellis


Contrary to those who believe that Miles got So What from James Brown, it’s actually the other way around. And Miles and Gil Evans got it from Ahmad Jamal. So What came out in 1959; Cold Sweat was recorded in 1967.

Now you can hear between Ahmad’s New Rhumba and Miles’ So What, that Miles — like Ahmad — uses the bass as the melody and has the chords do a call-and-response juxtaposed against the bass statement. Ahmad plays the chords first, then has the bass answer, but Miles reverses the order and has his chords answer the bass in an “Amen” cadence. And whereas Ahmad has 3 chord stabs, Miles only used two. So, if you’re going to rip someone off, this is the classy way to do it.

It Ain’t Stealin’ If You Really Wrote It

Sometimes similarities between songs are purely coincidental and is not the act of plagiarism. Like the tune Leo: Rosebud written by Hal Galper and recorded by the Cannonball Adderley Quintet in 1970 on their album, Love, Sex, and the Zodiac. The main theme of Leo: Rosebud sounds very close to Bob Marley’s and Peter Tosh’s Get Up, Stand Up, which came out in 1973. The thing is, Love, Sex, and the Zodiac wasn’t released until 1974. Could it be that someone heard the other’s song, or that each composer was just hearing a similar melody?

I Hear A “Clique” Every Time

2565-1-clockwork-metronome-clickBack in the day, bands — drummers in particular — were imprisoned by having to play with ye olde “click track.” A click track is a device that is used to sound a “click” at however many beats per minute one desires. It’s comparable to what a second hand is on the watch to minutes and it’s used to subdivide and determine fractions of beats or phrases. That dang click track got rid of a lot of drummers who couldn’t play to that synthetic time machine.

To me, time is a fluid concept. It should not be metrically static. Stable, yes, but not static. Our hearts don’t constantly beat at the same rate. Throughout the day, our heart rate fluctuates according to what activities we’re engaged in. Can you imagine how listless life would be if our heart rate or blood pressure stayed exactly the same all the time? Having a margin of mobility in any given circumstance makes an endeavor more adventurous.

“And many recent recordings of pop music demonstrate how music is killed by a metronome for they are as square as a draftsman’s T. For the convenience of recording engineers, each player has to record their part on a separate track while listening to a click track — a metronome — and the clicks are then used to synchronize the tracks while the technicians adjust them to their taste and mix them. I know talented young musicians who can’t do it; we can understand why. Nothing compares with a recording of a live performance in which the players provide each other with the time-framework.[…] if you want to kill a musical performance, give the player a click track!”

— James Beament

So, yes, a drummer who chronically drags or rushes is problematic. But sometimes tempo is supposed to speed up or slow down. This idea that the tempos must be static to make it easier for the DJ to mix records is bass ackwards. Can you imagine if back in the days of the classic Palladium, Eddie Palmieri has his congueros play to a click track?


So whatever session drummers weren’t put out of work from the click track, the drum machine finished the job. And whatever cats weren’t replace by keyboard sequencing, sampling got rid of them. Now keep in mind, I’m not against any of these tools, per se. But when they become substitutes for real craftsmanship, years of practice and apprenticeship, we dilute the art form, and both the music and the listeners suffer.

Band In A Box

By accepting this as the new standard, we’re sending a message to our kids that it’s okay to learn just enough piano to program an electronic keyboard. That’s saying the years Herbie Hancock or Mulgrew Miller put in at the piano becomes an expendable part of our history and it becomes okay to learn enough of their “tricks” to get over on the masses. And if you can’t play it, then just sample it.

mzi.nqqdiegiThere was a time where a piano was a common part of every household. Almost everyone had a relative who played well. Signing your child up for piano lessons were commonplace. It wasn’t about them being a professional musician, but music had a high value in society, and folks understood that being in touch with the arts made for a more compassionate and intelligent human being. Every school had a band or music program. And whether you liked it or not, you grew up listening to what your parents listened to — I’m talking pre-walkman, pre-iPod days.

This is before American Idol, when you used to have to pay dues in someone’s band before you were signed to a record deal. Marvin Gaye sang backup in the Moonglows and was a session drummer for Motown before he embarked on a career as a leader. He worked diligently for 10 years as a solo artist before he reached his magnum opus, What’s Going On. Even that song itself had several incarnations before it realized its “Eureka!” moment.

Without A Song


What happened that everybody out the ‘hood wants to be an MC these days? When did the art of singing a song lose its appeal? All anybody wants to do is kick a verse. Everybody wants to be a producer, a beat maker, or a rapper, and none of that is usually synonymous with making music anymore. What about playing an instrument? Kids today would rather play Guitar Hero than learn to play the guitar.

I saw an interview once with producer James “J Dilla” Yancey speaking of being in the studio with D’Angelo and feeling like he wanted to sample everything he heard. I thought that to be a curious statement. As much respect as I have for Dilla, why not learn to play that way? Then you wouldn’t have to sample it. I get that Hiphop at its origins is a pastiche of preexisting records, but sometimes they sample shit when they don’t need to.

Dilla is the exception though, he gave life to everything he did. He represents the best in Hiphop, but many who have come in his shadow, got the wrong idea of what makes Dilla great. All these Dilla clones, but very few understand his feel.

For example: My favorite jawn on Erykah’s last album was Gone Baby Don’t Be Long.


For the drums and chord pads, a sample from Arrow Through Me by Paul McCartney & Wings was used:

Pretty cool, but I’m sorry, you could save yourself a lot of money coming up with something just as hip and original on your own. A lot of New Yorkers snub New Orleans producer Mannie Fresh ‘n ’em, but I tell you what, them cats prided themselves on being as sample-free as possible. Keep all that money!

And when artists don’t clear samples, or use breakbeats from a drummer who ad libbed them on the session, the money doesn’t always go to the people it should. It’s heartbreaking to see master musicians die penniless when their works have made millions for others.

Sampling is cool, but when you learn an instrument, you don’t need a sampler.

Life Is A Sample

As humans, we are all analog samplers, and we can use our senses to recall or replicate any mood or vibe our creativity will allow. But if you haven’t done the homework, and your knowledge is limited, you have no choice but to tread on someone else’s output.

The more generations we cultivate with a lack of appreciation for the arts, and don’t take time to instill a sensibility for musical virtuosity, we do damage to our community. We’re creating generations of people who don’t know the power of real music, and as a result:

Mediocrity is the new genius.

So to someone who hasn’t experienced the magic of Got To Give It Up, Blurred Lines may appear to be a cool song. But it pales in comparison to the original. And the fact that most people either don’t know the difference, or may prefer the impostor, is sad.

Please support live music, real musicians, and stop intentionally pirating records and compositions.


— Nicholas Payton aka The Savior of Archaic Pop


Thanks for the love, Guadalajara!

Musicians are always griping about what goes wrong on the road, so now I want to take time to show some love to some folks who get it and did it right.

Shout out to Gilberto Cervantes, Sara Valenzuela, and everyone else who made our stay such a wonderful experience!

A view of the city from my suite at the Hotel Intercontinental:


Me at the Rhodes:


A silhouette of Vicente Archer and Corey Fonville:




Our performance that evening of The Backward Step:


– Nicholas Payton aka The Savior of Archaic Pop


Nicholas Payton Speaks On Yeezus . . .

You mothafuckas are making the same mistake with Yeezus as you did with 808s. If you’re looking for it to be a Hiphop album, you’ve already missed the point. Kanye stopped making Hiphop albums a long time ago. Get over it. He’s beyond that, at this point. Doesn’t mean he’s better, he’s just not a Hiphop artist anymore.

There’s nothing wrong with that, per se. I mean, let’s face it, at some point, as an artist, you’re going to outgrow Hiphop if you’re constantly evolving. Is Yeezus music? No, it isn’t. Is Kanye a musician? No, he is not, but it doesn’t matter. Music ain’t shit. Music is intrinsically empty. It takes a life lived to give a series of notes, chords and rhythms some meaning.

Contrary to what he may believe, Kanye is no activist. He’s just active—big difference. He’s very creative, but creativity isn’t everything. I can get a 5-year-old kid a box of crayons and watch him be creative. But is it mastery? Miles Davis is a master, but not because you think he is or because he has nice things, but because he endlessly dismembered and embodied his craft.

Kanye’s genius, and there is genius there, is that he has an uncanny understanding of how shallow the mainstream is at this moment. Now, that is not to say he is shallow, but that I think his art has grown to be reflective of a very shallow aesthetic. Anytime you can both validate yourself by aligning your work with the great ancestors, yet reduce the lineage to suit your personal gain, you represent nothing more than what is in front of you. To me, it comes down to this: Are you extending the tradition or exploiting it?

You see, there is a time for everything. There is a time to kill, there is a time to be still and there is a time to build. It is not up to the artist to decide what her work means to you. It is up to you to figure out what it means—if you care to invest the time—and that is always subject to your frame of mind while digesting it. The beauty of albums is that you’re constantly given another opportunity to figure out just what purpose it serves in your life.


The sun rises in the East and sets in the West.


– Nicholas Payton aka The Savior of Archaic Pop