Live in Anguilla: The Mulgrew Miller Trio with Kenny Garrett & Nicholas Payton

While tweeting today with my good friend, pianist Taylor Eigsti, I was reminded of a gig Kenny Garrett and I did about 8 years ago with my dear brother, Mulgrew Miller, and his trio of bassist Ivan Taylor and drummer Rodney Green. I found the MP3 and thought I would share with you all.

If you aren’t familiar with Mulgrew’s music, I implore you to make yourself so. I would suggest starting with his classic album Hand In Hand.

We love you, Mulgrew!


– Nicholas Payton aka The Savior of Archaic Pop


Grew Stepped Out of a Dream: A Few Words on Mulgrew Miller

I would like to say a few things about my big brother, Mulgrew. We all called him “Grew” for short, which is apropos because you couldn’t help but to grow being around this cat. I spent a lot of time with Grew over the years and you get to know someone on a lot of different levels when you interact with them often. As an artist, he is absolutely astounding. And though he has passed, I will refer to him in the present throughout this piece because that which has lived can never truly die . . .


Along with Herbie Hancock, Mulgrew is the Quintessential Pianist. What I mean by that is his repertoire and range of versatility allows him to play in any context with virtually anybody and he possesses the uncanny instinct to know just the right shit to play at any given moment. And even though he had established a level of mastery and developed a distinctive style very early in his career, he never snubbed others and, at a certain point in his journey, was willing to play with just about anyone — free of judgment. I remember years ago at a jam session we were all playing some tunes and this cat from a well-known alternative Black rock band approached the stage to sit in. Most of the guys split the stage posthaste, myself included, because our elitist, jazz attitudes wanted no parts of this dude. So ol’ boy got on the mic and said, “I guess it’s time for a little acapella,” which is to perform without accompaniment. Not so. Mulgrew not only stayed on stage, but proceeded to play with this dude while he did an abstract poem that at one point resolved with him chanting “Love,” while flashing the peace sign, followed by “Hate,” while he flashed half of a peace sign. Though the spoken word performance was highly questionable — behind it — Mulgrew was comping his ass off! He taught us all a big lesson that night about how you can elevate your surroundings through simplicity and sincerity of expression.

He has a full command of his instrument and an even tone and touch from top to bottom on the piano. His span of knowledge of the history of the Black American music aesthetic reaches back as far as the Delta Blues — he’s from Greenwood, Mississippi — to gospel, as he has roots in the church. He also came up playing Soul music, but had a life-changing moment in his youth when he witnessed the brilliance of Oscar Peterson during a television performance.

He then moved from Mississippi to attend Memphis State University where he would make acquaintance with two individuals who would also become highly influential pianists, James Williams and Donald Brown. He was later recommended by another friend from Memphis, reedman Bill Easley, to join the Duke Ellington Orchestra under the direction of his son, Mercer Ellington. From there, he moved to New York where he quickly became a first-call pianist for some of the top names in Black music like Betty Carter, Johnny Griffin, Woody Shaw, Art Blakey and Tony Williams, just to name a few.

For as beloved as he was by musicians, the critical establishment and the recording industry often miss the mark on Grew. He is constantly referred to as being conservative or a traditionalist, which are critical code words for labeling someone as old hat or not being forward thinking. What’s so backwards about that is pretty much all the pianists whom critics tout as being the most modern, site Mulgrew as a top influence. What is deceptive about Grew is that for all the virtuosity he has at his disposal, he isn’t a flashy player. He has the skill and the technique to make very difficult things appear to be a lot easier than what they are. That’s the sign of true genius. Couple that with the fact that he always swings and gets such a beautiful sound out of the piano, his angularity and edginess take on a palatable form and goes over the heads of those looking to be wowed by contrived, hyperbolic displays of narcissism.

He is loved and revered equally by his protégés, peers and predecessors — a remarkable feat of accomplishment to be adorned by a span of multigenerational musicians. Young cats love Mulgrew. Old cats love Mulgrew. Shit, Barry Harris loves Mulgrew and he don’t dig nobody but Bird, Bud and Monk!

But as impressive as Mulgrew is as an artist, he’s just as impressive — if not more — as a man. In all the years I’ve been around Mulgrew, I never once heard him speak an unkind word of anyone. And when you’ve been on the road with a cat for weeks and doing a lot of 4 a.m. departures, you’re bound to say, “Fuck, so-and-so…” about someone at some point. Not Grew — authentically a class act, all the way.

Talk to any young pianist across the world, and they’ll invariably share a Mulgrew story about how gracious he was with his time. I was blessed to have him on my first record. He has been on a lot of cats’ first records. He also played my first weeklong engagement as a leader in New York City at The Village Vanguard. At the time I called him, he was the most in-demand pianist on the scene. He was there for me and so supportive of my vision, even though I had little experience as a leader at that point. He’s obviously played a lot of piano in his life, but I’m proud that one of his most classic recorded solos appears on my debut album.

In this solo on a tried and true American standard song, he beautifully illustrates that soulfulness, intellect and refinement are not mutually exclusive ideals. From the outhouse to the penthouse, it’s all there.

Grew, thank you for all you have given us. The last 30 years of music would not be what they have had it not been for you. Though I am deeply saddened by the loss of your physical presence here on Earth, in the true spirit of the African aesthetic of ancestry, I know we have not lost you at all. We have gained a loved one in another dimension. You are now a part of the ancestral lineage of masters — in whom those who know — seek your guidance into a better future.

Sending love and light to his wife Tanya, his children Darnell and Leilani, and family.


– Nicholas Payton


The Day Those Mothas Ruined Mother’s Day for New Orleans

I won’t address yesterday’s Mother’s Day massacre because it’s not unlike the violence that is pervasive in our city’s streets any other day of the week. Clearly, many of you don’t want to address it either. I’ve read so many tweets about not letting the shootings destroy our love for a good ol’ second line. Man, mothafuck a second line. That’s the problem with this city. That’s the problem with America. Everyone’s always so concerned with returning to a state of normalcy as not to let the “terrorists” win, that the root of violence gets ignored.

. . . And mothafuck this laissez-faire attitude that sweeps corruption under the rug.

I recently read a quote from this city’s administration about the long-standing problem with violence in The Big Easy. Well, if some of you don’t recall, we were on the upswing about 15 years ago. The Morial administration lowered NOLA crime rates successfully with Chief Richard Pennington. Don’t think it’s impossible, it’s very fucking possible. Click the pic, if you need proof:


So contrary to what some of our city’s administrators seem to think, a quick turnaround for this city can happen long before 2018. And all of us don’t have to decide to do something about it for the senseless violence to cease. But, what do you expect when you live in a city that trains prisoners to be more skillful criminals inside than they were on the outside? I’ve heard solutions like maybe we need a stronger military presence like we had post-flood of 2005. Really? More guns is the answer? I have a solution that’s simple, safe, and attainable: Let’s clean up the dirty politics and prioritize education and employment.

So what do we do? Pray and leave it in God’s hands? Hope that the faulty system miraculously gets better? Should citizens who’ve done well for themselves go into the communities and counsel at-risk youth? I think the regular folks — no matter how earnest in their attempts — will hit a wall trying to offer encouragement and support on a personal basis. For even if you can change a child’s outlook, they still have to deal with this cold, cruel world. It’s not the caring citizens that created the problem, so I think it’s futile for them to try to resolve it. It’s damn near impossible for the “good” folk of the community to eradicate a construct they haven’t erected. So I suggest you don’t fall prey to feeling guilted into thinking there is something more you can do. Martyrdom is not the answer. Most martyrs reach the same end and the world continues to be a fucked up place. Why sacrifice your peace and sanity for a hopeless cause? That’s not to say don’t help others, but focus your energies in tangible ways that can affect change. Put pressure on the Big Boys to take care of the Big Problems. We must hold our leaders accountable.

What we see every day on the streets of New Orleans is a microcosm of what’s both beautiful and ugly about America. It has been said that New Orleans is the soul of the United States. I find that to be true in many ways —geographically, spiritually, and otherwise. By the mouth of the Delta, we feed this country through our tributaries of tradition and contradiction. The Crescent City is the cradle of birth and death. But because we celebrate life and its passing does not mean we must overindulge in decadence to the point of our demise. As long as we continue to pacify our sins in the roux of the Mighty Mississippi, we will find ourselves gridlocked between the trinity of lust, shame, and abstinence. We say “New Orleans,” but it might as well be called “Old Orleans” because most people who live here are content with repeating the same shit. You can’t be new unless you are willing to do away with old patterns. You can’t realize a better version of yourself until you are fearless enough to shed the dead skin.

Yeah, we celebrate death until it is our time to die so that we may reach our highest potential. To our detriment, we’re killing all the good shit and letting the bad stuff survive. That’s not New Orleans, that’s Old Orleans — afraid to be the best it can be.

I wish I had a better ending to the story, but that depends on you mothafuckas.


– Nicholas Payton aka The Savior of Archaic Pop

Payton’s Treatise on 4/4 Swing

4/4 swing is the groove of all grooves. A rigid expression of elasticity. It remains in a perpetual state of both repetition and release. It is the logical conclusion of rhythmic circularity—the place where time dies and goes to heaven. 4/4 swing is neither old nor dated. Many today dismiss it as such, because of all grooves in the Black American aesthetic, it’s the hardest to make feel good.

It’s scientifically and metrically perfect in its design. It is 1, 2, 3 and 4—all at the same time—on every beat, in any beat.

It is the genesis of the syncopated quarter note. It can be forward moving and laid back at the same time. Every beat is a universe all on its own.

4/4 swing is the rhythmic equivalent of a free fall.

It is the morse code of modern mortality.

It is the roots, the branches and the leaves.

Swing is elusive. The harder you try to swing, the less you swing.

4/4 swing is the will to wane. Its pulse personifies the determination to let go. A revolving door of opportunity. A conveyer belt to the blues. The benevolent bulldozer. The turnstile of truth.

4/4 swing is a passenger jet that’s never overbooked or oversold.

No matter how many going along for the ride, there’s always room for one more.


– Nicholas Payton aka The Savior of Archaic Pop


#BAM For Dummies . . .


Many folks have asked and continue to ask what is #BAM. Most simply, #BAM is just an acronymic hashtag for Black American Music. For those who don’t know what a hashtag is: A hashtag “#” is a label on Twitter to make searching under a title or grouping subjects easier, but it’s obviously been adopted in the popular lexicon to give emphasis to a word or phrase and as a sign of unity. What exactly is Black American Music, you might ask? I can see how many are confused and perhaps feel excluded from the proposal of Black American Music. Please allow me to explain…

A Little Backstory:

On November 27th, I made a blog entry that was culled from a series of tweets (posts on Twitter) that was subsequently titled “On Why Jazz Isn’t Cool Anymore.” Unbeknownst to me, this precipitated a firestorm of events to take place, including–but not limited to—a series of heated exchanges between artists, musicians, promoters, writers, industry folk and fans alike. Some arguments were more respectful than others, but always impassioned, nonetheless.

If nothing else, it exposed many latent issues that lurk just beneath the surface of Black culture as it relates to mainstream America and Eurocentric ideology overall.

What’s In A Label?

Labels are important. Labels do matter. It’s when we pretend they don’t that it becomes OK to call a 9-year-old girl the “C” word. Nothing is intrinsically wrong with labels. It’s when labels are misappropriated and used as tools of tyranny that it becomes problematic. Labels are words and words have energy.

Words are currency. Action is gold.

– Nicholas Payton 2/27/13

Oppressive Jargon

It is in coded language that we find forces that serve to sustain the status-quo. One must be smart enough to see the subtle ways in which we say things that affect our ability to break free from certain negative thought patterns. Language is powerful. It can create spells and it can break them. Religion and government are primarily constructed around words.

Words have the power to free one’s soul, but independence is more than being free. It’s using your freedom to provide a platform by which like-minded souls can free themselves.

– Nicholas Payton 2/27/13

Independence is not an individual cause. It is a societal shift. A movement.

What’s Wrong With Jazz?

It’s more than just a name change. It’s about Black people not being properly recognized and respected in mainstream culture. Ending slavery and Jim Crow was/is not enough. Marginalization of Blacks has been the theme for centuries. It started with Blacks being written out of the history of the civilization of this world.

“The ancient Egyptians were Negroes. The moral fruit of their civilization is to be counted among the assets of the Black world. Instead of presenting itself to history as an insolvent debtor, that Black world is the very initiator of the “western” civilization flaunted before our eyes today. Pythagorean mathematics, the theory of the four elements of Thales of Miletus, Epicurean materialism, Platonic idealism, Judaism, Islam, and modern science are rooted in Egyptian cosmogony and science. One needs only to meditate on Osiris, the redeemer-god, who sacrifices himself, dies, and is resurrected to save mankind, a figure essentially identifiable with Christ.”

– Cheikh Anta Diop

The Black American Music Movement is about setting straight what has been knocked out of alignment by mislabeling and marketing strategies.

I’m Not Black, Where Do I Fit In Black American Music?

You should feel no more disconnected from Black American music than non-Cubans feel about playing Cuban music or non-Brazilians about Brazilian music. The term Black American Music just acknowledges the culture from which it sprung forth. You don’t have to be Black to appreciate and play it anymore than you have to be Chinese to cook and eat noodles.

For Those Who are Black and/or Jazz Lovers . . .

The Black American Music Movement doesn’t seek to take Jazz away from you. It’s your choice. There are certainly artists and musics that deserve the JAZZ title, but there is a growing number of artists who wish to shake the stigma of cultural colonialism.

“By and large, jazz always has been like the kind of man you wouldn’t want your daughter to associate with. The word ‘jazz’ has been part of the problem. In the 1920s I used to try to convince Fletcher Henderson that we ought to call what we were doing ‘Negromusic.’ But it’s too late for that now. This music has become so integrated you can’t tell one part from the other so far as color is concerned.”

– Duke Ellington

There has always been a contingency of artists who pushed for Black music. It’s not too late, Duke, we are now in a position to actually do something about it.

This is free. This is not Kickstarter.

No money required.


– Nicholas Payton aka The Savior of Archaic Pop

On Dr. Donaldson Byrd . . .

I was really hoping it wasn’t true, but I guess it is. I am filled with gratitude for all you have given the world.

I will cherish all the time and info you were gracious enough to share with me and I’m renewing my commitment to preserving the legacy of Black American music you worked so tirelessly to uphold.

Fly, Byrd, Fly…




– Nicholas Payton aka The Savior of Archaic Pop