Nearly two years ago, trumpeter Nicholas Payton’s blog post “On Why Jazz Isn’t Cool Anymore” stirred mass controversy for suggesting the word “jazz” bore racial undertones unbecoming of black American music. In a subsequent post in response to his critics, he, drawing from his dialectical investigation, coined the phrase and kicked off the BAM (Black American Music)! movement. “It was not jazz at its inception. The musicians didn’t call it that,” he puts it plainly in this week’s episode of OffBeat’s Look-Ka Py Py Podcast. “I think it does a disservice to the art and the artist and the audience.”
In harmony with this sentiment, the impetus for BAM! also stems from Payton’s annoyance of the in-fighting among jazz’s purveyors and pundits as to what “jazz” is or isn’t. “I am a musician, I play music, and I express that in a multitude of ways,” he says. Likewise, Payton views his blog as an extension of his art, contending, “I think humankind looks to the artist to hold up a mirror to the ills of society.” His latest entry “A Nigga Tired: Why Non-Blacks Shouldn’t Say Nigga” certainly raises eyebrows.
On the other side of the looking glass, Payton sees his music as his conduit to connect with people from all walks of life. “To inject beauty in the world is really why I do this,” he says. “I get paid to travel, but I’ll do that for free.”
Recently, Payton released a live performance of Miles Davis and Gil Evan’s masterpiece Sketches of Spain recorded in Switzerland with the Basel Symphony Orchestra. Though not originally planned, the concept for the performance materialized after Payton was commissioned to compose and perform his first orchestral work, Black American Symphony. Tune in below hear Payton talk about his inspiration for the work and find out what BAM! is really all about.