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What Is This Thing Called Soul

Conversations on Black Culture and Jazz Education

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Damani Phillips

How does academic jazz education impact the Black cultural value of soulfulness and esthetic standards in contemporary jazz music? Through candid conversations with nine of the country’s most highly respected jazz practitioners and teachers, What Is This Thing Called Soul explores the potential consequences of forcing the Black musical style of jazz into an academic pedagogical system that is specifically designed to facilitate the practice and pedagogy of European classical music. This work tests the belief that the cultural, emotional and esthetic elements at the very core of jazz’s unique identity, along with the music’s overt connection to Black culture, are effectively being "lost in translation" in traversing the divide between academic and non-academic jazz spheres.

Each interviewee commands significant respect worldwide in the fields of jazz performance and jazz pedagogy. Noteworthy subjects include: Rufus Reid, Lewis Nash, Nicholas Payton and Wycliffe Gordon—along with the late jazz masters Marcus Belgrave and Phil Woods. Interviews are supplemented by original analysis of the nature and validity of these issues contributed by the author.

What Is This Thing Called Soul offers a candid and objective look into pressing issues of race, culture and ethnic value in relation to both jazz music and jazz education. Sensitivity, marginalization and even a fear of offending others has limited open discussion of how the soul of jazz music can be lost in technical boundaries. What Is This Thing Called Soul is the first attempt to directly address such culturally urgent issues in jazz music.

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Chapter 8. The First Rule of Colonization: Nicholas Payton Interview (1973–)

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The First Rule of Colonization

Nicholas Payton Interview (1973–)

Trumpeter Nicholas Payton’s voice (both as a trumpeter and with the pen) is among the strongest of his generation. The son of bassist and sousaphonist Walter Payton, Nicholas took up the trumpet at the age of four and by age nine was sitting in with the Young Tuxedo Brass Band alongside his father. He began his professional career at ten years old as a member of James Andrews’ All-Star Brass and was given his first steady gig by guitarist Danny Barker at The Famous Door on Bourbon Street. He later enrolled first at the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts as a high school student to study with Clyde Kerr Jr., and then briefly at the University of New Orleans, where he studied with pianist Ellis Marsalis.

Payton’s output as a recording artist has been prolific. After touring with Marcus Roberts and Elvin Jones in the early ’90s, Payton signed a recording contract with Verve Records who released his first album “From This Moment” in 1994. In 1996 he performed on the soundtrack of the movie Kansas City, and in 1997 received a Grammy Award (Best Instrumental Solo) for his playing on the album Doc Cheatham & Nicholas Payton. After five albums on Verve, Payton signed with Warner Bros. Records, releasing Sonic Trance in 2003. Besides his recordings under his own name, other significant collaborations include Trey Anastasio, Ray Brown, Ray Charles,...

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