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Nicholas Payton

2023 Jazz Road Creatives

Nicholas Payton

Recipient Information


New Orleans, Louisiana

Project Title

The Black American Symphony

Year of Award


Grant or Fellowship

Jazz Road Creative Residencies Grant

Grant Amount


Through this project, Payton will revisit and re-orchestrate his first symphonic work, written 10 years ago, The Black American Symphony, with the goal of reorganizing it to reflect who he is today. This will be recorded at Sear Sound recording studio in New York City.

About the Artist

As a leading voice in American popular music, the Grammy Award-winning Nicholas Payton is a multi-instrumentalist, vocalist, composer, producer, arranger, essayist, and social activist who defies musical and artistic categories. All the while, he honors the tradition of what he terms “postmodern New Orleans music,” as well as the spirit of Black American Music, of which he states, “There are no fields, per se. There are lineages.” 

The New Orleans-born Payton has followed his calling since growing up under the tutelage of his parents — acclaimed bassist Walter Payton and Maria Payton, a pianist and vocalist. Already a prodigy before entering the first grade, he began playing trumpet at age four and started performing professionally at age 10. Before the age of 20, he was already in demand by everyone from Danny Barker and Clark Terry to Elvin Jones and Marcus Roberts. Payton released his first album, From this Moment, in 1995 on the famed Verve label. He received his first Grammy nomination in 1997 for the album Doc Cheatham & Nicholas Payton, and for the category of Best Instrumental Solo, which found him winning the award that year.

As a leader, Payton’s seminal writings and discussions on the problematics of the term and associations of “jazz” have inspired musicians, researchers, music listeners, and thinkers alike. As such, he termed Black American Music, or #BAM for short, to represent the breadth of improvisational musical creations created by Black people in the U.S., regardless of genre. His introduction of #BAM into the lexicon of popular music discourse landed him an entry in the New York Times‘ “The Decade in Jazz: 10 Definitive Moments” in 2019.

“(Black American Music) is … a liberation music, it is our first global recognition in humanizing, if you will, a class of people who were systematically dehumanized for centuries,” Payton says. “The concern for me is to draw from the wellspring of all the great Black ancestors who inspired me to play this music in the first place. And to hopefully keep that energy, that spirit.”

Through his mission-driven work and art, Payton continues to creatively move boundaries, while inspiring and remaining inspired by the pioneering lineage of Black American Music, of which he is a part.