From Louis Armstrong and King Oliver to Wynton Marsalis, New Orleans has a tradition of great jazz trumpeters (a tradition only rivaled by the St. Louis area). And Nicholas Payton -- who will be in town Wednesday-Saturday to perform in the Jazz at the Bistro series -- has certainly picked up on that tradition at an incredible pace.Born in 1973 to an opera-singing classical-pianist mom and a jazz-bass-playing dad, Payton was accompanying his father on gigs with the Young Tuxedo Brass Band by the time he was 9. By the age of 12, Nicholas was touring Europe with the All Star Brass Band, and in one of my most vivid memories of the New Orleans Jazz Fest, I recall seeing Payton sitting in with his dad at the Jazz Tent -- at the tender age of 14. This wasn't just a case a nepotism on the part of Walter Payton, bringing his son up onstage to get a quick round of applause. No, Nicholas was there to play. He turned in a solo that was shocking in its power and invention -- and it seems he hasn't slowed down since. At the age of 16, Payton was a member of pianist Marcus Roberts' band, and by the time he was 18, Payton was working in legendary drummer Elvin Jones' band -- as musical director for the group. After working with Jones for two years, Payton signed a recording contract with Verve, and his four recordings for the label have all earned acclaim. These recordings also illustrate that despite his respect for jazz lore, Payton certainly hasn't shied away from exploring R&B, blues, funk and even a taste of rap in carving out his own distinctive sound.
Now Payton has a brand-new recording that takes him full-circle -- back to the roots of New Orleans trumpet tradition and Louis Armstrong. Called Dear Louis, it's based on a commissioned tribute written by Payton for "Satchmo" and features Payton's innovative takes on such Armstrong classics as "Potato Head Blues" and "I'll Be Glad When You're Dead, You Rascal You."
The new CD features Payton with a 14-piece band, but he'll be appearing at Bistro Europa with his excellent group, comprising Tim Warfield on sax, Anthony Wonsey on piano, Reuben Rogers on bass and Adonis Rose on drums. The band had developed an amazing rapport when they played Columbia, Mo., a little more than a year ago, and they should be even tighter and more together now. As is usual with jazz at the Bistro performances, sets are at 8:30 and 10:15 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday and at 9 and 10:45 p.m. Friday and Saturday.