Tag Archives: African-American music

Interview | Nicholas Payton reflects on race, music and the slow death of convention (AUDIO)

Nicholas Payton spoke to Tom Porter on WPFW earlier this month. Audio of that conversation is available below. Courtesy Michael Wilson.

“Some musicians and fans thought that I was talking about the music itself, and the tradition, and its history. That’s totally not at all what I said. In fact, I thought I made it very clear to make a distinction between the word and … the art form. My feeling is that the word just has negative historical connotations.”
– Nicholas Payton, in WPFW interview (listen below)

by Tom Porter
CapitalBop contributor

Race is the Achilles’ heel of Western societies, and nowhere is this more pronounced than in discussions of African-American/Black Classical music, commonly referred to as jazz. Trumpeter Nicholas Payton last month started a firestorm when he discussed his opinions on the use of the word jazz on his blog. It is strange how easy it is for Americans to accept notions of Chinese, Indian, Japanese, Jewish music, etc., whereas referring to jazz as Black Music causes an uproar.

When asked earlier on in his career what jazz should be called, Payton’s response was “Black Music.” Charles Mingus said the word jazz means “Nigger” music and that it separates the musician from the money. Gigi Gryce was blacklisted by the establishment for daring to want to own and control the results of his creativity. Irving Mills put his name on early Duke Ellington compositions and to this day his descendants are benefiting monetarily from Mills’ trickery. Fortunately, Duke discovered this and gave him the boot. Continue reading

Musician profile | Allyn Johnson: Dean of D.C. jazz

Although he has never chased national fame, Allyn Johnson is one of D.C.'s most revered and influential musicians. Courtesy Allyn Johnson

by Luke Stewart
Editorial Board

Most Washingtonians are well aware of the rich legacy that lies in D.C.’s musical and cultural heritage. It is widely known throughout the region that there exists a singular funk sub-genre called “go-go.” Bestselling books have been written about the city’s influential punk and hardcore scenes. The D.C. roots of two of jazz’s greatest musicians, Duke Ellington and Jelly Roll Morton, have been celebrated. Yet recent times have turned a blind eye on some of the present day’s brightest stars. Pianist Allyn Johnson, among the most innovative musical technicians of the present day, is one whom the world has failed to recognize.

D.C. native Ben Williams has recently risen to the national spotlight, but like so many, he had to move to New York City before that could happen. While Johnson received breathless recognition early on, he never moved away in pursuit of the world stage. Instead, Johnson now stands as one of the most influential figures in the ongoing revival of his hometown’s jazz scene. Within the nation’s capital, he is known as both a performer who can draw capacity crowds to venues around the city and an educator whose position as the director of Jazz Studies at the University of the District of Columbia makes him a key player in the cultivation of D.C.’s next generation of torch carriers.

Johnson explains his commitment to his hometown: “I’ve never really wanted to be a part of the jazz industry, in a sense, because I never wanted to be the next young piano star. I’ve always just loved to learn to play this music. I play music that I like and that expresses what I feel.”  Continue reading