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Tomaž Grom Interview Sound (Dis)obedience Festival

Tomaž Grom Interview Sound (Dis)obedience Festival

Tomaž Grom Interview

Sound (Dis)obedience Festival


Julio, 2024

By: Bega Villalobos

Photo: Marcandrea

Tomaž Grom is a Slovenian double bass player and one of the key figures in the remarkable Ljubljana music scene. He is the founder and artistic director of Zavod Sploh (S-P-L-O-H. Sound, Performing, Listening, Observing, Hearing) an associaton dedicated to the production of music and performing arts as well as to education and publishing in the field. He curates music festival Sound (Dis)obedience.

On 28 th March, 2024. Liubliana, Eslovenia. Sound (Dis)obedience Festival.


In&OutJazz Thank you for the interview Tomaz. It is a great pleasure to be here in Liubliana. The first question is how was the festival born and what was the concept of the festival?

Tomaž Grom In the second half of the nineties I started to organize concerts on Metelkova with Tao G. Vrhovec Sambolec. There was no scene for so-called experimental or better to say improvised music, maybe just some individual musicians existed. When coming back from studies in Austria and playing around Europe there were very few concerts. I was interested in so I started to organize a concert serie Con/fine aperto with two of my friends Luka Zagoričnik and Primož Čučnik. We payed the musicians from our own pockets. I had the money from making music for national theatres.

And then came Špela Trošt, a producer and also my partner.

She applied for funds on the base of the program we already made. She applied through Zavod Sploh (Sound, Performing, Listening, Observing, Hearing) which I established in 1999.

We got some funds and started to do regular concert series and workshops.

With about a decade of regular events I wished for a condensed meeting of international musicians, something like a festival.

In 2011 we got some non-expected money from the Ministry of Culture (they had some rest of the money they offered to us) and that is how Sound (Dis)obedience was born in 2012.

We got funds without asking for funds. This year is the 13th edition.

Every year I say it’s the last one but then it goes on … And the concept is … no concept. The concept is my intuition. I like to invite different generations, different approaches to music making, different genders. Musicians with a lot of experience and musicians with very little experience. I like to mix international musicians with Slovenian musicians. Every year there is also a workshop and Every year I invite different international musicians to run the workshop which is open to everyone. Workshop is very important.

When the festival finishes, I start to think about the next one. I don't sit down and I don't have a concept really. I am a musician myself, so I know a lot of international musicians and music scenes. I just by feeling, slowly, kind of build up a program for the next edition.

In&OutJazz Would you say in first person that the festival selection is between free improvisation and free jazz? What would you say about this?

Tomaž Grom You know, I don't like so much to put this in words, in kind of frames. I like to find people which are kind of somewhere in between genres and which play their own music. I'm very interested also in musicians themselves. Not only in their music. What is their motor? Why do they go from stage to stage?  They spend their lives on a scene with very little money. Some even have no home, the stage is their home. I like to meet these very special people. They inspire me. I like to listen to their music, to reasons and backgrounds for their music.

Improvised and composed music in played on the festival. But the situation is improvised in any case.

Sometimes I invite musicians without really knowing their music. I like surprises for me as well even though it can be risky 🙂

I like musicians which take the acoustic space, the audience, the situation, the moment as part of their instrument.

In&OutJazz How do you select the project? With intuition you say, but what else?

Tomaž Grom It's very difficult to say. More or less, I like to plan different kind of approaches to music making. When I select one, then I search and think about different approach and I select the other one. And then I try to think on, “aha, so I have this and this and what could also be different approach”. And as I said in the beginning, different generations are important. Some people with a lot of experience. For example, yesterday, Jan Roder and Michael Griener, they play for 32 years together. And the day before, trio with Aurelius Užameckis, Luka Zabric and Margaux Oswald, they are very young and they search for their music. All this is important for me to show on the festival. I can't say much more than that…

Tomaž Grom If it's okay, just one more thing I would like to add. This is a small festival and I like to keep it like this.

In&OutJazz Why?

Tomaž Grom Because I like that the audience is close to the musicians, that we are all in the same room. No stage or better to say no barrier between the public and the audience.

In&OutJazz In the same room?

Tomaž Grom Yeah, in the same room and in the same sound for the musicians and the audience. Musicians generally like to be close to the public.

But, all the music does not fit in this context. And, not all the music fits on big stages with big amplification either. And when amplification exceeds certain level, instruments sound very different. They become different instruments. It can be quite difficult and a very non-inspirating situation.

Our venue sounds good with acoustic or slightly amplified music. Matter 100 were too loud for this venue. Their music needs some more power, so, I blame myself for not the best sound in Španski borci (venue) for their music.

I have to say that we at Sploh are very spoiled. Nobody is asking us how many people are coming to our concerts. I can program whatever I want. No need for the “big names”. We treat all the musicians the same. We also pay all the musicians the same. This is a big privilege, a luxury. No financiers are demanding more public. I would like to emphasize that. Some other programmers have to have certain amount of audience coming. They partly depend on ticket sales. And then it becomes very tricky, you can't just do what you want.

In&OutJazz I understand. And how is the evolution of the festival?

Tomaž Grom I can speak more about the public in this sense, not about the music. Music is more or less always there. It is different with the audience. First concert series had very little audience. It was similar with the festival. With regular and constant events audience was slowly growing. As I already said, we don't have tradition in freely improvised music in Slovenia like in London, Berlin, or several Austrian towns with long festival traditions. We do have a Jazz festival with the longest tradition in Europe and we have several festivals like Druga Godba, Sajeta, Jazz Cerkno … We don’t have books or developed language to speak about experimental and freely improvised music. We don’t have a span of different generations of musicians playing on the same stage like for example in England. We have some individuals, for example Zlatko Kaučič, a drummer and educator in his seventies. Here I have to say that Zlatko is an example that proves the fact that a town/a region actually needs just one (the right one) influencer who can build the whole music community.

So, the audience has to grow with the scene. I would say that we have a little pool of audience, slowly growing. Nowadays I see new faces, young faces. Young people coming to our concerts, together with the “regular” public, that is important. Festival Konfrontationen in Nickelsdorf offers reduced ticket price for audience under 30 I believe and festival Sajeta in Tolmin offers free ticket for audience above 55. Getting new public and keeping the “old” is quite a task.

In&OutJazz How do you combine your work as founder and artistic director of Zavod Sploh?

Tomaž Grom I'm a founder and artistic director of Zavod Sploh, but firstly I'm a musician. I try to separate those two tracks but in the same time I know I am sitting in two chairs. I used to program majority of the events in the frame of Sploh. Nowadays we have several different people programing our concert and performance series. For some years I only program Sound (Dis)obedience. And sometimes it's still difficult. I struggle sitting on those two chairs.  I invite musicians, I invite curators, so, I offer work to just a few people … It is a political position. I have to mention that I never program myself on the festival, I never play when I program …

In&OutJazz Okay, okay.  But why? Why?

Tomaž Grom There are at least three reasons. Firstly, it's much more “hygienic” if I don't play because if I play then I pay myself. Secondly, I remember very well one of Ljubljana venues Jazz Club Gajo. It was programed by a drummer, who played majority of the gigs himself. He would invite different musicians to play but he would much too often sit in …

The third reason it the fact that I am a technician on the festival. I communicate and prepare the technical needs and also connect the needed. I welcome the public, I am the sound technician and I also record all the concerts … These   reasons are more than enough to explain why I don’t play on a festival that I curate …

In&OutJazz And what about the name of the festival?

Tomaž Grom Aha, well, this is... Neposlušno in Slovenian means it reminds on the world neposlušljivo which means something that is not possible to listen to. Neposlušno means disobedient. Non listenable and disobedient. I think it suites the music we are promoting. And it creates kind of contra ...

In&OutJazz Contra-culture.

Tomaž Grom I think contra is sometimes good to practice. In some way this music practice can also be disobedient. And it is also relatively often not so easy to listen to it J. It is definitely often not very pleasant.

In&OutJazz It's not easy.

Tomaž Grom You need to involve yourself. You need to...  To put some energy, interest into it and you have to let it come to you.  We don’t always have to strive for easy and pleasant things.

Written by Bega Villalobos

Mayo 19, 2024

William Parker Interview Vision Festival (NYC, 2024)

William Parker Interview Vision Festival (NYC, 2024)

William Parker Interview

Vision Festival (NYC, 2024)

Free Jazz and avant garde pioneer William Parker granted us with an enlightening interview during Vision Festival 2024 at Roulette in Brooklyn, New York where he was honored and was a recipient of the Vision 2024 Lifetime Achievement Award.


In&OutJazz: What does it mean to you Mr. Parker to have received this award as a leader in the free jazz community?

William Parker:  Well, I’m very happy that it happened because it will give publicity to not just what I do but what everybody in the community does. We’re lacking press here. The New York Times, The Village Voice and a lot of the other newspapers in America New York have stopped writing about us. And, so you need a liaison or a bridge between the music and the people, and that could be publicity…, that could be newspapers. You just want your name to be out there so people are aware of what you do. And the award helps that, and hopefully other people will be able to present their music as a result of me getting the award.

In&OutJazz: How do you feel about being a leader in the free jazz community?

William Parker:  I feel that there are a lot of things to be done and I think you know every musician leads themselves and I do what I do. I think the labels that people put on people are from the outside and you can’t really avoid that but my responsibility as I’m 72 now is to continue to knock down walls, is to continue to present good music, is to continue to open the door and help guide younger musicians so that they can take the place of a lot of musicians who passed away. We lost saxophone player Peter Brötzmann, Kidd Jordan, Charles Gayle in the last years and they can never be replaced but we can try to get musicians to be interested in playing the creative freedom music. Because freedom, free music equals freedom and freedom equals enlightenment and so it continues the idea of a better planet and maybe we can go on for another few years.

In&OutJazz: What does free jazz mean to you? How do you differentiate “free jazz” from “jazz”?

William Parker:  Basically you have the freedom to play what you want to play in a situation. Your goal is to make the music sprout wings and fly and in a free jazz or free music, you’re free to use any element that ever existed, any element that you didn’t know about, that you discover in the moment to enhance the music. And so it’s like you don’t have any rules…, the rules are to be, to play the most creative profound music you can play and the only rule is to succeed.

In&OutJazz: Beautiful. Can you tell us a little bit about playing with Cecil Taylor , Milford Graves , and Don Cherry …?

William Parker:  All those people were great musicians and what they called progenitors or masters of the music. And again, what they did was allow you to be yourself. I played with Cecil for eleven years, and he never told me what to play once. It was setting up a situation and then allowing us to play.

In&OutJazz: Wasn’t that scary at the beginning for you?

William Parker:  No, because I had my training in New York playing with Jemeel Moondoc and Roy Campbell and Billy Bang . And I was really ready for anything when it came to free improvisation.

In&OutJazz: We know that you are one of the best double bassists of all time, and also a prolific artist, composer, multi-instrumentalist, writer, and also a teacher. What come first for you? Who are you first?

William Parker: What comes first to me is kindness, and giving, and sharing music, and sharing ideas, exchanging gifts with people, helping people to open up their gifts, for them to share them. And whether it’s music, whether it’s dance, whether it’s poetry, whether it’s writing, it doesn’t make any difference whether it’s just talking. You always try to share, get the light turned on, so that we can’t see without light. And once we have light, we can begin to shape our lives in a better way. I mean, it’s almost a hundred degrees today. And we’re still dropping bombs all over the world. And these things, there must be something better for human beings to do than to kill each other. And that’s the message we want to get. It’s we have to stop war, we have to begin to enrich each other’s lives, not try to take each other’s lives. And that’s going to be done if we engulf ourselves in music and art. It changes our lives. It brings peace and harmony in the world.

In&OutJazz: What would you say are one or two of the basic concepts in avant-garde jazz or free jazz?

William Parker: It’s to play like it’s the last time you’re gonna play. Play like every sound you are playing can change the world. You know, and so if you believe that everything you do is important and can change the world, I think that’s more important than what key you’re playing, what rhythm, whatever, you know, what style you’re playing in. It’s how you play and what you do and try to vibrate. Music is water. You want to play and it vibrates and turns to steam when it boils and heats. And that’s when it’s usable. That’s when you open up and go into the tone world. You go into the third world. You go into the world of light and sonic vibration. The world of pure happiness and joy. And that’s the kind of experience you want to make. So how you do it, it doesn’t really make any difference. As long as we do that, because we have to reverse ignorance. We have to reverse hate. We have to reverse this idea of ​​severe, harmful capitalism. And we have to begin to elevate the people from within. They’ve got to elevate themselves so that they can fly. And it’s very important that everyone flies.

Interview by: Claudia Tebar

Julio 18, 2024

Pat Thomas ISM – Maua (577 Records)

Pat Thomas ISM – Maua (577 Records)

Pat Thomas ISM

Maua (577 Records)


Julio, 2024

Pat Thomas – Piano/ Joel Grip – Contrabajo/ Antonin Gerbal – Batería.

Grabado el 21 de mayo de 2022 por Alexis Baskind en Au Topsi Pohl, Berlín, Alemania
Mezclado por Pat Thomas. Tracklist:  1. Maua  (41:16) 2. Niloo’s Dream (6:22). Release Date: February 16, 2024

By: 577 Records

Texto: Ricky Lavado

Ambiente de club, entrechocar de copas, acústica íntima y esa sensación tan extraña de describir que atesora el carácter único e irrepetible de una experiencia en directo; más irrepetible aún si se trata de una sesión de improvisación libre a cargo de tres titanes del jazz actual.

Grabado en directo en Berlín como punto final a una residencia de cuatro días en el club Au Topsi Pohl, Maua (“flor”, en swahili) muestra al veterano pianista ghanés Pat Thomas liderando ISM; un trío completado por el sueco Joel Grip al contrabajo y el francés Antonin Gerbal a la batería (los tres forman parte a su vez del proyecto Ahmed). Ampliamente conocido por su trabajo junto a Ebo Taylor en los sesenta y setenta del siglo pasado, Pat Thomas conjuga en su laureada carrera las intersecciones creativas entre jazz clásico, avantgarde, experimentación electrónica, highlife, afrobeat y pura improvisación libre. La música de Pat Thomas se convierte en una combinación mágica de habilidades sorprendentes de improvisación y atmósferas inspiradoras y aventureras; siempre hay juego en su forma de componer, siempre hay afán de investigación y ganas de disfrutar; y con Maua todos esos elementos quedan sublimados a la perfección.

Maua es el cuarto trabajo de ISM, con el que han decidido rendir homenaje a la historia del trío de piano, convirtiendo una extensa improvisación y una pieza más breve en un viaje fascinante a través de estilos y sonoridades que rinden pleitesía al hard bop, al free jazz, a los aires latinos y a mil cosas más. En esta ocasión, el carácter improvisado de la sesión no deriva hacia terrenos rupturistas: la experimentación y la libertad desplegada a lo largo de los 41 minutos que dan forma al primer tema del disco (titulado también “Maua”) se convierten en una pieza asombrosamente cohesionada en la que Pat Thomas toma el mando y deja que su imaginación vuele muy, muy alto en un despliegue de creatividad y frescura que deja sin aliento. Grip y Gerbal reaccionan de forma aparentemente telepática a los distintos pasajes e intensidades que Thomas va poco a poco desarrollando, convirtiéndose en un colchón rítmico imbatible. A pesar de no adherirse a estructuras concretas, “Maua” suena como una sola pieza coherente, transitando por diferentes fragmentos de forma orgánica. El juego de dinámicas (un derroche de clase y veteranía) hace que en ningún momento la composición caiga en la repetición o el aburrimiento, y Pat Thomas suena a clásico la mayor parte del tiempo, más centrado en la elegancia y el confort que en los terrenos más abruptos a los que suele entregarse en otras facetas de su trayectoria.

Tras el vendaval que suponen esos más de cuarenta minutos de quiebros y brillantez desatada, el disco se cierra con “Niloo’s Dream”; una pieza suave, deliciosa, casi convencional por momentos, en la que el piano suena incluso romántico, colocado otra vez en el centro expresivo de la composición. “Niloo’s Dream” suena emocionante, añeja e íntima, y supone un recodo de calma y belleza perfecto para cerrar el disco a modo de coda dulce y serena, dejándonos sumergidos en el recogimiento, con una sonrisa de oreja a oreja y satisfechos tras un viaje fascinante por paisajes sonoros preciosos; un viaje que vale la pena experimentar.


Texto: Ricky Lavado

Julio 04, 2024

Federico Calcagno Octet – Mundus Inversus (Habitable Records)

Federico Calcagno Octet – Mundus Inversus (Habitable Records)

Federico Calcagno Octet

Mundus Inversus (Habitable Records)


Julio, 2024

Federico Calcagno Octet. Mundus Inversus (Habitable Records, 2024). Federico Calcagno, clarinete bajo, clarinete/ Nabou Claerhout, trombón/ José Soares, saxo/ Pau Sola, violonchelo/ Aleksander Sever, vibráfono/ Adrián Moncada, piano/ Pedro Ivo Ferreira, contrabajo/ Nikos Thessalonikefs, batería.

Texto: Ricky Lavado

Fotografía: Anisa Xhomaqi/ Simon Schoo

Afincado a tiempo parcial entre su Milán natal y Ámsterdam, el clarinetista Federico Calcagno (“el nuevo obispo del mejor jazz italiano”, según All About Jazz) es una pieza imprescindible del nuevo jazz europeo y los terrenos más libres de la música improvisada. Su estilo compositivo es una mezcla entre el jazz vanguardista y la música clásica posmoderna, con especial atención al aspecto rítmico, influenciado por la música clásica india del sur de la India (Carnatic Music) y la música africana.

Ya sea como líder y cerebro creativo de sus numerosas bandas (Liquid Identities, Piranha, The Dolphians, Fade In Trio...), como solista o dirigiendo Habitable Records (un sello independiente que funciona como hogar de una gran cantidad de nuevas voces en el terreno de la improvisación y la música más libre y desprejuiciada); la trayectoria del clarinetista italiano está marcada por una inquebrantable voluntad exploradora del sonido y las posibilidades expresivas de sus composiciones.

Mundus Inversus es el resultado de tres años de trabajo de Federico Calcagno tocando, componiendo y colaborando dentro de la comunidad holandesa del jazz vanguardista y la música improvisada. En palabras del propio Calcagno, este disco sirve como “una reflexión sobre el mundo contemporáneo, caracterizado por acontecimientos rápidos y dramáticos que ponen el planeta patas arriba. Mundus Inversus se refiere al topos figurativo y literario en el que se invierte el orden natural de las cosas y se invierten las jerarquías sociales, conectando imposibilidades”.

Calcagno y su banda crean a lo largo de Mundus Inversus un paisaje sonoro plagado de síncopas, compases extraños y cambios continuos de tempo y compás, pero el conjunto suena extrañamente armónico y coherente. Por muy libre que fluya la música, siempre hay una sensación de compenetración que le otorga al disco una pátina de elegancia exquisita (escuchen el nivel de telepatía creativa que se desarrolla a lo largo de “The other side of silence”, por ejemplo, o el dramatismo oscuro y absorbente de “The hanged man: paralysis”). Cada pieza individual encaja a la perfección en un todo que funciona como un engranaje perfectamente engrasado. Hay espacio para la improvisación, hay desarrollos solistas y exploraciones sonoras abiertas y libres, y hay momentos para el recogimiento y la calma contemplativa. El violonchelo de Pau Sola toma las riendas de la preciosa “Recovery” o de la misteriosa y cinemática “Hieronymus”, mientras que la compenetración rítmica entre Aleksander Sever al vibráfono, Pedro Ivo Ferreira al contrabajo y Nikos Thessalonikefs a la batería resulta una base tan sólida como sorprendente que funciona a la perfección en todo momento (piezas como “Perseverance” ofrecen una sensación de juego que resulta apasionante). Adrián Moncada brilla también con su estilo paisajístico y poco intrusivo al piano, lo que permite volar muy alto al trío de vientos formado por Nabou Claerhout al trombón, José Soares al saxo y el propio Federico Calcagno al clarinete.

Mundus Inversus es un viaje hermoso y sorprendente que nos lleva por terrenos melancólicos, graves, oníricos y expansivos a lo largo de cincuenta minutos de música compleja y profunda que, sencillamente, suenan a gloria.

Texto: Ricky Lavado

Julio 03, 2024

Nicholas Payton Interview

Nicholas Payton Interview

Nicholas Payton Interview


Julio, 2024

By: Claudia Tebar

Photos: Nicholas Payton



Not everyone is lucky enough to sit down with someone like Nicholas Payton. In this interview that Nicholas Payton gave us in November 2023, you can see the renowned artist in a personal setting. Mr. Payton, not only talks about music, but also about his philosophy of life, his self-perception, and his opinion on current society.


In&OutJazz How do you define yourself? Where does the term “The Zen Gangster” come from and what does it mean to you?

Nicholas Payton I didn’t come up with that, so that’s not a self-definition. Vijay Iyer called me “The Zen Gangster” and I thought it was a bit apropos given my nature. Much like The Savior of Archaic Pop, which a lot of people think I’m calling myself a savior, no, someone else called me that and I adopted it.

In&OutJazz What does it mean to you to be The Savior of Archaic Pop?

Nicholas Payton Well, it’s been one of my monikers for over 10 years. Someone wrote a post about me on a blog site called “The Pop of Yestercentury,” you can look it up. But it was in the wake of the initial post that I made about why jazz isn’t cool anymore; they wrote an article talking about the concepts behind my post and they branded me that. Their theory behind it was that I, in some way, was trying to save pop music by reconnecting it to its roots in Black American music, the genesis of pop music before so-called jazz separated itself from the popular aesthetic. So, again, this was someone else coming up with a name that I adopted, but it wasn’t me calling myself anything.

In&OutJazz Can you tell us about the term #BAM?

Nicholas Payton Okay, well, I don’t like the term “jazz”. I believe it has racist connotations and roots. So, when I wrote the initial post, a lot of people were like, well, if you don’t call it jazz, what would you call it? And I simply said Black American Music. We live in the age of the internet and hashtags, so #BAM is an acronym for Black American Music. I thought it was a cool way to have somewhat of an onomatopoeic destruction of the word “jazz,” so, #BAM is a declaration of strength affirming the idea of Black American Music.

In&OutJazz What has the #BAM concept meant to you on a musical level as a new idea and criticism of what’s established? What have been some of the consequences for you? Not consequences in a bad way, but just in general.

Nicholas Payton I don’t know if there’s been any musical consequences per se. I mean, I’ve had people not want to give me gigs or think I’m angry or racist for saying it, but I mean, I knew before I said it that that was the risk of speaking to this because I’m challenging the status quo. I’m challenging decades long of musical oppression and centuries long of racial oppression. So, I was well aware of what I was doing, and I was willing to accept the consequences for my actions because what I had to say about it is important. And it was also ahead of its time when I started speaking to this. We were in the height of the Obama years, and a lot of people felt maybe that we had crossed over or come past certain racial things. This predated George Floyd, and predated Tamir Rice. It predated Trayvon Martin. It predated Michael Brown and the Black Lives Matter movement. So, in light of all those things, after they happened, over time, the concept of #BAM became more sensible to people. So, I think what happened was perhaps it was before its time, which is strange to me because racial oppression has never gone anywhere. It never dissipated. It just changed forms. But I think to a lot of people, maybe they were under the impression that somehow we had advanced a lot further than we actually had. And I think what I helped uncover is that we are not as advanced as perhaps we thought we were. So…

Then, whereas it seemed like a majority of people did not agree and were against me, fast forward 10 plus years later, I think a majority of people actually understand my point and actually agree. So, it just took time for a lot of people to see, which to me seemed pretty plain and obvious, but it wasn’t, which is why I needed to speak on it the way I did.

In&OutJazz Do you think your critical and controversial nature has interfered or interferes in the present with your work?

Nicholas Payton I don’t view myself as controversial. It’s just that we live in a society in which the things I see and the ways I feel tend to be in opposition of a lot of the ways we’ve been taught to think and feel. But I don’t intentionally set out to be controversial. These are ways in which I quite naturally think and feel.

In&OutJazz Could you name some contemporary musicians or artists with whom you have greater musical and conceptual affinity?

Nicholas Payton Anybody who’s recorded with me, I would say. Bill Stewart, Vicente Archer, the people who have been playing with me for years. Kats in Butcher Brown, Corey Fonville and Devonne Harris and all of those guys. I like Joel Ross.

In&OutJazz Yeah, can you tell us some names with whom you have conceptual affinity? Maybe you haven’t played with them, but you know, they have similar opinions and support the term #BAM.

Nicholas Payton Well, I don’t judge if people support Black American Music or not. People have a right to feel and label their music as they choose. What I do find important is the idea that people self-label and not think they have to succumb to being labeled. So whatever someone wants to call it, whatever they want to do, I’m open with it. For instance, Christian Scott, who I’ve known since he was a teenager in New Orleans, he calls what he does “stretch music” and that’s cool, but he also doesn’t like the term jazz. Different people have different ways of expressing that. I’m all for that, whatever it is. I just don’t like the term jazz. I find it to be particularly degenerating, derogatory to the music.

In&OutJazz Do you prioritize creative freedom above all?

Nicholas Payton I don’t know. I don’t think creative freedom is more important than, say, having clean water and clean air or having a certain moral character in which people treat one another.

There’re certain things in terms of living on this planet in this realm that I find to be more important than music. The creative part is just a means for me to utilize the art to speak to those freedoms that we have as beings on this planet. So the music to me is not even the most important thing. It’s what I create and how I make people feel and changing thought. Most of us as beings in this realm, on this planet, are oppressed in some way. We feel some lack of freedom, not necessarily creatively, but just to be ourselves, to think as we want to think, to live as we want to live. The Earth’s natural resources are something that we are forced to pay for, that are commodified and monetized. I don’t think we should have to pay for water any more than we don’t pay for air. To pay for water is as ridiculous to me. The fact that people don’t have access to clean water is more important than if we call music “jazz” or “Black American music.” So the point of art to me is to speak to those socio-political issues. I try to use music and words as a means to speak to our liberation as beings and people on this planet. That’s the most important thing to me.

In&OutJazz Can you define what creative freedom means to you?

Nicholas Payton Well, I think that’s a bit redundant. I mean, it’s the same thing. You can’t be free without being creative and you can’t be creative without being free. But you also can’t have freedom without tradition and form. So, to me, you have to have an understanding of history and lineages and those who came before you to be truly free. Some people want to be free of rules or free of traditions or free of whatever. And to me, that’s not true freedom. There’s only freedom within the context of confines and rules and form. That’s not to say you need to be oppressed to be free. But, in order to be free, one must have some understanding of what the limitations are. It must be contextualized against something. You can’t be free within free. It has to be contextualized against something else, juxtaposed against something that is perhaps more static or less lucid, if you will.

In&OutJazz How do you feel about having become identified as a guru? Guru of this community, guru of the arts.

Nicholas Payton A guru is what a teacher is, is that what you mean by guru?

In&OutJazz Yes.

Nicholas Payton I mean, yeah, I am a teacher of sorts. I thought it was weird at first, you know, when I first started giving lessons and teaching, because at that time in my, I guess, early, mid 20s, I still very much considered myself a student. And even at 50, I still consider myself a student. But yeah, I think I’ve learned some things along the way. And I think a part of learning things is sharing what you have learned with those who may not have had those experiences, as my elders did for me. So that’s why lineage and tradition is important because it’s important that we share what we find along our journey as a means of helping the music and this artistic community grow. That’s a part of the tradition to me. So, yeah, if some people see me as a guru of sorts, I guess I get that. It’s certainly nothing I necessarily set out to do. But at the same time, it’s something that I proudly step into, a position and a mantle and a responsibility that I accept because there are certain artists or gurus of mine, which many people perhaps don’t have access to because they’re not around in the physical realm anymore. And it’s incumbent upon me to be a link to those people for younger generations through my experiences with them. And not only that, but the things that I’ve learned or the concepts that I’ve been able to develop in my experiences and making mistakes and doing things perhaps the wrong way or not the most efficient way. I’ve learned maybe easier ways to do things, and if something that I’ve learned can help someone younger than me save some time of going through the headaches and the challenges that I’ve been through, then I have no problem sharing that to make their journeys easier with hopes that they can learn something from this information and maybe improve upon it and teach that to someone coming after them. That is the main part of what it is that we do here. The work that I do here is that we share what we’ve learned and hopefully make the journey easier for other people that we share this planet with. To me, I value that above music itself or creative freedom. This is to help one another, make this journey easier.

In&OutJazz Could you name a couple of teachings or experiences that you’ve had in the past that have changed your life or the vision you had about something? Anecdotes with other artists when you were younger or even in the present?

Nicholas Payton Sure. We could be here all day doing that. I am getting ready to release my first book, Notes from the Zen Gangster, which should come out some time in the next couple of weeks. And that’s full of anecdotes and stories and things that I’ve learned along the way.

In&OutJazz Wow, okay. We will pay attention to that.

Nicholas Payton Please, thank you.

In&OutJazz How would you define your musical evolution?

Nicholas Payton I don’t know if I would. The only thing that’s really mattered to me is that I’ve evolved.

For me, there is no need to have to define it. It’s been my musical journey. And when I look at it, I can say that I’m proud of my growth, that I have grown. I feel blessed and honored to still be here and to still be creating new things and discovering new things. I feel honored at the great musicians I’ve been blessed to work with and learn from and share with. But I don’t know if I would define it. I don’t know if I can because it’s not over yet. I don’t know if I can while I’m still doing it.

In&OutJazz Could you tell us what period or vital moment are you in now, musically speaking?

Nicholas Payton Is that the same answer? I don’t know. I’m creating it right now, so it’s hard for me to say what it is while I’m creating it. Once I do the album, that album has a name and that’s usually the end of whatever that is. Once we go on the road and play the music, the music often evolves and that becomes something else. So that album, those recordings are a snapshot in time and can’t be recreated, not even by myself. I can’t recreate those moments. So I don’t really seek to define things or categorize things in that way, which is kind of why I opt for, if this could even be considered a categorization, Black American music because it’s open-ended. I don’t like genre classifications. I don’t like those types of definitions. They’re stifling to me. They stunt growth.

In&OutJazz Tell us about celebrating your 50th birthday with the publication of a new album came about.

Nicholas Payton It was a last minute idea, kind of like everything else I do. When I recorded it, I had no idea when it would come out. I just knew I wanted to get an album out some time this year. Initially, it was supposed to come out on September 9 and the person I had helping me upload it to the portal made a mistake in leaving out some of the guest appearances, so I picked another date. The next closest date that made sense to me was September 26, which was my 50th birthday, but there was no initial plan to release a 50th birthday album. I live my life as a free-flowing, creative form of exploration, moment to moment. I don’t tend to plan these things well in advance.

In&OutJazz How was your experience with Verve Records and why did you decide to create your own record label?

Nicholas Payton I enjoyed my time at Verve. It was a long time ago. I mean, the last album I made for them was in 2000, 2001. It was over 20 years ago. I’ve since been at Warner Brothers. I did two albums for them. I did an album for Concord. I started my own label because I grew over having to adhere to someone else’s schedule, which was based on other artists and other releases. I wanted to be able to record and release as many albums as I wanted to without having to get approval and consent from anyone else in terms of how I did that. Even though when I was at Verve, I was very good at developing a sales pitch to get people on board to support what it is I was doing. But I don’t have to create sales pitches anymore. Just like I told you, I decide “Hey, I want to release it on the 9th. Okay, that’s not going to work. I want to release it on the 26th.” I don’t have to pass this decision through someone else. I don’t have to wait months for someone’s release schedule and a publicist and this and that. So many of the inner workings that happen at labels, you have to wait six months for a setup to release an album. I can record an album today, mix it and master it tomorrow, and release it on the third day for the world to hear.

That’s why I started my own label, to be able to do it the way I want to do it, when I want to do it.

In&OutJazz What’s your experience and opinion with the big festivals, clubs, and events? Do they put limitations on you when they are hire you? Do you think they leave artists complete freedom or not?

Nicholas Payton I don’t know. Every festival, every venue is different. Some venues want to know who’s playing with you, they want to know the concept of the gig. Some venues don’t care and they’re perfectly fine with whomever you bring and whatever you do. Everybody’s different. Ultimately, nobody can make you do something you don’t want to do, so I think every artist has the choice to do what it is they want. Now, you also might have to pay the consequences for that. You have to pay the consequences for your choices or your actions to comply with what you’re being asked to do, or not comply with what you’re being asked to do. At the end of the day, you have to live with your decisions and that’s how I’ve always guided my career. None of these people at a record label or at a venue have to live with your performance. You do, so you have to be happy with it. So yeah, there are no rules as far as how everyone runs their business. Everyone’s different. Some venues, some festivals have a heavier hand and want to have more input than others. So unless we go down the list name by name, festival by festival, we can’t categorize them all as one way or another.

In&OutJazz Let’s generalize, do you think it’s more one way or another? There’s no predominant way?

Nicholas Payton I’m not overly concerned with freedom because no one else controls that. I think to be obsessed with freedom is more problematic than the reality of living your life. It all comes down to how free you’re willing to be responsible for, because with freedom comes responsibility. How many people really want to be free? That’s more the question. It’s not a question of can you be free? I don’t think a lot of people want the responsibility that comes with freedom. That’s the issue.

In&OutJazz Can you tell us what projects do you have active right now?

Nicholas Payton A lot. I have a new album I just started recording with Sasha Masakowski That’s going to be the musical companion to the book, Notes from the Zen Gangster and it’ll be my first duo album. It’s also going to be my first drumless album as a leader. And the music is very meditative. The book is coming out of the intense lessons and questions that I’ve had along my journey of studying Zen maybe some 20 years ago. I’m also working on a new project with Otis McDonald. I’ve been working at his studio for the last year or so. Somewhat of an R&B album with me singing through a vocoder. I also have some special guest vocalists that are probably going to be on it as well. But much of it is me singing in the vocoder, which is not something that I’ve done in the past. So that’s a new form of expression for me. When this album is released, it’ll be the third in a trilogy of love-themed, R&B albums. Bitches would be the first, Maestro Rhythm King the second. And this next one that I still haven’t decided the title yet will be the third in that series so far. I have another album that I’ve been working on with Marcus Gilmore that we started at the top of the pandemic. It’s a tribute to the photographic works of Kwame Brathwaite, who was very instrumental in spearheading the Black is Beautiful movement in the ‘60s. We chose photographic works from his archives and composed original songs that sound like the photographs. That’s another project. Then there’s New World Order, which is a trio I have with Sasha Masakowski and Cliff Hines. This is the group that made the Quarantined with Nick album that I did at the top of 2020. On New World Order, we also have some special guests. Christian Sands guested on a song. Joshua Redman guested on a song. Also Butcher Brown guested on a song. So that will come out maybe some time next year. I also have an album, Light Beings that I recorded in 2019 that I was going to release in 2020, but when the pandemic happened I decided to sit on it. I want to get this album out soon. It’s basically a suite of music dedicated to the electromagnetic spectrum. Seven movements, each song is dedicated to a different wave of light. The song Visible Light, which is on my latest album, DRIP, is actually from that Light Beings project. So yeah. And I have maybe 3, 4, 5 other albums that are almost done, that are unreleased, that I want to get out at some point. A lot of things.

In&OutJazz Impressive! Can you tell us about the creative process? What inspires you to start a new project?

Nicholas Payton I always feel it. I never turn that faucet off. It stays running, so I don’t look at creativity as something you turn on and off. I keep that tap running and that way I don’t have to think about it. This is why I have more albums than I know what to do with. I’m always recording. I’m always inspired. Life inspires me. That’s what inspires me. Not music. Life inspires me. As I live my life, my life has certain sounds to it. So I write music based on my feelings, or people I meet, or loves that I have or that I’ve lost. All of these experiences go into creating music. And I write all the time. I don’t give myself a schedule to have to write. I don’t need permission to write. Whenever I hear a melody or a rhythm or a set of chords, I record it and I put it down and I develop these ideas. That is my life’s work. That’s what I do. I’m always writing. Whenever I have a thought or an idea, I write it down. And I compile these things. And over a course of 15 years, then you have a book. Over a course of several months or weeks or days, you have an album. So I just keep making things.

In&OutJazz Could you tell us one thing you would like to do and you haven’t done yet?

Nicholas Payton I don’t know. I guess I won’t know that until I do it. The only thing that stops me from doing certain things is maybe having the money to do it. But I’ve done everything that I want to do, really. I’ve played with most of the people that I’ve wanted to play with. I’ve done most of the things that I want to do. I don’t look for permission. That’s the big thing. I think so many musicians, they look for somebody to give them permission to do something. The artist, to me, does not wait. That’s the difference between an artist and a musician. The artist just does it. They don’t wait for permission. So I consider myself more of an artist. I do the things that I want to do. I seek the opportunities that I want to have and I take the risks necessary to bring those opportunities to light and to create those things. And once you get working on them, then you bring a lot of energy to you. So I don’t sit around and wait for people to give me permission to do what it is that I have the power to do myself.


Interview by: Claudia Tebar

Julio 02, 2024

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