Live: Nicholas Payton And Guests Don't Need All That Jazz

Categories: Last Night, Live

Angelika Beener
Ben Wolfe, Marcus Strickland, Orrin Evans, Gary Bartz, Nicholas Payton and Touré (l to r.)
Nicholas Payton with Gary Bartz, Marcus Strickland, Ben Wolfe, Orrin Evans, and Touré
Thursday, January 5

Better than: Having a "discussion" on the Internet.

If Nicholas Payton had it his way, the venue where he moderated a discussion last night—Birdland—would not be known as the "Jazz Corner of the World." If Payton had it his way, I would have spelled "Jazz" like this: J***.

On November 27, Payton posted the manifesto "On Why Jazz Isn't Cool Anymore" on his blog. "Jazz died in 1959," its opening salvo went; he went on to declare that he would cease using the term "jazz" for a brief period, and he encouraged other musicians to follow suit. "I am Nicholas Payton and I don't play 'the j word'," he said. "I play BAM. BAM is an acronym for Black American Music."

The post resulted in the jazz blogosphere trading thoughts and words like musicians swapping eight-bar solos (a few thought-provoking responses can be read here, here and here). Payton remained steadfast in both his defense of what he wrote and his desire to continue the conversation he had started.

Payton has taken a 90-day sabbatical from using the word "jazz," and the website has been created; he tweets the hashtag #bam incessantly. His mission culminated with the "Inaugural #BAM Conference," moderated by the writer Touré and putting Payton alongside some of the best jazz (err, black American music?) musicians playing today—bassist Ben Wolfe, saxophonist Marcus Strickland, pianist Orrin Evans, and saxophonist Gary Bartz. There were no musical demonstrations until after the panel was finished; instead, the night was devoted to straight talk with a packed audience that included Stanley Crouch and other notable musicians like trumpeter Igmar Thomas and Vijay Iyer.

By taking the transition offline, arguably more was accomplished, an important note in this day of keyboard activism. Sure, there were less people in attendance than the number of Twitter followers Payton has (1,609). But hearing the musicians speak with authority and passion gave the discussion a gravitas it was never going to possess if it stayed online.

On page two, a roundup of quotable moments from the evening.

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