What's a young lion of jazz to do to stay creative after five or six years of excellent work with his young, talented quintet and to avoid falling into a rut as a performer and writer?
For trumpeter Nicholas Payton, the answer was simple, though not necessarily easy or painless. This year, he changed direction.
He'd been touring and recording with his steady band, featuring pianist Anthony Wonsey, drummer Adonis Rose, several different bassists and tenor saxophonist Tim Warfield. They had a musical glue that kept them together consistently.
Payton, 29, shifted gears, however, after last year's extensive tour with those players and several guest artists for his well-received, Grammy-nominated "Dear Louis" project honoring Louis Armstrong's centennial year and his prior small group recording "Nick @ Night," both on the Verve label. He's made six recordings so far as leader or co-leader.
With mixed emotions, he bade Wonsey and the bass chair a fond farewell and formed an organ quintet called Soul Patrol with Warfield, Rose, Larry Goldings on Hammond B-3 and Peter Bernstein on guitar. They began performing in late spring. Their August appearance with James Carter as special guest was a highlight of this year's JVC Newport, R.I., Jazz Festival.
"There were some things I was hearing, in composition and texturally in terms of my performance, that I felt organ and guitar would give me the sound that I needed, along with saxophone and drums that have been part of my quintet for many years now," Payton said.
"Though I love the cats I had before, this has really re-energized me, especially dealing with guys like Larry Goldings and Peter Bernstein. So I am writing again and trying to fit their voices. I really look forward to growing and developing with these guys. I thought I needed a change. The bass and piano weren't going to take me where I was going."
It marks a clear evolution for the artist, without diminishing the music that brought him to this point. In that regard, it's much like saxophonist Joshua Redman's recent formation of his new Elastic Band organ trio with drummer Brian Blade and keyboard wiz Sam Yahel.
"It is an extension. I wouldn't be here without the success of the original quintet," Payton said. I'm taking it from that point and trying to extend it well beyond."
Goldstein and Bernstein are frequent collaborators, often as two-thirds of Goldings' organ trio with drummer Bill Stewart.
"They have a deep connection that goes back many years," Payton said. "Peter Bernstein worked previously with me with another organist, Melvin Rhyne, who was on my "Dear Louis" centennial album.
In addition to touring frequently as part of the featured horn section in drummer Roy Haynes' "Birds of a Feather" band touring and performing in tribute to Charlie Parker, Payton will play selected dates this fall with his own new band.
Those performances include a San Francisco Jazz Festival concert on Oct. 23, the Neurosciences Institute in La Jolla, Calif., on Oct. 24, the Orange County Performing Arts Center in Costa Mesa, Calif., on Oct. 25, Scullers jazz club in Boston on Oct. 31 and Nov. 1, and Cheney Hall in Manchester, Conn., on Nov. 23.
He plans to take Soul Patrol into the studio by winter and bring in "lots of special guests, like a house party."
Payton presses forward with his own spirit and inspirations, much as fellow New Orleans native Armstrong did so many years ago, enduring challenges, fame and changing times along the way.
"As a musician, I feel fortunate to bring joy to some people's lives," Payton said. "I think music is a great source of comfort and relief."