An Open Letter To Marcus Strickland And His Facebook Friends

courtesy of Pamela Firefly

So you ask me if I am upset? Yes, Marcus, I am upset. Upset at cats who I have broken bread with, gone out of my way to support, helped out when they were in need of money, shared the bandstand with, have hired, have proclaimed me as a mentor and one of their greatest inspirations, but yet can come on Facebook and participate in a virtual assassination of my character. I expect this from some of the lowlife folks who do nothing but spit vitriol over the Internet all day because they’re unhappy with their empty lives, but my “friends”? OK.

Marcus acts like I came out and attacked him personally. When have those of you who know me, ever seen me do anything but try to support this music? Who in here knows more about the history of this music than me?  Who here is qualified to go toe-to-toe with me musically or otherwise on this subject? Any takers? I’ll answer. Not one of you. Not one.

All of you who have participated in this attack need to be ashamed of yourselves. This is not in line with the spirit of this music you call Jazz. I hear some people saying Marcus is making good points. What points? He has done little more than accuse me of posting what I did in order to garner attention. When have I ever pulled a stunt like that to get people to talk about me? I haven’t, I don’t have to.

There is no living soul who can walk on a bandstand anywhere in the world and play more horn than me. Period. Not a single one of you shit talkers. Never has there been a musician who can represent the entire scope and tradition of this music from its inception in New Orleans through Chicago, from Basie’s idiom to Charlie Parker’s , Monk’s language, Ahmad Jamal’s, Miles’ style, Trane’s, from James Brown to Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, Earth, Wind and Fire, George Clinton, Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, James Williams, Bobby Watson, Donald Brown, Duck, Dilla, etc., than me.


I say this not to brag or to boast, but to illustrate that we pay more deference to a title “JAZZ” than we give love to someone who lives and breathes the spirit of this music every day.

You can be mad, but they are trying to steal this music away from Black people. Many of you just can’t see it. Y’all are going to wait until it’s too late to do anything about it before you realize what’s going on. Those who know me know I am generally a man of few words, but when I speak, it’s of importance.

I’m putting my ass on the line for you. Not for me. It’s you who don’t realize what’s going on who are my sharpest critics. I ain’t angry. I am trying to fight for what Duke Ellington wanted to do for this music years ago, call it Black music. Why? Because he knew back then that if we didn’t label it in a way that spoke of its origins, that years later, White folks would try to lay claim to it like it was a collective invention.

Don’t get me wrong, there are some brilliant, genius White cats that have played this music, but it’s ultimately a Black art form. What’s wrong with renaming the music in a way that puts that argument to bed once and for all? Do you think I’m the only person that ever wanted to do this? Hell no. Miles, Max, Mingus, J-Mac, Dr. Donaldson Byrd and so many others have wanted to do this for a while. They gave up because they got tired of the backlash from Blacks and Whites alike that it caused. Well you know what? As Roy Haynes says, “The time for hesitation is over.”


You know why what I said disturbs you so much? Why it shakes you at your core? Because you read my piece and you feel it’s a manifesto against YOU. If you didn’t, you wouldn’t have such an aversion to what I’m saying. Why take it personally? Did I call out any of your names? No, but I did, indeed, call you out. I called you to challenge yourself to think about what you have been doing all these years. Do you actually have the capacity, the courage and the intellect to drive this music forward or do you have to ride around with Jazz training wheels on for the rest of your life?

You have cyber courage to come and blast me on line, but do you have the courage to do the real work you have to within to be a game changer not a game blamer? Would you say all the shit you’ve said online to my face? I doubt it. Instead of attacking me, why don’t you practice, write your own blog, support your husbands and do something productive with your lives.

Hans Schumann, what right do you have to make a mockery of me? Who have you played with that emboldens you with the authority to make such a pass? You built an organization called JazzReach, which is supposed to be dedicated to teaching kids about Jazz, and here you are making childish statements like this:

“Salt is DEAD! I use “crystallized sodium food seasoning” and to refer to it as “salt” is to blindly submit, conform and be shackled by convention. So don’t EVER ask me to pass the salt! I ain’t yo’ ……..”

Well you know what they say, “Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach.”

Damn right, I’m upset. Damn right, I’m defensive. Why wouldn’t I be? This music ain’t some shit I do for a hobby. This music represents a people’s path to freedom. Black American Music was the disenfranchised Negro’s passport to the world. Black American Music made white people across the globe have to come to terms with the fact that blacks were people, too. That we were not savages, animals, slaves, small-minded descendants of apes or whatever other thing Whites had to think of us as in order to justify how they treated us. It was through Black American Music that Whites had to face the fact that Blacks were equally intelligent human beings.

They didn’t give it up all at once either. It was a long hard road to acceptance. We have made much progress, but we still have a long way to go.

Without The Kalimba . . .

To my White pundits, why is it that every time a Black man says so-called Jazz music is of the Black people you have to say stuff like “Without European instruments and the even-tempered scale, along with European historically-derived harmony and song-form, there would be no ‘jazz’ as we know it.”?

It’s that type of revisionist thinking that causes racial divide. Without the kalimba, an African instrument, we wouldn’t have the well-tempered clavier. Without Africa, we wouldn’t have drums, stringed instruments or horns, all of which were invented in Africa long before people migrated to Europe. Africa is the motherland, without which, nothing we have in modern society would exist.


We Blacks just want respect for our contribution to society. Why every time someone attributes something to Black people, some White person has to say what Whites have done?  Do you not own enough in the world? Can Black people have something? You’ve taken us from our land, our homes, our language, our families and our culture. Black American Music (what you call Jazz) was us reclaiming something that was taken away. Let us have it once and for all. Let us be able to say it without White people getting uncomfortable about it. Enough. Yes, White people have done some brilliant things, but the cradle of civilization is Africa.

To you Black folks, the negative energy especially stings coming from you.  Here a brother is trying to do something positive for the betterment of our race and all you can think to do is find ways to tear me down in a public forum. “Niggas are like crabs in a bucket.” It’s this type of colonialist thinking that keeps Black people down. The shackles came off of our wrists centuries ago,  but the shackles on our minds are ever present. Remember: Not every Black person wanted to leave “Massa.” Many were resistant to leave the plantation because they feared freedom. This whole debacle illustrates the point clearly that “JAZZ” is indeed afraid of being free.

And to all the people collectively around the world who vehemently disagree with my takedown of JAZZ: My issue is with the word, not the music. I’ve said this plenty of times, yet no matter how many times I say it, some of you just don’t get it. It’s no wonder the world is so fucked up. Most people lack the ability to apply critical thinking, much less possess the skill to read something and to ponder the points objectively.

What’s particularly sad is the musicians who just don’t get it. Why do you all think so linearly? The American education system is an abysmal failure. People are simply not taught to think on their own and therefore are limited in their ability to choose and think for themselves. In this regard, Americans, in general, are slaves.

No wonder the music is in trouble. As evidenced by those who dissent to my piece, you all can’t seem to comprehend what it is that I’m saying. You don’t have to agree, but it should be clear:

I am for the music and against the name.

Some of you clearly are not that bright, and as a result, the music suffers. Our ancestors were geniuses. They were great thinkers who revolutionized the world on many levels. The current generation of so-called Jazz musicians simply lack the intellect required to be an artist of the pedigree of our predecessors.

As we say in New Orleans, “Get ya mind right!”

Black American, Post Modern Manifesto

Yes, I said I am a Post Modern New Orleans musician. I have to claim home first. The assertion was never that I thought the music formerly known as JAZZ should adopt that title. I never proclaimed myself the arbiter of what I thought the music should be. I am simply making a proclamation of who I am based on my roots.   Why some seem to take offense to that fundamental truth is beyond me.

Yes, many cities across America, even the world, have made contributions to this great art form, but it started in New Orleans.  This is not an opinion, this is a well-documented fact.

So, many times people bitch about things but provide no viable solution to the issue. Since I’ve been asked repeatedly what do I think the music formerly known as JAZZ should be called, I will give my suggestion here.

First, I think we should acknowledge its origin: Black. But it’s more than that. Secondly, it’s also American. Though it is a Black invention, without Whites , Latinos , Native Americans, Jews or any of the cultures that make America what it is, it would not be possible. And of course lastly–it’s music.

To that I say, I am Nicholas Payton and I play Black American Music.

Black American Music was created by Blacks, but it belongs to everyone.


Does that answer your question?

– Nicholas Payton

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