• Steve Wilson & Wilsonian's Grain: Live At The Village Vanguard

    March 24, 2010. Posted by WBGO.

    Steve Wilson & Wilsonian's Grain. (Image Credit: John Rogers for NPR/johnrogersnyc.com)

    For many years, Steve Wilson has made a living as a "first-call" alto and soprano saxophonist. That is, he's a first-choice musician for tons of acclaimed bandleaders: Christian McBride, Maria Schneider, Dave Holland, Mulgrew Miller, Chick Corea, Buster Williams and so forth. He spent much of last year with the 70th-anniversary Blue Note Records band, and even took a few gigs with classical-music ensembles presenting works for strings and saxophone.

    Of course, being called so often leaves little time to call others for your own projects. That was thankfully untrue when Wilson played a week at New York's Village Vanguard with his newest quartet, itself composed of first-call musicians. NPR Music and WBGO presented and archived a live video webcast and on-air broadcast of Wilsonian's Grain live from the Village Vanguard during the group's Wednesday night early set.

    It's hard to describe Steve Wilson's style; he's made his career on being a complete musician, technically and imaginatively. (In order to fit into so many bands, he plays alto sax, soprano sax, multiple flutes and a clarinet.) More accurate would be to say that he's a musician of honesty within the vast field of mainstream post-bop, but never constrained by its parameters. With him were a group of old friends who are also on many a musician's speed-dial: pianist Orrin Evans, bassist Ugonna Okegwo and drummer Bill Stewart.

    In a set alternately swung hard and delicately shaped, Wilson called a generous helping of standards. None of them strayed far from the melody, but all of them were tastefully put. Of the originals his group played, bassist Okegwo contributed the highlight, with a beautiful slow chart called "For You."

    Wilson arrived in New York in 1987; the next year, he was already on the road with Lionel Hampton. The city's top musicians quickly learned of his talents, and he now appears on more than 100 commercial recordings. Since 1991, he's also found time to record seven albums of his own. Wilsonian's Grain remains undocumented on disc, though not on tape; in addition to this live recording, its October 2008 debut gig was recorded for air on NPR's JazzSet with Dee Dee Bridgewater.

    It had been less than a year since Wilson last led a group at the Village Vanguard: an entirely different quartet co-led by pianist Michael Wolff, Chip Jackson and Victor Lewis. He also visited the club with Christian McBride's Inside Straight last fall — NPR Music and WBGO recorded that show, as well. In other words, he's no stranger to the place, no matter who calls whom for the gig.

    Set List

    • "All The Things You Are" (Kern)
    • "Input" (Wilson)
    • "For You" (Okegwo)
    • "Chelsea Bridge" (Strayhorn)
    • "Strike Up The Band" (Gershwin)
    • "Q-B-Rab" [Theme] (Wilson)


    • Steve Wilson, alto and soprano saxophones
    • Orrin Evans, piano
    • Ugonna Okegwo, bass
    • Bill Stewart, drums


    • Josh Jackson, producer and host
    • David Tallacksen, mix engineer
    • Josh Webb, recording assistant
  • Steve Wilson: Live at the Village Vanguard

    March 24, 2010. Posted by Joshua Jackson.

  • Nicholas Payton Quintet: Live At The Village Vanguard

    March 10, 2010. Posted by WBGO.

    Nicholas Payton Quintet. (Image Credit: John Rogers for NPR/johnrogersnyc.com)

    Nicholas Payton found his footing in jazz through its hard-swinging main stem, another in a long line of trumpeters from New Orleans to splash onto the scene with superior dexterity. But after he'd proved his hard-bop mettle, he took a fork in the road, wending his way through a form of electronic experimentalism and driving with a hip-hop approach. Now that he's in his mid-30s, he seems happy with all of it, and then some.

    In 2008, Payton released a record, Into the Blue, which cast his lot between sonic worlds: swinging yet spacey, acoustic and electric in equal part. He led a band with that aesthetic in mind at the Village Vanguard: NPR Music and WBGO hosted a live radio broadcast, online webcast and archival recording of the Nicholas Payton quintet on their Wednesday night early set.

    Remarkably balanced and mixed, Into the Blue finds Payton in a sweet spot "true to who I am now," he says in a recent press release. His trumpet sound is clean and tonally pure, even through mutes and effects; he's written ballads and burners alike to show off his many sides. At the Vanguard, he chose more of the no-doubt-about-it flavor of jazz; Payton called a mix of originals and standards, played mostly straight but with edgy blowing, filled with individual idiosyncrasy. With him on Into The Blue, and on stage, were Vicente Archer on bass, Kevin Hays on grand piano and Fender Rhodes (replaced live with Taylor Eigsti, playing acoustic only), Marcus Gilmore on drums and Daniel Sadownick on hand percussion.

    Payton was born into a musical family in New Orleans, and even picked two of his father's tunes for Into the Blue. He studied with Ellis Marsalis in New Orleans; he impressed Wynton Marsalis in New York. His early recorded output reflected this, whether moving along the straight-ahead mainstream or working with elder statesmen such as Doc Cheatham, Hank Jones and Ray Brown. In 2003, he wrong-footed some with Sonic Trance, which veered toward a modern sort of electric fusion, steeped in R&B and hip-hop. Of late, he seems to be after a hybrid of the jazz tradition as he sees it with the leading edge he's pursued.

    "My bag is no bag," Payton told Ashley Kahn for NPR in 2006. "I don't like to be boxed into a certain type of thing. Musicians in New Orleans I find to be very, very open. It's about the music and the chemistry and the camaraderie. It's not about the genre."

    He had another chance to pick and choose his own norms at the Vanguard.

    Set List

    • "The Backward Step" (Payton)
    • "How High The Moon" (Lewis)
    • "Triptych" (Payton)
    • "Days Of Wine And Roses" (Mancini)
    • "Jasmine" (James Black)
    • "Moment's Notice" (Coltrane)


    • Nicholas Payton, trumpet
    • Taylor Eigsti, piano
    • Vicente Archer, bass
    • Marcus Gilmore, drums
    • Daniel Sadownick, percussion


    • Josh Jackson, producer and host
    • David Tallacksen, mix engineer
    • Josh Webb, recording assistant