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Do not miss Nicholas Payton’s Black American Symphony 

click to enlarge Composer Nicholas Payton will join the Colorado Springs Philharmonic to perform his Black American Symphony on Oct. 25. - GUS BENNETT JR.
  • Gus Bennett Jr.
  • Composer Nicholas Payton will join the Colorado Springs Philharmonic to perform his Black American Symphony on Oct. 25.

Art music and symphonic music often seem to exist, if not actively at odds with popular music, at least in separate spheres from it, with the former settling in the popular imagination as either backing soundtracks of visual entertainment or, you know, “old dead white guy music.”

It’s a rather unfortunate perception, though sometimes an understandable one, given the composers who are most frequently found in concert programming and the generally accepted “canon” of art music — powdered wigs and movie soundtracks abound. At its best, however, art music is alive and vibrant, a form of music that has the power to captivate audiences and imaginations beyond its time and origins. The wider a net the listener casts, the more adventurous and open-minded an audience is willing to be, the more unique voices can be heard, and the art music canon becomes infinitely richer.

That’s all well and good in theory, but how can it be put into practice? For music lovers in Colorado Springs, catching the U.S. premiere of a new symphony in your own backyard is certainly a good place to start.

On Friday, Oct. 25, the Colorado Springs Philharmonic will perform with trumpet master, composer and multi-instrumentalist Nicholas Payton in an absolutely not-to-be-missed program that showcases Payton’s Black American Symphony, a work that draws from the impossibly wide, rich spectrum of 20th-century black music — blues, gospel, jazz, R&B, hip-hop and beyond — essentially, a century’s worth of music and communal expression that also looks to the future.

Black American Symphony was commissioned in 2012 by the Czech National Symphony Orchestra, but, as mentioned, this performance at the Pikes Peak Center will be the symphony’s U.S. premiere. Joining Payton to conduct the work is the founding director of the Baltimore-based Soulful Symphony, Darin Atwater, and the concert will also feature Payton’s virtuosic trumpet work in a rare live performance of Miles Davis’ 1960 orchestral jazz LP Sketches of Spain.
Not only is Payton a living, wildly talented compositional voice, he’s one of the world’s most acclaimed and respected contemporary performers: a Grammy winner who has been credited on more than 140 recordings and worked with the likes of Ray Charles, Allen Toussaint, Dr. John and Herbie Hancock, just to name a few. In addition, Payton is the president of his own independent record label, Paytone Records, and is an intriguing, thoughtful essayist — for my money, his pieces “On Why Jazz Isn’t Cool Anymore” and “The Rise of Capitalism and the Fall of Culture” should be required reading.

Payton’s local performance is presented by Colorado College’s ongoing Africana Intellectual Project, which was also responsible for the appearance of jazz legend Pharoah Sanders at Armstrong Hall in September 2018.

Meanwhile, there are some of us who would gratefully accept the spirit of Halloween lasting all year round (and, indeed, it can. ... in our hearts). But currently, despite what early Ministry would have you believe, it’s only socially acceptable to be aggressively Halloween-y for a few weeks, tops. Luckily for us, the whole “Halloween for bands” idea has become one that’s something of an ongoing tradition here in Colorado Springs, and this year is no exception.

The “Monsters of Mock” concert series, a seasonal fixture over the past few years, rises from the dead for a string of shows at various local venues over the course of the next few weeks, with pop-up tribute acts This Charming Band (performing the music of The Smiths; see p. 67) and Fake News (inhabiting the spirit of Huey Lewis and the News) kicking things off at S.P.Q.R. this Friday, Oct. 25. The two bands will also perform at the Zodiac on Oct. 26 — joined there by special guests Figure 8, performing the music of Elliott Smith — Jack Quinn’s on Halloween itself, Oct. 31, and finally on Nov. 16 at Bar-K.

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