Born August 23, 1942, New Orleans, Louisiana
Played with: Harry Connick Jr., Aaron Neville, Lee Dorsey, Champion Jack Dupree, Chuck Carbo, Nicholas Payton
It's hard to find a family in New Orleans that doesn't include musicians, but that wasn't enough to stop Walter Payton from enjoying more than forty years now as the city's most respected bassist. His love affair with music began early in fourth grade, when he happened to hear his elementary school band in rehearsal. The next day he introduced himself to the teacher, who assigned him to play trumpet. By Christmas, Walter had progressed enough to perform in the holiday show. Soon, the teacher switched him to sousaphone, whose low register introduced Walter to the concept of playing the bass line. In high school, inspired by hearing his first jazz concert, he added the string bass to his arsenal. At Xavier College in New Orleans, Walter received advanced instruction from Robert Rohe, principal bassist at the time with the New Orleans Symphony. The wide stylistic sweep and solid technical foundation achieved in his training enabled Payton to find work immediately after earning his music education degree in the early sixties. Since then, he has performed on a number of hit records, including Lee Dorsey's "Working in a Coal Mine" and Aaron Neville's "Tell It Like It Is," played engagements that range from classical recitals to rock & roll shows, and spent 25 years as a teacher in the New Orleans public schools, where his students included the future Preservation Hall director Ben Jaffe. Walter's ties to Preservation Hall date back to the early sixties, when he would occasionally borrow Allan Jaffe's sousaphone for gigs with the Eureka, Apollo, Olympia, or any of the city's other celebrated marching bands; around 1965 he made his debut at Preservation Hall with a lineup that included Percy Humphrey and Sweet Emma Barrett. Since then Walter has recorded copiously with the Preservation Hall band and other ensembles, though his discography includes one special entry -- as bassist on Dear Louis, an all-star tribute to Louis Armstrong led by Walter's son, the renowned trumpet virtuoso Nicholas Payton. Walter still performs frequently as leader of two groups, the Snap Bean Band and Gumbo File'. He also holds a unique distinction as the only musician in the history of Preservation Hall to have served as "king" of the New Orleans Jewish Mardi Gras parade.
"New Orleans music is different from music anywhere else in the world. A lot of people emulate it, but there's something special about it. Even if you're swinging with a four-beat feel, there's always something of the two-beat influence you get from the brass bands."
"I've played lots of different kinds of music, but the traditional music at Preservation Hall seems to touch people in a way that most other music doesn't. There's another kind of soul in this music. In fact, it's just as joyful for me to play as it is to see how people enjoy hearing it."
"Music isn't just about technique. I saw a master class with Segovia where this guitarist played a piece, and Segovia said, 'Great â€¦ but what you need to do is go stand on the corner, look in the eyes of a Spanish woman, and drink some Spanish wine. Then you're going to get it.'"
"Whenever I play, even when I'm sitting down, I get the feeling that I'm dancing. I'll close my eyes and imagine a couple dancing together or someone dancing alone in a second line. That's the key, when you think about this music: It makes you want to dance."
"We play differently than the cats played in Preservation Hall back in the sixties. But that doesn't mean we're better or worse. It's just like how the styles of cars change over the years: No matter what car you're in, you can still have a good ride."
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