Culture is a Beautiful Thing
An Interview with Clarinetist Dexter Payne
Culture is a beautiful thing. It differentiates us from one another, yet it can create very strong bonds between people. Music is a form of culture that is universal and can take many different forms, depending on where it originates. It is a very powerful commodity, one that can influence, educate, and connect. Music crosses the cultural boundaries that we create and can be appreciated by most people regardless of context and even language. Dexter Payne has always been fascinated by the power of music which gave birth to his “winding musical journey” in which he has performed around the world, from Tijuana to Paris and Montreal to Buenos Aires. Dexter states he wants to “Bring to my listener the music of foreign cultures, and broaden their focus beyond American culture. Cross-cultural music is a very potent and powerful thing. Visceral, liberating and educational but not just in a musical sense. Any time you break out of an inherently narrow viewpoint and gain a larger perspective, it’s such a beautiful, disorienting experience.”
“Any time you break out of an inherently narrow viewpoint and gain a larger perspective, it’s such a beautiful, disorienting experience.”
Dexter has always been curious when it comes to learning from the music and art of other countries and the knowledge gained from traveling inspires him. Inquisitive by nature, Dexter formed an early interest in all things musical. At the age of 5, he knew he wanted to try his father’s clarinet, and and by the time he was 9 began a relationship with the instrument which would later become his primary vehicle for musical creation. Growing up in Denver, he developed a proficiency on clarinet, saxophone, and harmonica at an early age under the direction of his teacher, the late Jack Fredericksen. He began playing in several school bands, playing mostly saxophone and harmonica, but his love for the clarinet lead him to explore other genres of music. Jazz was one form of music that didn’t restrict his creativity and allowed him to devote time to his instrument of choice. After his high school years, Dexter started playing in various rock n roll, blues, folk, and jazz bands and began touring with some of these bands. Once back home in Boulder, CO, he met guitarist Mitchell Long who sparked his interest in Brazilian jazz, particularly Brazilian Choro, in which clarinet was often featured.
After the passing of his wife, Judy Roderick, Dexter decided to do some traveling to learn more about the music that he had fallen in love with. He embarked on a near 3-year educational journey that led him through 11 different Latin & South American countries where he performed and internalized the local music. Dexter finally arrived in Brazil by way of Venezuela and spent some time playing in the house band on a local TV show in Manaus. He eventually made his way to Rio where he happened upon his hero, legendary clarinetist, Paulo Moura.
It was in Rio that Dexter recorded his first instrumental album as lead solo voice, “Inspiration,” with guitarist Antonio Mello and the unrelated Gaudencio Thiago de Mello. He formed a friendship with Thiago that lasted for many years before Thiago’s recent passing. Dexter released 4 CD’s with Thiago, played in his big band in New York City, and returned to Brazil with him to perform at the MIMO festival.
After his return to Colorado, Dexter assembled a group of musicians with whom he could perform Brazilian choro jazz. This group consisted of Bill Kopper on guitar, Raoul Rassiter on drums and percussion, Dave Willey on accordion, and Dexter on clarinet. Later, pianist Victor Mestas moved to Denver from Venezuela and joined the group. According to Dexter, the Dexter Payne Quintet “strives to create dynamic conversation in their music that is interwoven with contrapuntal give and take, traditional in Brazilian choro music.” Fresh off a recording session for their new Pathways to Jazz funded CD, the Dexter Payne Quintet will be returning to the DazzleJazz stage on February 23. “These are times when cultural relevance is extremely important,” Dexter said. “Above all my goal is to spread love and awareness to the listener.”
Notes from Dexter:
“When I first played music in Mexico in 1990, having very little left of my Jr High Spanish, I had a powerful experience of how music connects across cultural boundaries. When I went back in 95, on the beginning of my “long journey” I had some Spanish and was actively studying Brazilian choro, and had a minimal awareness of Afro-Cuban music. And then I headed south. The experiences were still magical but less fantasy-like, more real world…. but very rewarding and satisfying. A year and a half later I arrived in Brazil with no Portuguese. Progressive stages of re-discovering something I had already found as a white person in Black American music and later in African music.”
“We need to break out of our narrow viewpoints and gain a larger perspective. It’s true for all of us, but particularly white North Americans! Large countries breed homogeneous vision. It’s partly geographic, “Everything as far as I can see is the same.” But it’s cultural too, and now more than ever. We’ve all been through the blender, so we don’t notice/accept the beauty of the rainbow. if it’s not just like me, it’s dangerous, scary. And short sightedness collapses on itself.”
“The high contrast cultural differences (music, language, garb, religion) get our attention – for better or worse, apparently. But it turns out the every one of us has a different “culture” even right here. Like beer, or wine, yogurt, pickles (not mass produced) – each one ferments a little different flavor. So if we tune in and pay attention and notice, we can have a big exciting cross cultural bonding experience right in our own back yard, with our brother from another mother. The key is appreciating/enjoying the difference. So I have as much contrast with Bill as I do with Victor, or Raoul or Dave. And when we all pay attention to all that bandwidth, music gets really fun.”