Preservation Hall bassist Walter Payton suffers stroke while on tour
Payton, 67, is a versatile bassist with recording and performing credits that run the gamut of New Orleans music. He played bass on Aaron Neville’s recording of “Tell It Like It Is” and Lee Dorsey’s “Working in a Coal Mine.” He first performed at Preservation Hall in the 1960s, and leads his own Snap Bean Band and Gumbo File.
He also spent 25 years teaching music in the public school system; his students included Ben Jaffe, the son of Preservation Hall’s founder and the hall’s current creative director. Payton is the father of renowned jazz trumpeter Nicholas Payton.
The Preservation Hall Jazz Band performed in New Jersey on Jan. 7, then traveled to Washington D.C. for a show the following night with the Blind Boys of Alabama. A member of the band’s road crew found Payton collapsed in his room before the gig.
The band was able to perform that night as scheduled, as its touring roster already includes a second bassist: Ben Jaffe, who alternates between tuba and upright bass on stage.
The Preservation Hall tour continued with a Jan. 9 gig at B.B. King’s in New York with the Del McCoury Band, and another show Jan. 10 in North Carolina. After three days off this week, the musicians head to Tennessee on Thursday for a three-night engagement with the Nashville Symphony.
The stroke on the left side of Payton’s brain “mainly affected his speech,” Jaffe said Tuesday. “His hands and feet are fine. He’s up and walking, and he’s already started rehabilitation.”
Payton is expected to return to New Orleans by train this week. Doctors have advised him to quit smoking, adjust his diet and make other lifestyle changes, but “they want him to start playing music again,” Jaffe said. “So he may be back on stage at Preservation Hall as soon as a week or two.”