After touring with Marcus Roberts and Elvin Jones in the early '90s, Payton signed a contract with Verve Records; his first album, From This Moment, appeared in 1995.
In 1996 he performed on the soundtrack of the movie Kansas City, and in 1997 received a Grammy Award (Best Instrumental Solo) for his playing on the album Doc Cheatham & Nicholas Payton.
After seven albums on Verve, Payton signed with Warner Bros.
Records, releasing Sonic Trance, his first album on the new label, in 2003.
And in 2013, he formed his own record label, BMF Records, and the same year released two albums, #BAM Live at Bohemian Caverns, where he plays both trumpet and Fender Rhodes, often at once, and Sketches of Spain, which he recorded with the Basel Symphony Orchestra in Switzerland.