Wednesday, 26 December 2007

Cecil Payne

A friend just rang me to ask if I'd heard of the death of bebop baritone player Cecil Payne at the end of November. Last year we had been in New York together, and I'd read that Payne was playing at the Kitano Hotel, a swanky mid-town joint which had started featuring jazz regularly.

Frankly, I was surprised to learn that Payne was still alive, and decided that the chance to hear him live was not to be missed, despite the fact that I'm not keen on the mid-town clubs- they're too plush and the beer's too expensive, and I resent the practice of adding your cover to the drinks bill, charging tax on it, and (I suspect) assuming you'll add a tip based on the total.
I persuaded my friend (not much of a jazz fan) to come along, hoping he would not resent a evening spent listening to an 80+ -year-old baritone player. To my delight he later told me it was the highlight of his stay.

And it was a delight; we were a little nervous when an old frail man with thick plastic glasses was wheeled onto the bandstand and his instrument was hung round his neck. The rest of the sextet, including to my great pleasure Harold Mabern on piano, assembled, and we were treated to an hour of high quality bebop. Payne's tone was secure, and though his breath came in shorter bursts his phrasing was nimble, and he did not hold back at all- he soloed as much as anyone, and took a ballad feature. It's a night I'll remember.

I know him best for his fine albums on Muse ('Yes, I think I remember that label' he told me when I thanked him after the set) and am surprised that they don't sell better; I'm playing his 'Bird Gets the Worm'- with Tom Harrell, Duke Jordan, Buster Williams and Al Foster, recorded 1976- as I type this, and find I have 3 copies in stock currently! And at least as many of his album of Charlie Parker music (with Clark Terry) issued originally on Charlie Parker Records, and reissued in the UK on countless bargain labels. When I was a teenager in the '60s those labels were all I could afford- Summit, Eros, Society (Ember were a bit more expensive)- and there was so much great music on them- the Parker Savoys, Duke Jordan's 'Les Liaisons Dangereuses', lots of Lester. Now of course I know I would be richer now if I had saved up for Blue Notes, but then I was happy to get my weekly fix.

But I digress; Cecil Payne was perhaps the first baritone player to play convincing bebop, and his big gruff tone was instantly recognisable. I was pleased to read that younger players had coaxed him out of retirement, and that he had received support from the Jazz Federation of America-,,2219447,00.html

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