[JPL] Cecil Payne, Baritone Saxophonist, Dies at 84

r durfee rdurfee2003 at yahoo.com
Tue Dec 11 18:00:24 EST 2007

December 6, 2007
Cecil Payne, Baritone Saxophonist, Dies at 84 
Cecil Payne, who in the 1940s was one of the first
baritone saxophonists to master the intricacies of
modern jazz and who for more than half a century was a
leading exponent of his instrument, died Nov. 27 in
Stratford, N.J. He was 84. 

The cause was prostate cancer, said Wendy Oxenhorn,
director of the Jazz Foundation of America, which
provides support to musicians in need and had been
helping Mr. Payne.

Mr. Payne spent virtually his entire career out of the
spotlight: he never led a band of his own, recorded
only a few albums as a leader and played an instrument
that rarely takes center stage in jazz. But he was
highly regarded by his fellow musicians, especially
those he worked for — a list that included Dizzy
Gillespie, Count Basie, Woody Herman, Randy Weston and
many others — and by the critics. 

The beginning of Mr. Payne’s career coincided with the
birth of bebop. With its complex harmonies, tricky
rhythms and blistering tempos, the new music posed
challenges to all musicians, but some instruments were
better suited to its demands than others. While the
often cumbersome baritone saxophone was not an ideal
vehicle for modern jazz, Mr. Payne’s highly fluid and
melodic approach effected a seamless marriage between
instrument and idiom. 

One of his first high-profile jobs, shortly after he
was discharged from the Army in 1946, was with
Gillespie’s big band, an ultramodern ensemble that
played a famously demanding repertory. He remained
with Gillespie’s band for three years and was
prominently featured on some of the band’s best-known
recordings. Few if any baritone saxophonists recorded
as many memorable solos in the early days of bebop.

Cecil McKenzie Payne was born in Brooklyn on Dec. 14,
1922. As a teenager he studied alto saxophone, and his
earliest recordings were made on that instrument. By
the time he joined Gillespie, after a brief stint with
Gillespie’s fellow trumpeter Roy Eldridge, the
baritone had become his primary horn.

After leaving Gillespie in 1949, Mr. Payne worked with
various other bandleaders, notably the tenor
saxophonist Illinois Jacquet. But by the mid-1950s he
was essentially a freelance sideman, and he remained
one for the rest of his life.

In his later years he battled glaucoma and other
health problems, but he continued performing and
recorded several albums for the Chicago-based Delmark
label. Encouraged by a group of younger musicians who
worked with him, and given financial and medical help
by the Jazz Foundation, he was a frequent attraction
at the Upper West Side nightclub Smoke and, more
recently, at the Kitano Hotel at Park Avenue and 38th

Survivors include his sister, Cavril Payne, a singer. 


Roy Durfee
P.O. Box 40219
Albuquerque, New Mexico 87196-0219
rdurfee2003 at yahoo.com

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