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Davey Payne: Ready To Play

Davey Payne: Ready To Play
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Davey Payne is perhaps known best for the time when he was the regular saxophonist with British group, The Blockheads. His solo on the 1978 number 1 hit, "Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick" was the first time a double sax solo had appeared on a hit record. His enigmatic stage presence was partly responsible for the popularity of The Blockheads, who backed front man and showman extraordinaire Ian Dury.

Before he joined forces with Dury, who fronted The Blockheads from 1978 until his death in 2000, Payne was working round Europe in free playing ensembles with musicians like reed player Terry Day and violinist Charlie Hart.

Payne has played and recorded with a wide range of musicians. He is, a player whose musical experience and tastes reflect a diverse spectrum of genres and composers. From a child, his influences included films, classical music, jazz and spiritual journeys which all culminate in the man and player of today.

Chapter Index



Background and Influences

Payne plays a range of instruments, although more often than not it is a saxophone. The saxophone, however, was not his first love. His early musical fascinations came from films like 1959's The Five Pennies , with Danny Kaye playing cornetist Red Nichols
Red Nichols
Red Nichols
b.1905
, which also featured trumpeter Louis Armstrong
Louis Armstrong
Louis Armstrong
1901 - 1971
trumpet
. Payne also liked The Glenn Miller
Glenn Miller
Glenn Miller
1904 - 1944
trombone
Story
(1954) and The Benny Goodman
Benny Goodman
Benny Goodman
1909 - 1986
clarinet
Story
(1956), The Fabulous Dorseys (1947), based on the lives of the Dorsey Brothers, and Paris Blues (1961), about fictitious American jazz musicians living in Paris. Payne explains, "It was the trumpet that inspired me to play; a gold, shiny trumpet. I could say it was Satchmo [Louis Armstrong], but really it was whenever a trumpet turned up. I loved trumpet players like Cat Anderson
Cat Anderson
Cat Anderson
1916 - 1981
trumpet
, and [I loved] Maynard Ferguson
Maynard Ferguson
Maynard Ferguson
1928 - 2006
trumpet
's high notes. The trumpet was a lead instrument. However, when I tried to play a trumpet I couldn't get a note out of it. Then I heard clarinetist Acker Bilk
Acker Bilk
Acker Bilk
b.1929
clarinet
on the radio and was hooked on the way the clarinet weaved in and out and complimented the brass. So for a while I listened to English trad jazz clarinetists, quickly moving on to Barney Bigard
Barney Bigard
Barney Bigard
1906 - 1980
clarinet
with the Armstrong Band."

Payne took clarinet lessons but it was while being taught at a music salon that he had an encounter which would change his life and, unknown to him at the time, shape his musical future. "While squeaking on a clarinet with a reed that was too hard at the Alice St Johns' music salon in Clacton-on-Sea," he explains, "a guy walked in and opened a tenor sax case. When I saw the sax in its plush red velvet case I knew I wanted to play one. Soon I was listening to sax players Charlie Ventura
Charlie Ventura
Charlie Ventura
1916 - 1992
sax, tenor
,Earl Bostic
Earl Bostic
Earl Bostic
1913 - 1965
sax, alto
,and then—the biggest influence of all—I heard a record of the Jazz Concert West Coast (Savoy, 1947) [with the songs] "Rock 'n' Shoals" and "Disorder At The Border," featuring Dexter Gordon
Dexter Gordon
Dexter Gordon
1923 - 1990
sax, tenor
and Wardell Gray
Wardell Gray
Wardell Gray
1921 - 1955
sax, tenor
on tenor saxophones, with Sonny Criss
Sonny Criss
Sonny Criss
1927 - 1977
sax, alto
on alto. Also on the record was the great guitar playing of Barney Kessel
Barney Kessel
Barney Kessel
1923 - 2004
guitar, electric
. That turned me on to jazz guitar. I still listen to a lot of Tal Farlow
Tal Farlow
Tal Farlow
1921 - 1998
guitar
and Jim Hall
Jim Hall
Jim Hall
1930 - 2013
guitar
. So, at first it was the instruments that inspired me to play and then later I would say my influences ranged from Bilk to Gray,then John Coltrane
John Coltrane
John Coltrane
1926 - 1967
saxophone
, Jimmy Giuffre
Jimmy Giuffre
Jimmy Giuffre
1921 - 2008
clarinet
's Train and the River (Atlantic, 1958) and on to soul players and free jazz."

It was not jazz which had the first or perhaps the greatest influence on Payne. He listened to a lot of classical music as he grew up, first in north London and then in Clacton-on-Sea. He had, even then, an eclectic taste and his broad listening choices as a youngster, provided the origins for some of the different tones, emotional playing and styles he uses in his music. Payne says, "When I was 18 I listened to Jim Dvorak
Jim Dvorak
b.1948
's 'Cello Concerto' and Bartok's 'Sonatas for Solo Violin' with Yehudi Menuhin. I was into spiritualism at the time and tried to levitate to this music. I'm sure I was just a snatch away from floating on the ceiling. Other music was Ravel's 'Introduction and Allegro,' and Albert Roussel's 'Serenade for Flute,Violin and Viola.' This last piece really got inside my soul. Also,Debussy's 'Prelude a l'apres-midi d'un faune,' which is still a favorite."

Later and Now

These pieces may have influenced the younger Payne but what about now? "Nowadays," he says, "I listen to composers Toru Takemitsu, Oliver Messiaen ,Astor Piazzolla
Astor Piazzolla
Astor Piazzolla
1921 - 1992
bandoneon
, Howard Goodall and Pierre Boulez. I also appreciate French flute music, bassist Orlando Lopez, trumpet player Toshinori Kondo
Toshinori Kondo
Toshinori Kondo
b.1948
trumpet
, violinist Nigel Kennedy's 'Kafka' and I like the voice of Salli Terri with Laurindo Almeida
Laurindo Almeida
Laurindo Almeida
1917 - 1995
guitar
's guitar, featuring flautist Martin Ruderman. Huw Vaughan Williams' 'Concerto for Oboe and Strings' with oboist Leon Goossens, most classical guitar music and music electronic are also favorites and I enjoy Arvo Part, John Adams, Philip Glass
Philip Glass
Philip Glass
b.1937
composer/conductor
, Uakti and Vivaldi flute concertos, to name just a few."

Of course, many jazz-oriented musicians feature in Payne's listening. He mentions many and has a few favorites. "Pianist/organist Alice Coltrane
Alice Coltrane
Alice Coltrane
1937 - 2007
piano
, [bassist] Charles Mingus
Charles Mingus
Charles Mingus
1922 - 1979
bass, acoustic
and, of course, saxophone players Roland Kirk, Andre Vida, Pharoah Sanders
Pharoah Sanders
Pharoah Sanders
b.1940
saxophone
, Gato Barbieri
Gato Barbieri
Gato Barbieri
b.1934
saxophone
, John Coltrane
John Coltrane
John Coltrane
1926 - 1967
saxophone
and, for a special treat, the wonderful Junior Walker & the All Stars
Junior Walker & the All Stars
1931 - 1995
band/orchestra
."

So, Payne's musical journey began with wanting to play a small shiny brass instrument and brought him, before he was 16, to a large shiny woodwind instrument. Payne may have come a bit of a roundabout way to find the saxophone but he knew when he had found his instrument. He is not limited to the sax. He also plays flute, clarinet, harmonica—anything that can be blown, really. Most musicians get through quite a few instruments and have their personal favorites and Payne is no exception. "My first sax," he says, "was a new Dearman tenor with a plastic mouthpiece. After six months I had bitten a ridge in the top and six months later my teeth had gone through the mouthpiece. Then someone told me about metal mouthpieces so I moved on to a Berg Larson metal.

"Over the years I've had a Buescher tenor and, while playing in a band with a millionaire singer, I was bought a new King Super 20 tenor. Unfortunately I had to swap it for a Selmer Mk 6 and 500 Guilders in Amsterdam in 1968. The guy who I did the deal with knew Don Byas
Don Byas
Don Byas
1912 - 1972
sax, tenor
and advised me that I didn't need to use number 4 or 5 hard reeds but would get a louder, brighter sound using a 2½-3, as Byas did. I've had 3 Mk 6s since then. I also bought a silver Selmer Super 80 alto. In New York I bought a King Silver Sonic alto and in Toronto, Canada, a Selmer Mk 6 baritone and tenor. I've had 3 Graftons-these are rare plastic saxophones, as used by Charlie Parker
Charlie Parker
Charlie Parker
1920 - 1955
sax, alto
and Ornette Coleman
Ornette Coleman
Ornette Coleman
b.1930
sax, alto
. A few years back Parker's was sold at Christies for £84,000.00. I part- exchanged my King alto for a turquoise Buffet Prestige baritone that had been used with the Shakin' Stevens band. I sold all my Graftons to player Dennis Lewington for next to nothing and later found out that they had moved to Germany, then Australia and finally ended up in America."

Payne's instrumental collection received a massive boost when, on holiday, he visited his first wife's uncle in Hawaii. "This man," explains Payne, "was an interesting character called Spafford, who had studied to be a doctor in England, experimented giving himself electric shock therapy, travelled the world as a navigator in the American Merchant Navy, worked at Manny's Music Shop in New York and lived and was friends with guitarist Les Paul
Les Paul
Les Paul
1915 - 2009
guitar, electric
and his wife in San Francisco before retiring to Hawaii. Spafford was so pleased to have a musician in the family he gave me his collection of instruments including a Leblanc clarinet, Pete Fountain model, signed by Bob Helm
Bob Helm
b.1914
from the Turk Murphy
Turk Murphy
b.1915
Band, and a Yamaha low A baritone, a Conn silver C melody and a rare sarrusophone [like a metal bassoon with a double reed, built to project more sound for marching bands]. Viv Stanshall told me that he would have given me the whole of his instrument collection for it.

Now my saxophones are a Dave Guardala tenor sax, a Keilwerth silver SX90R alto and an LA soprano. I have a Sankyo Silver Sonic flute and a Leblanc clarinet. I use a Dave Guardala Super King tenor mouthpiece, a gold Bari alto mouthpiece and a Bobby Dukoff copy by Arbiter soprano mouthpiece."

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