Davey Payne: Ready To Play
Davey Payne is a multi-instrumentalist, 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. However, there is a lot more to this consummate musician than this.
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 and has his own way of looking at life and music. He is still active in the jazz scene and is, without exaggeration, a player whose musical experience and tastes reflect a hugely 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. Once known for being volatile and unpredictable, Payne today is calm and (almost) conventional. He has a lot going on.
- Background and Influences
- Later and Now
- Where's He's At?
- The Spirit of the Man
- Payne on His Own
- Now and the Future
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, which also featured trumpeter Louis Armstrong. Payne also liked The Glenn Miller Story (1954) and The Benny Goodman 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, and [I loved] Maynard Ferguson'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 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 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. The vision of this golden saxophone in its plush red velvet case persuaded me to take up the tenor sax. Soon I was listening to sax players Charlie Ventura,Earl Bostic, and thenthe biggest influence of allI 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 and Wardell Gray on tenor saxophones, with Sonny Criss on alto. Also on the record was the great guitar playing of Barney Kessel. That turned me on to jazz guitar. I still listen to a lot of Tal Farlow and Jim Hall. 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, Jimmy Giuffre's Train and the River (Atlantic, 1958) and on to soul players and free jazz."
Though Payne is best known as a jazz musician, it was not jazz which had the first or perhaps the greatest influence on him. 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 Dvorak'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."