Davey Payne: Ready To Play

Davey Payne: Ready To Play
Sammy Stein By

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Davey Payne is perhaps known best for the time when he was 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.

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.

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, 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. 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,Earl Bostic,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 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."

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'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, Howard Goodall and Pierre Boulez. I also appreciate French flute music, bassist Orlando Lopez, trumpet player Toshinori Kondo, violinist Nigel Kennedy's 'Kafka' and I like the voice of Salli Terri with Laurindo Almeida'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, 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, [bassist] Charles Mingus and, of course, saxophone players Roland Kirk, Andre Vida, Pharoah Sanders, Gato Barbieri, John Coltrane and, for a special treat, the wonderful Junior Walker & the All Stars."

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 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 and Ornette Coleman. 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 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 from the Turk Murphy 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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