Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Cecil Payne


On Sunday, January 20 at 6PM, baritone saxophonist Cecil Payne (Dec. 14, 1922 - Nov. 27, 2007) will be honored in a jazz memorial at St. Peter’s Church, 619 Lexington Avenue, New York.

Saint Peter’s Jazz Vespers at 5PM will precede the Memorial. It is the day the Church has its "Blessing of the Musicians."

Featuring Randy Weston, Jimmy Heath, Ronnie Cuber, Ben Riley, Benny Powell, Gil Noble, Phil Schaap, Howard Johnson’s Bear-Tones, Marcus Belgrave, Eddie Locke, Richard Wyans, Frank Wess, Leonard Gaskin, John Ore, the Baritone Orchestra, and more.

Cecil Payne was one of the bebop era´s strongest baritone saxophonists. Payne began to perform on bari sax in 1946 with a brief stint with Roy Eldridge´s Big Band. Payne soon joined the most progressive big band of the era, Dizzy Gillespie´s, where he made his reputation as a fluid player on a sometimes cumbersome instrument and played on the orchestra´s groundbreaking recordings, including Cubano-Be/Cubano-Bop.

Payne later freelanced in NYC with Tadd Dameron and Coleman Hawkins (´49-´52), and with Illinois Jacquet (´52-´54). Payne had remained highly active during the decades since; even though his eyesight had begun to fail him, his songful sax, flowing lines and warm tone remained fully intact well into his 80's. He was a childhood friend of Randy Weston's and they remained very close to this day. His friend Art Bailey was a major influence in his musical comeback and his life in the Greater Philadelphia area. Payne was living in Philadelphia by the 1990s but he toured the country with the tenorist Junior Cook before retiring.

As his health improved, thanks to the attention and care of the Jazz Foundation, Cecil came out of seclusion and started to play again in New York City with Eric Alexander, Harold Mabern, Joe and John Farnsworth, John Webber and others he loved dearly. Minoru Odamaki was very helpful as well setting up gigs in New York and even driving him to gigs two hours away. Now in his 80's, Cecil had the chance to play the annual Great Night In Harlem Benefit Concert for the Jazz Foundation at the Apollo, where he was reunited with many old friends, seeing one another after all those years, like Quincy Jones, Ron Carter, Frank Foster, Freddie Hubbard, Candido, Ray Baretto, Clark Terry, Frank Wess and so many others. After this, Cecil found time to perform in the local nursing homes in the Somerdale area, entertaining elderly patients for free. The onset of cancer forced him to retire for the final time in late 2005.

The Jazz Foundation became very close to Cecil, and found other ways to make his life easier, as did his landlord Bucky Buchman, who knew and loved Cecil for over 20 years. Bucky, along with his assistant Tony Bassett and Ian Greenan, who lived close by, watched over him like he was part of the family. This past year Cecil spent in a nursing home with this extended family looking in on him several times a week. Never complaining about the pain of his cancer, never a negative word, just the same optimistic Cecil who would say, “The Sun is Up and so am I, it's a good day.”

Last year Cecil said, "I want to go home." He said he was tired and ready. He said, "It's time to go." That morning in November, he got to do just that. He passed at 6:30 AM, and he did not die alone. The sun came up that morning and Cecil rose with it. "Love and Bebop," Cecil Payne ...

He is survived by his sister Carvil Payne, niece Nia Mathis and cousin Marcus Belgrave. The family has asked if you wish to make a donation, please do so in the name of the Jazz Foundation of America, so they can continue to take care of jazz and blues musicians in crisis, and help them to live again, knowing they are not forgotten.

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