Cecil M. Payne, 84, of Somerdale, a baritone saxophonist who played with many of the top names in jazz, died Nov. 27 of sepsis at Kennedy Memorial Hospitals-University Medical Center/Stratford.
Mr. Payne learned to play the alto sax, guitar and clarinet while growing up in Brooklyn. "You don't start out with the baritone when you're a little kid," he told a reporter in 1992. "It's too big."
During World War II, he served in the Army in the States. After his discharge, Mr. Payne heard that Roy Eldridge was seeking a sax player for his big band. When he found out that Eldridge already had two alto men but needed someone to play baritone, Mr. Payne borrowed an instrument.
"It had a couple of leaks in it, and I really had to blow hard," Mr. Payne later told a reporter. "That's the way a baritone should be played in this band," Eldridge told him.
A few weeks later, Dizzy Gillespie offered Mr. Payne a job in what was one of the most progressive big bands of the era. He played on groundbreaking recordings with Gillespie and helped define bop baritone sax. After three years, he went freelance and performed with jazz innovators including Tadd Dameron, Coleman Hawkins, Illinois Jacquet and Randy Weston.
For a time Mr. Payne was a salesman at a Brooklyn real estate company owned by his father, Oliver, his great-niece Nia Mathis said. But he couldn't give up music, she said.
His melodic bebop, an Inquirer critic wrote, was pleasingly evident in his 1995 album
. In 1999, another Inquirer critic reviewed the album
"His exuberant approach continues unhampered," the critic wrote. "Payne isn't about to come up with something newfangled, but it's hard to argue with his view."
Serious vision problems, caused by glaucoma, slowed him down after his wife, Ruth, died in 1992, his great-niece said.
"I never had to deal with a kitchen before. It's a dangerous place, what with knives and forks and can openers and hot stoves," he told a reporter.
Friends arranged for him to get Meals on Wheels and drove him to gigs in Washington, New York and Philadelphia, where he played at the Blue Moon Jazz Cafe, Ortlieb's Jazzhaus and other venues. Mr. Payne also performed at the annual Great Night in Harlem concert to benefit the Jazz Foundation of America. He was still playing in clubs and entertaining patients in nursing homes in the Somerdale area until three or four years ago, Mathis said.
Mr. Payne is survived by a sister, jazz singer Cavril Payne Williams; a cousin, jazz trumpeter Marcus Belgrave; his great-niece; and two great-nephews.
A funeral will be at 10:30 a.m. tomorrow at Wooster Funeral Home, 51 Park Blvd., Clementon. Friends may call from 7 to 9 tonight and from 9:30 a.m. tomorrow. Burial will be in Brigadier General William C. Doyle Veterans Cemetery, Wrightstown.