|Birth name||Percival Payne|
May 4, 1926|
New York City, New York, U.S.
January 29, 1979 (aged 52)|
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Payne's father was Wild Bill Davis's drummer Chris Columbus. After early study with Vic Berton, in 1944 Payne started playing professionally around New York with the Dud and Paul Bascomb band, Hot Lips Page, Earl Bostic (1945–1947), Tiny Grimes (between 1947 and 1950), and Lucille Dixon (1948).
From 1950 to 1953, Payne played with Erskine Hawkins' big band, and led his own band for two years, but in late December, 1954, he made his most significant move, joining Basie's band for more than ten years of constant touring and recording. He was originally asked only to temporarily fill in for Basie's ailing regular drummer, but Payne's flashy style was such a hit that he was immediately hired to be Basie's permanent drummer.
He left Basie in 1965, leading his own trio and touring with Illinois Jacquet in 1976. He was Frank Sinatra's personal drummer for all of the singer's appearances with the Count Basie Orchestra in 1965 and 1966; in fact, whenever Sinatra sang with Basie in the 1960s, Payne was the drummer. He later rejoined Basie at his wife's urging as the regular drummer (1972–1974). Most of the rest of his career, however, was spent in the Harry James band, which he joined in 1966, and with which he was working when he died of pneumonia at the age of 52. When he was dying in the hospital, Harry James paid all of his medical bills and subsequent funeral costs.
Harold Jones, Count Basie's regular drummer from 1967 until 1972, told an interviewer, "I am proud to say that I took everything that I could from Sonny Payne." In the early 1990s after Count Basie's death, leader Frank Foster was auditioning a young drummer for the Basie Band. Foster asked the drummer to come back for another audition in six months after the young man had listened to every recording he could find of Sonny Payne drumming with Count Basie.
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With Count Basie
- Count Basie Swings, Joe Williams Sings (Verve, 1956)
- April in Paris (Verve, 1956)
- The Greatest!! Count Basie Plays, Joe Williams Sings Standards with Joe Williams
- Metronome All-Stars 1956 (Clef, 1956) with Ella Fitzgerald and Joe Williams
- Hall of Fame (Verve, 1956 )
- Basie in London (Verve, 1956)
- One O'Clock Jump (Verve, 1957) with Joe Williams and Ella Fitzgerald
- Count Basie at Newport (Verve, 1957)
- The Atomic Mr. Basie (Roulette, 1957) aka Basie and E=MC2
- Basie Plays Hefti (Roulette, 1958)
- Sing Along with Basie (Roulette, 1958) - with Joe Williams and Lambert, Hendricks & Ross
- Basie One More Time (Roulette, 1959)
- Breakfast Dance and Barbecue (Roulette, 1959)
- Everyday I Have the Blues (Roulette, 1959) - with Joe Williams
- Dance Along with Basie (Roulette, 1959)
- Not Now, I'll Tell You When (Roulette, 1960)
- The Count Basie Story (Roulette, 1960)
- Kansas City Suite (Roulette, 1960)
- The Legend (Roulette, 1961)
- Count Basie/Sarah Vaughan (Roulette, 1961)
- Back with Basie (Roulette, 1962)
- Sinatra–Basie: An Historic Musical First (Reprise, 1962)
- On My Way & Shoutin' Again! (Verve, 1962)
- This Time by Basie! (Reprise, 1963)
- More Hits of the 50's and 60's (Verve, 1963)
- It Might As Well Be Swing (Reprise, 1964) with Frank Sinatra
- Pop Goes the Basie (Reprise, 1965)
- Basie Meets Bond (United Artists, 1966)
- Live at the Sands (Before Frank) (Reprise, 1966 )
- Sinatra at the Sands (Reprise, 1966) with Frank Sinatra
- Basie's Beatle Bag (Verve, 1966)
With Al Grey
- The Last of the Big Plungers (Argo, 1959)
- The Thinking Man’s Trombone (Argo, 1960)
- Shades of Grey (Tangerine, 1965)
With Joe Newman
- Counting Five in Sweden (Metronome, 1958)