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Sonny Payne (May 4, 1926 – January 29, 1979) was an American jazz drummer, best known for his work with Count Basie and Harry James.

Sonny Payne
Birth name Percival Payne
Born (1926-05-04)May 4, 1926
New York City, New York, U.S.
Died January 29, 1979(1979-01-29) (aged 52)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Genres Jazz
Occupation(s) Musician
Instruments Drums
Associated acts



Payne's father was Wild Bill Davis's drummer Chris Columbus.[1] 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.[2] 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, and 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.[3] When he was dying in the hospital, Harry James paid all of his medical bills and subsequent funeral costs.

In the early 1990's 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.


With Count Basie

With Al Grey

With Joe Newman


  1. ^ "Sonny Payne Biography". Drummerworld. Retrieved 22 September 2014. 
  2. ^ Yanow, Scott. "Sonny Payne". Allmusic. Rovi Corporation. Retrieved 22 September 2014. 
  3. ^ Jacobs, Gil; Agro, Joe (2011). Harold Jones: The Singer's Drummer. AuthorHouse. p. 238. ISBN 978-1463446307. 

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