Cecil Payne & Eric Alexander | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Cecil Payne & Eric Alexander 

Sign up for our newsletters Subscribe


Veteran baritone saxist Cecil Payne and young tenor man Eric Alexander first paired up in 1993 to record a Delmark album called Cerupa, released under Payne's name. That led to a 1994 gig at the old Bop Shop, then to two more Delmark discs--and though the 77-year-old Payne needs a cane to walk, those records prove he only needs a reed to run. He's a true pioneer who, along with Serge Chaloff and Leo Parker, helped establish the baritone saxophone in postwar jazz, expanding its role from a source of orchestral color to a full-fledged participant in the bristling free-for-all of bebop. Like Chaloff, Payne shows the influence of the instrument's undisputed master, Ellington mainstay Harry Carney, in his attention to a sonorous tone; like Parker, he's adapted the speedy bebop maneuvering of Charlie Parker (no relation) to the large horn. By the time Payne left Dizzy Gillespie's outrageous bebop big band, more than a half century ago, he'd created a viable solo style of his own. He's altered it significantly in the succeeding decades: once a firebrand, he's watched the years claim most of his fellow revolutionaries, and now uses a lighter, more flexible tone and a technique that weds some of bop's youthful energy to a mature aesthetic. At times his playing takes on a plaintive, sweet-and-sour bite that, combined with his gleeful riffing, suggests what Von Freeman might sound like if he played bari. His performance on The Brooklyn Four Plus One (just released by Progressive) has a few ragged edges, but it's feisty enough to make up for them. On the most recent of his appearances alongside Eric Alexander, last year's Payne's Window, the two saxists complement each other perfectly--they both balance experience and power, though in different proportions, and together the tenor and bari create a dark, galvanic sound. Alexander is only 32, but he's reached a new plateau; he's shaken Dexter Gordon's influence and revealed himself as one of the most accomplished tenor saxists in jazz today. Here he and Payne front a sextet that also stars soul-stirring pianist and composer Harold Mabern; Thursday and Friday the group is recording for an upcoming Delmark disc. Thursday, August 17, 8 and 10 PM, Friday and Saturday, August 18 and 19, 9 and 11 PM, and Sunday, August 20, 4, 8, and 10 PM, Jazz Showcase, 59 W. Grand; 312-670-2473. NEIL TESSER

Support Independent Chicago Journalism: Join the Reader Revolution

We speak Chicago to Chicagoans, but we couldn’t do it without your help. Every dollar you give helps us continue to explore and report on the diverse happenings of our city. Our reporters scour Chicago in search of what’s new, what’s now, and what’s next. Stay connected to our city’s pulse by joining the Reader Revolution.

Are you in?

  Give $35/month →  
  Give $10/month →  
  Give  $5/month  → 

Not ready to commit? Send us what you can!

 One-time donation  → 


Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

More by Neil Tesser

Agenda Teaser

Performing Arts
Oh Hell Yeah Mission Theater at iO Chicago
June 22
Galleries & Museums
Petite Mort Aspect/Ratio
September 02

Popular Stories