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Jazz Remembered

Jack Payne

By Jeff Duck

There is no doubt debate about whether the music of the dance bands, or of the Irish showbands, is 'jazz'. Pianist and bandleader Jack Payne is included in John Chilton's directory Who's Who Of British Jazz, and so perhaps they have the benefit of the doubt. What is true is that the bands would play syncopated music with tunes from the jazz repertoire and that they often provided many musicians a starting point from which they went on to become more prominent in the jazz idiom [e.g. Jack Jackson (trumpet); Eric Siday (violin), Billy Scott-Comber (guitar)]


Here is a video of Jack and the band playing a very fast version of Tiger Rag in Paris in 1935.

A message we have received this month from Rhod Tibbles (see Forum section below) also shows how those who listened to the m usic of the dance bands were inspired to go in different musical directions.


A few years ago, Jeff Duck wrote this article for us about Jack Payne. It gives an outline of the bandleader's story and we are able to share with it some examples of his music. Other references for further reading are included at the end of the article ..............

I was recently visiting a record shop and looking through a small collection of 78 rpm records when I came across a 1935 recording of I’m Popeye the Sailor Man. The label on the record was in quite bad condition and I could not make out the artist's name. So making a note of the label, REX, and the catalogue number, F1280, on my return home I looked up who the artist was. It turns out that it was Jack Payne who recorded many sides for Rex - well approximately 160 - from April 1934 through to October 1939.

British bandleader Jack Payne was born John Wesley Vivian Payne on August 22, 1899 in Leamington Spa, Warwickshire, England. Jack played piano from an early age, and while serving in the Royal Flying Corps during the the first world war, organised various small bands to entertain the troops. He was a member of “The Allies” - a voluntary concert party group that entertained wounded soldiers around Birmingham. After the war Jack continued with small band outfits and played with visiting American jazz bands at the Birmingham Palais during the early 1920s.

Jack's six piece band was soon expanded to ten players when booked to play at London’s Hotel Cecil in 1925.


Here is a compilation of pictures of the Hotel Cecil and featuring recordings by Jack Payne's Band in 1927.

The person posting the video says: 'Before leading his famous BBC Dance Orchestra, Jack Payne was resident with his band at the Hotel Cecil in London for three years. At the time of making these recordings for Regal, Jack was well-established and regularly broadcast over the BBC from the grand hotel which stretched from The Strand to the Embankment where it stood next to, and dwarfed to some extent, the Savoy Hotel'.

'Many of the illustrations in this video recall the Hotel Cecil itself, which was mostly demolished in 1930 and replaced by the Shell Mex building. The hotel had fallen behind the times and was finding it difficult to compete against the newer luxury hotels in the British capital. Jack himself recalled that even in his time not all guest rooms had running hot and cold water, while the neighbouring Savoy had a third tap for ice water; much demanded by American visitors. Even so, during Jack’s reign as director of the hotel’s dance music, the Cecil was a very popular establishment and the resident Orchestra in the vast Palm Court was a great attraction'.


Jack's band began to be featured in BBC broadcasts and he soon had a grand reputation for dance band music. He was appointed the BBC's Dance Music Director and became the leader of the first official BBC dance band.


Here Jack Payne's Band in 1928 playing Hot And Heavy.

In 1929 this band was featured on the first ever BBC television broadcast. His signature tune was “Say It With Music”. Jack Payne’s band at the time was said to be and I quote: “Public Property, it is paid for by the wireless licence fees which you and I supply ...  As such its one duty is to please the masses. It has to be good musically, it has to entertain, it needn’t worry about anything advanced in the way of style and the last thing it need be is rhythmically hot. I think we must all agree that it does its job well and that anything it may at times lack in modern rhythmic stylishness is amply compensated by other qualities more important from the public’s viewpoint, such as musical ability and versatility”.

In 1932 Jack left the BBC and returned to performing in hotels, taking his band on various nationwide tours. Jack and his band also starred in the 1932 film “Say It With Music” (here is the trailer) and this was soon followed with another film “Sunshine Ahead”. Jack Payne’s band had three hit waltz recordings, “Blue Pacific Moonlight”, “Under the Spanish Stars” and “Pagan Serenade” which Jack composed. As well as running a theatrical agency, Jack and his band toured Africa and France and Jack made some Jazz recordings with Gerald Wilson in the 1930s.

Jack disbanded his band at the end of 1937, retiring to his stud farm in Buckinghamshire but it was not long before he returned to music, forming a 20 piece big band the following year. In the latter part of 1939 Jack Payne became the first British bandleader to entertain the troops in France.

The 1940s were good years for Jack, he returned to the BBC as Director of Dance Music in 1941, and added two female vocalists - Carole Carr and Lizbeth Webb - to his orchestra. In the 1950s, Jack decided that a change was needed and he became a DJ, returning to the dance music scene in 1955 to present his own TV programme, “Words and Music”. The programme ran for three series. At the same time Jack was also appearing as a panellist in the TV show “Juke Box Jury” and playing piano on various other TV shows.


Here is Jack Payne and his BBC Dance Orchestra in 1932 playing Love Is The Sweetest Thing, included here to share the valuable archive photographs that accompany the music.

Godfrey King adds : 'Jack presented a hit records BBC TV show (pre - Top Of The Pops and 65 Special) and also a BBC Radio disc programme. He had financial problems then returned to the radio ... I recall his humble gratitude for the support of his listeners etc. ..... just a personal memory of a pioneer along with Jack Jackson in record presentation styles on radio after their respective band careers were over'.

and Del Pring says of the Jeff Duck's article : 'Thank you. That was wonderful!'

Rhod Tibbles writes: "I think about my late Mum all the time, and remember, with her friend, them being real fans of Jack Payne and his music.. His music was probably the earliest I was exposed to .... 'Love is the Sweetest Thing' comes back to me. Despite my Mum's health being poor all her life, and our being very poor, she and her friend got to a number of concerts and met him on a number of occasions. They were both members of his fan club. It might be of interest that they must have got to know him very well, as they got invited to his property in London - I think it was Hans Crescent. Most interesting is that he gave my Mum a 6 foot tall twisted stemmed dark wood lamp stand with a very large lamp shade. When my Mum died in 1989, I took it over, and it has and always has had, pride of place in my lounge. My Mum played a portable harmonium; she loved the '60s music, and her favourite was 'Whiter Shade of Pale' (Procol Harem).  She influenced my brother and I, plus encouragement from the church, to learn to play guitars and drums, for the new wave of modern church music eminating from the mid-'60s. From this, my brother and I, solo or together pursued our guitar/vocals interests - playing in folk clubs and in itinerant church gatherings, myself for some 20 years, running church music groups, teaching kids to play guitar.  We both still play and I especially have had much joy from music in general - my wife and I have developed very very eclectic tastes. We have travelled extensively over the last 15 years and its been a real joy, especially on cruises, to play with ships' bands, do solo pieces for talent shows -  and can I mention, even enjoyed karaoke! So you can probably say, it was indirectly the influence of Jack Payne and his music on my Mum, that took my brother and I off in our respective musical directions. Just proves ... you never know what influence you can have on anyone in life."


There is a longer article about Jack Payne by Spencer Leigh here that includes stories of the bandleader's bad tempered reputation. An article about Jack Payne is also on Wikipedia here.

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