Sonny Payne was born as Percival Payne on May 4, 1926 in New York, NY, as the son of drummer Chris Columbus.
Payne studied early on with Vic Berton and played locally.
In 1944 he began a professional, playing with the Dud & Paul Bascomb band, Hot Lips Page, Earl Bostic (1945-47) and Tiny Grimes (off and on during 1947-50). Payne spent from 1950-53 with the Erskine Hawkins Orchestra and led his own band for two years.
Sonny Payne played drums in the Count Basie band's rhythm section. Payne's considerable skills as a rhythm player and big band accompanist have been overshadowed by his reputation as a soloist and stick-twirling showman. This clip, however, helps demonstrate just what Payne could do for a big band and why he was the drummer of choice for Frank Sinatra, and after his stint with Basie, with Harry James until 1973. Payne couldn't have had a better teacher, either.
His father was the legendary Chris Columbo, and Basie told Columbo that Sonny Payne was the best drummer he ever had. Payne does apply his natural knack for showmanship even when serving as an accompanist, but note the ease, drive and enthusiasm he brings to this chart.
After leaving Count Basie's orchestra in 1965, Sonny briefly led a trio, worked with Frank Sinatra and then had a long stint with Harry James' Big Band (1966-73); James always did want his band to sound like Basie's! In his later years Sonny Payne had a short second period with Count (1973-74), toured Europe with Illinois Jacquet and also returned to James' orchestra shortly before his death. Sonny Payne never led a record date of his own but was on many Basie records, some by James plus a few combo dates.
Sonny Payne died on January 29, 1979 in Los Angeles, California.