Bill Payne Creative Page

Clarinetist Bill Payne is the very definition of the itinerant musician—his extensive résumé lists stints with at several traveling circuses, Broadway and Vegas shows, tours with the Russ Carlyle Orchestra, cruise-ship bands, and the infrequent bad day gig. Pianist Crothers’s pedigree is a bit purer from a jazz perspective: once the protégé of Lennie Tristano, she remains one of the most exceptional representatives of his musical philosophy. Payne cites studies with Crothers as a turning point in his life. He’s now obviously her peer. This track presents the pair in intense one-on-one engagement. Payne’s non-tonal lines are classically tinged, augmented by a jazz musician’s concern with forward motion and free expression. Crothers has the touch of a first-rate Debussy interpreter, and here her lines as well possess an impressionistic strain. Each player gives as much as he/she takes. Their interplay is indeed conversational, albeit highly animated. Crothers’s status as one of the most accomplished in/out improvisers is only enhanced by this release. Payne’s rep, newly minted compared to hers, benefits even more.
Chris Kelsey



 There’s not a wasted note on these tightly constructed, pithy duets between pianist Connie Crothers and clarinetist Bill Payne. Each of the fourteen improvisations sprouts from an initial phrase played by each partner and grows by means of elaborations, variations, and recapitulations of the seed planted by the first notes. Throughout each improvisation, Crothers and Payne remain absolute equals, synchronizing their lines of development without there ever appearing to be a leader and a follower. But they are clearly listening to one another in these intimate dialogues. Each will pick up a hint from the other –mimic a contour, shadow a phrase – but use it only long enough to weave it into what he or she is doing. It’s a kind of a hall of fun house mirrors effect, where images are warped and reflected back and forth until they are utterly transformed. Tempos remain at slow and medium, but there’s lots of variety in other aspects of their collaboration. “Conversation #2” is full of short gestures, Crothers making brief sweeping arcs as if she were juggling scarves, while Payne dips and arcs like a dragon fly. “Conversation #4” is a braid, a macramé construction of lines and knots of chords that form beautiful patterns. On “The Desert and the City,” Payne’s clarinet moves like a leaf buffeted by the wind, tracing long peregrinations, then wafting upward in little curlicues, or using multiphonics to jump in place. Crothers under girds and enfolds Payne with a kaleidoscopic progression of chords and note clusters. The precision with which they fit together is uncanny at time. Like all students of Lennie Tristano, Crothers is often branded as cool, but this is very passionate music, a product of intense concentration and discipline as well as emotional openness and depth.

–Ed Hazell, Point of Departure





Rather than a high-energy blowout, these collaborations leave space, are generally thoughtful and feature close communication between the two musicians, whether they are echoing each other’’s thoughts or offering a pair of contrasting voices. Sounding very much like “”conversations,”" the improvisations give Crothers and Payne opportunities to create new melodies and thoughts on the spot, and it often makes for an intriguing listen. It is obvious that they have played together many times before and have a familiarity with each other’’s playing even as they continually surprise each other. This colorful set is available from CD Baby.”


–Scott Yanow, L.A. Jazz Times


“Listened to your CD. Very nice music I think. The interaction between the two of you is amazing. Piano and clarinet is never an easy duo but you did a fine work. Nice surprise from 2 very capable musicians.” - Fred Van Hove



Conversazioni di Cosimo Parisi

Due musicisti dalle diverse origini - Connie Crothers al piano e Bill Payne al clarinetto - intessono serrati dialoghi liberamente improvvisati, divertendosi a proporre una musica dalle coordinate piuttosto originali. Lei proviene dalla scuola di Lennie Tristano ed il suo quartetto insieme a Richard Tabnik, Roger Mancuso ed un contrabbassista che cambia a seconda delle occasioni è una delle realtà musicali contemporanee più interessanti, Bill Payne invece ha suonato un pò ovunque e di tutto, comprese orchestre per il circo. 
Un dialogo libero dunque, per due strumenti che di solito non si incontrano facilmente (un altro esempio è quello dei fratelli Joachim e Rolf Kuhn) e che prendono strade convergenti improvvisando quello che passa l´intuizione del momento. 
La loro è una musica free, che rifiuta l´immediatezza espressiva: li si apprezza piuttosto per la bellezza delle linee melodiche, per la pulizia dle suono di Payne e per il delicato accompagnamento della pianista americana, a scoprire attimi di dialogo totale, senza alzare troppo la voce. Alcuni brani sono di breve lunghezza, aderendo quasi alla poetica del minimalismo, altri piu lunghi, dalle atmosfere crepuscolari, notturne, a modo loro coinvolgenti per chi presta attenzione a questo genere di proposte.




Liner Notes:  Conversations
                      Bill Payne, clarinet; Connie Crothers, piano


The clarinet in jazz seems to go in and out of fashion every couple decades. This may be in part because its subtle sounds don’t necessarily fit with the high-volume, over-miked and often heavily electronic ensembles of our contemporary music culture; and partly also, I suspect, because in its understated way the clarinet conveys emotions with directness that challenges our desensitized comfort zones.

Never mind. The CD you’re holding here is not a fashion statement but a sequence of free-improvisation musical dialogues inviting you to listen in. To do so, you may want to take a minute to minimize the ambient background noise of your own environment. These twelve “Conversations” tracks, sandwiched between an opening “The Desert and the City” and enigmatic closing “To Be Continued,” will repay undistracted and active contemplation.

Bill Payne is a new voice to this listener, having worked for more than two decades in circus bands and other jobs outside music, while sustaining his soul and spirit with his musical passion even when that means playing only for himself. He is currently based in Las Vegas. Living and playing outside the music industry with its land mines of clichés and commercial compromises, he’s also been periodically part of the New York “loft” scene — meaning performances staged mainly in artists’ apartments because commercial venues aren’t interested in taking a chance — along with his longtime musical associate Connie Crothers and other determined stalwarts.

Crothers has spoken and written of “moving beyond the separation of free improvisation from tunes,” including a memorable occasion when she risked inserting a free-improvisation number in her group’s set at a tourist-packed Blue Note night club in New York, and got the biggest ovation of the evening. Crothers was a student of the legendary Lennie Tristano, whose playing combined the detailed knowledge of melody and “changes” with the rigorous avoidance of lapsing into well-worn bebop clichés.

In her quartet recordings for this label, Crothers has deepened and extended Lennie Tristano’s legacy. More immediately relevant here, she has specialized in the duet format with its distinctive opportunities for unencumbered communication, recording for example with saxophonist Richard Tabnik, guitarist Bud Tristano, and drummers Roger Mancuso and — way back in 1982, the inaugural recording for the New Artists label — the immortal Max Roach.

On the borderline of what’s called “jazz” and a broader avant-garde that defies boundaries and labels, Payne and Crothers share ideas, build and extend each other’s phrases without getting in each other’s way. Melody arises spontaneously rather than by pre-set structural design, as generally required for larger ensembles. Happily for this listener, this is acoustic music without electronic distortion and distraction.

Bill Payne’s range and truly beautiful sound on the clarinet should hold your attention. There’s also enough variety in tempo and volume to sustain interest, but don’t expect massive crescendos or crowd-pleasing effects. It’s about playing and listening to and for each other.

But when artists of this caliber converse together, there’s always a third participant: you, the hearer. Open your ears, listen in and join.

– David Finkel





metal & wood
hammer’d & saw’d
becomes a clarinet or a piano
eventually goes back to
sand & water
becomes trees
galactic, swirling,
becomes notes again
so far into the future
you need a wormhole
to go there, waiting
for a cab in Brooklyn
or a bus in Las Vegas
it’s all a dice roll
cosmic dust, time reversed,
the circus is in town, wet
a reed, baby
we got Charlie Parker
bringing us home
bringing us into the place
where time goes in all directions

this record, cut near the mouth of
the East River, could be
ice skaters, gulls wheeling
sideways overhead, all the clouds
of the Atlantic, this record is
what an afternoon is like

–Mark Weber


Phone: (702)328-4308

Updated:  November 27, 2008

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