Bill Payne was raised in Harvey, Illinois. Originally wanted to be a trumpet player when I heard the Al Hirt Top 40 hit “Cotton Candy” when I was a child. My mother said that my Uncle had an old clarinet and asked me if I would play that. I didn’t know what that was but agreed to play it when I saw a clarinet player on ”The Lawrence Welk Show.”

Originally studied clarinet with Don Kramer and saxophone with Frank Derrick, Jr.
First road experience was with “The Young Americans” in 1969 then free-lance Chicago.
Joined “The Russ Carlyle Orchestra” in 1974…barnstormed around the country in a van playing sweet big band music in long forgotten ballrooms. Highlight for that gig was replacing the Russ Morgan Orchestra at the Dunes Hotel for ten week stretches twice a year in Las Vegas while Russ Morgan went on the road. Stayed with Russ Carlyle for two years then moved to New York City (for the hell of it) in early 1977.

Ran out of money in New York. Got a chance to audition for Ringling Bros. Circus in Philadelphia and got the job…my life changed totally. Moved on to the circus train and started a whole, new and exciting life. Spent the next 5 years with Ringling. In the meantime studied with Eddie Barefield on saxophone and Lewis Wyatt on clarinet in New York, flute with Wayne Crebo of The Boston Pops and Byron Baxter of the Houston Philharmonic. I met my wife Danise, who was a performer on Ringling, in a snowstorm in Greensboro, NC when a show was cancelled in 1979…married in 1981. Left Ringling and moved to New York City (again).

While in New York did theatre work: “Sugar Babies” “Gypsy” and others. Worked with the Circle Rep Theatre…Loves Labors Lost. Free lanced around New York. Was a ticket taker at The Empire State Building Observatory!!!

Studied with Connie Crothers (a big turning point in my life) for six months, met and played with Richard Tabnik, Carol Tristano and others.

Moved to Los Angeles in 1985. Played on cruise ships (Royal Viking Line). Toured with Margaret Whiting, Kay Starr. Worked with the Comedian Kaye Ballard, Harry James Big Band, singers Connie Haines and Art Lund. Free lance with Ringling Bros. Toured with Debbie Reynolds and Harve Presnell…others

Went to London England, played with the Gerry Cottle Circus. Was Musical Director for the LA Circus for three years. Toured with the UniverSoul Big Top Circus and other circuses.

Went back with Ringling in 2002 stayed for 2 years then moved to Las Vegas. More….

Started to work with the poet Mark Weber and his Band played concerts and recorded. Made solo recordings with Mark Weber.Recorded with Connie Crothers, Mark Weber, Roger Mancuso, Richard Tabnik, Mikael Vlatkovich, William Roper, Bud Tristano and others.

Review of Connie Crothers Piano Bill Payne Clarinet Conversations

"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 drag on 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