Joshua Payne- Guitar
Dan Thomas - Drums
Ron Harrell- Upright Bass
Clint Roberts- Baritone Sax
Patrick Buie - Trombone
Joe Rudd - Tenor Sax
Al Michaels - Alto Sax
Scott Moore -Clarinet
Bret Jackson - Trumpet
The Joshua Payne Orchestra has been a part of Salt Lake City’s musical landscape for 10 years now, in one form or another. Over the last two years, they have really come into their own, garnering several consistent weekly gigs. They play Thursdays at Eva, Friday and Saturday nights as well as Sunday afternoons at the Grand America Hotel and starting in fall, Friday nights at Club Manhattan. Did you notice how Friday is listed twice there? That’s no typo––on Friday nights they will play from 7 -10 at the Grand America, then rush to Club Manhattan to play a set from 11-1. I asked him if that will be a bit overwhelming, but he just laughed as if I had asked him something stupid like if he thinks guitar is cool, and he replies, “we’re lucky to have so much work.” But he certainly has paid his dues to get to this point.
“I had a great passion for jazz, and I just took off for New York City one day.” he tells me, “I decided I was going to try to survive just by doing my thing. So I sat out in a subway station with my banjo, playing my original compositions.” He soon learned that he wasn’t going to survive, and ended up selling his guitars just to get by. In time, he met an experienced street musician who taught him how to work and make money playing in the subways, jumping on the trains and playing Latino pop songs from Yankee Stadium all the way to Coney Island. “That was the best lesson in music and life that I ever had.” he says, “That’s where I fell in love with playing in the street. Playing in the street is really where my heart is at.” He even went on to meet the Les Paul: “One night, I got to sit in with him, and in front of the whole audience he said ‘Joshua, you’re one of the great ones. You can play with me anytime. Make this your home.’” From jamming in the streets to jamming with Les Paul––this is the perfect description of what Payne is capable of.
He eventually made his way back to Salt Lake, ready to utilize the musical wisdom he earned in New York. One of his favorite corners to play was 100 South and Main, where we met at midnight on a Tuesday for this interview. “One summer, I played 80 nights in a row, from midnight to two,” he tells me. Payne and his orchestra eventually started a Friday night tradition of playing somewhere, announced earlier that day on Twitter, downtown at midnight. The members of the Orchestra are a diverse group of musicians. Dan Thomas once played drums with the Vile Blue Shades and currently with Tolchock Trio, Ron Harrell is a “youngster, he’s awesome...music just flows out of him,” Payne said about the bassist. Al Michaels on alto saxophone is “an old-school New York guy” with a huge background. Joe Rudd on tenor saxophone is from the Orbit Group and Bret Jackson plays trumpet with the Utah Symphony––and there are many others. Listening to Payne describe the members of the orchestra is like listening to someone describe their list of idols. He just can’t say enough good about every one of them. I felt like I was talking to someone who was living his dream.
The Orchestra isn’t just busy playing shows all week, every week—they also have a brand new 45 on vinyl available now, with another 45 to follow this year, as well as a full-length vinyl LP to be recorded and released at the end of the year. “Everything vinyl.” he states, “Dan, our drummer, is spearheading some sort of CD release, but I don’t want anything to do with it. I just love vinyl.”
I started to notice that Payne sort of shied away from using the word “jazz” to describe the orchestra. It’s “such a controversial word. You know, honestly, a good part of my life was spent just being a total jazz-snob-nerd. Now I listen to more current top 40 than I do jazz,” he explains. Over time, the Orchestra’s music has gotten simpler in a lot of ways. “We’re just trying to communicate instantly,” he says. I pressed for more clarification on the jazz thing, and he tells me: “If we were to describe our sound, you might hear a bit of Ellington, a little bit of Mingus, Bird, some contemporary dance beats, all wrapped up in an intensely––hopefully––passionate delivery.” An apt description. Go to joshuapayneorchestra.com for updates on shows and releases, and be sure to check out the Joshua Payne Orchestra at Craft Lake City this month––you won’t be disappointed.