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Getz/Gilberto: Mystery Solved

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For years, I've been answering the same email question posed by readers about a photo taken at the famed Getz/Gilberto recording session in March 1963: Is the man in the middle who's wearing glasses producer Creed Taylor? And I've routinely replied no, it isn't. Many responded by saying, “It must be." I've assured them it isn't, noting that Creed didn't wear glasses. So exhausting. But in all fairness, I never could tell them who the person is because I didn't know for sure. That man has remained a mystery—until now.

Yesterday, Dan Donaghy, a former New York Times sales executive and a dogged researcher, wrote to let me know that he solved the mystery.

Here's Dan in his own words:

Hi Marc. Since we’re coming up on the 57th anniversary of the Getz/Gilberto recording sessions on March 18 and 19, I thought it would be a good time to let you know that I finally identified the “mystery man” in the photo I sent you a while back. As you know, this picture has been floating around the Internet for years, with the man in the glasses (above) often mistakenly identified as producer Creed Taylor.

Over the past year, I showed the photo to a number of people, including Jobim’s son Paulo, Stan Getz’s ex-wife Monica, Norman Gimbel’s son Tony, the family of Val Valentin (the album’s engineer), and even the daughter of Monty Kay (João’s agent). None had a clue as to the identity of the man in the glasses.

Then last month, I came across the photo in a book, Eis Aqui os Bossa-Nova, By the noted Brazilian music critic Zuza Homem de Mello that identified the man as Don Payne, an American jazz bassist. According to Homem de Mello, Payne had brought his bass to Phil Ramone's A&R Studios for Tião Neto to play.

Don Payne passed away three years ago, but I made contact with his wife, Barbara, and his daughter, Jesse, who confirmed that the man in the photo was Don. And I confirmed with them that the story about Don lending his bass for the session was indeed true.

Don was born in Texas in 1933 but grew up in California, where he started playing bass, eventually making a name for himself as a rising young jazz musician in the Los Angeles area. In early 1958, he played on Ornette Coleman’s groundbreaking debut album Something Else!!!!, moving later that year to New York, where he was invited to join Tony Bennett’s touring group, the Ralph Sharon Trio.

In 1961, Don traveled with Tony, Ralph and drummer Billy Exiner on a tour of South America, which included stops in São Paulo and Rio, at the height of the bossa nova scene in Brazil. Back in New York, Don played bass on three Brazilian tunes for Herbie Mann’s 1962 album, Right Now. And one month before the Getz/Gilberto sessions, Don was backing Stan Getz and Luiz Bonfá at A&R Studios for a Verve album that producer Creed Taylor would entitle Jazz Samba Encore!

Against this backdrop, it’s no surprise that Don would be called on only weeks later to lend his bass to Sebastião (Tião) Neto, the recently arrived Brazilian bassist. Neto did not yet have his Local 802 union card (the reason why he was originally uncredited on Getz/Gilberto). He must have traveled from Brazil without his cumbersome instrument, figuring he'd borrow or rent one here.

We don’t know for sure when Don first met Antonio Carlos Jobim and Astrud and João Gilberto. The encounter could have happened during the 1961 Tony Bennett tour in Rio, or at the landmark Bossa Nova at Carnegie Hall concert in November 1962, or at the Jazz Samba Encore! sessions in February 1963, or on the first day of recording for Getz/Gilberto on March 18.

What we do know is that the two men became fast friends and stayed close for many years after. Letters from Don to his friend “Tom” Gilberto in the Jobim archive in Rio speak to their shared love of the beach and fishing. [Photo above of Don Payne]

Don even studied Portuguese so he could better communicate with João Gilberto. Unlike his wife, Astrud, João spoke virtually no English when he first arrived in the U.S. in 1962. Don would eventually play on two of Astrud’s early albums (The Shadow of Your Smile and Look to the Rainbow), and he toured with her in 1965 and again in 1968 in Japan. When João returned to Brazil in 1966 after a three-year absence, Don went with him.

In 1966, Don swapped his upright bass for an electric Fender Precision to play on Jackie & Roy’s Lovesick album, ushering in a long period of session work for a wide range of artists. The list includes Richie Havens, Luiz Henrique, Maynard Ferguson, Melanie, Loudon Wainwright III, Judy Collins, Roy Buchanan, Janis Ian, Leonard Cohen, Harry Chapin and Aztec Two-Step. And with the help of master jingle writer David Lucas, he also played on hundreds of commercials.

After 30 years of working and raising a family in the New York area, Don and his family moved to South Florida in 1988. There, at the urging of his longtime friends and mentors Ray Brown and Percy Heath, he returned to playing acoustic bass. He quickly became a fixture on the local jazz scene. In 1997, Don co-produced and played on Room at the Top—the debut album of jazz pianist and singer Patti Wicks, released on Don’s Recycled Notes label. 

In October 2000, Don recorded an album called Rhapsodic Echoes, his first as leader, with the help of old friends Don Friedman, Bob Mann, Kenny Ascher and Allan Schwartzberg.

On February 25, 2017, Don passed away at the age of 84 after a long illness. He was survived by Barbara, his wife of 44 years, his daughter, Jesse, and his son, Cory.

Here’s Don on electric bass playing a great cover of Corcovado with his good friends Jackie & Roy on their album Lovesick, produced by Creed Taylor and released in May 1967 by Verve...

And here’s Vivo Sohando, recorded 57 years ago this month for the Getz/Gilberto album—the bass line courtesy of Tião Neto using Don Payne's upright.

—Dan Donaghy

A special thanks to Dan Donaghy for sharing his research and giving me the opportunity to publish his essay in JazzWax.





JazzWax notes: Looking at the photo above, I'm guessing Don Payne brought along a camera to the session and took the posed group shot above.

Then Tião Neto must have asked for the camera and insisted Don get in the picture with the others. Don probably urged Astrud to come join the group, too.

None of the musicians in the photos were aware that what they had just recorded would become the best-selling bossa nova album of all time and that the song, The Girl From Ipanema, with Astrud Gilberto singing in English, would turn the bossa nova into a commercial craze in the U.S. a year later when released in May 1964. Astrud is still unaware that the song would launch her singing career as well as doe- like, amateur singing style that would be copied by many others in the decades that followed.

For those wondering why so much time elapsed between the recording of Getz/Gilberto and its release, this had to do with two factors. Based on my interviews with Creed and others, Astrud's English vocal on Girl From Ipanema was originally meant to be a demo to entice a major singing star to record the song. Sarah Vaughan considered recording it but dragged her feet and held up its release. She ultimately passed. Her hesitance was likely over the oddness of singing about a girl rather than a boy (she would eventually record The Boy From Ipanema in 1966, after the song was a global hit).

In addition, Creed didn't want to release Getz/Gilberto until his previously produced bossa nova album on Verve—Jazz Samba Encore!, released in April 1963—had run its course. Creed was highly sensitive about market timing and wanted to avoid having product exceed demand in 1963. He also wanted to prevent Getz/Gilberto from choking off sales of Jazz Samba Encore! So Getz/Gilberto had to wait until after the nominations for the 6th Annual Grammy Awards. Jazz Samba Encore! was not nominated that year.

As for Getz/Gilberto, the album won three Grammys—Album of the Year, Best Instrumental Jazz Performance (Small Group) and Best Engineered Recording (Non-Classical). Astrud Gilberto's The Girl From Ipanema with Getz's solo won Record of the Year. As a footnote, the award for Best Instrumental Jazz Performance (Large Group) went to Laurindo Almeida's Guitar From Ipanema.

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This story appears courtesy of JazzWax by Marc Myers.
Copyright © 2021. All rights reserved.

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