By Chida Warren-Darby
Managing Editor

Since 2013, southern Californian residents have been abuzz about the San Diego Jazz Festival, which takes place this Memorial Day weekend, at the La Costa Resort. With a star studded line-up, the festival has definitely breathed new life into the San Diego jazz scene.  But while news is circulating about who’s performing this year, news is also getting out about one of the faces behind the festival, Mr. Willie Payne.  Since 2006, Payne and his wife, Kathy have owned and operated Payne Pest Management, a family owned, full service termite and pest control company thatservices everything from general pests to rodents, birds, bees and even raccoons and opossums. From humble beginnings, the company doors opened with only three employees and one office. Within four years, they grew to 37 employees and three offices that of which are in San Diego, Irvine and Los Angeles.  In 2009, Payne’s company was ranked as one of the 100 largest pest control companies in the U.S.

willie payneWhen jazz took a decline in San Diego, Payne didn’t immediately see himself as being a key proponent on the jazz scene, in fact his ear was more tuned to R&B. “My wife turned me on to smooth jazz,” he says. “I was really a big R&B fan. We started going to a couple of the jazz concerts at Humphrey’s, and I got more and more acclimated to it.”  When he started his company, they did a lot of their promotions through KIFM and 94.7 – The Wave, in Los Angeles, to target their demographic. Through these connections, Payne found himself jumping on board as a sponsor for many of the stations’ jazz events.  To fill the void, locally, Payne set out to do his own concert at the Embarcadero, but found his plans were interrupted when he met Mr. Brad Laughlin, owner of BTW Concerts.  Together they produced the San Diego Jazz Festival. Because of the great success they’ve experienced with the inaugural festival, Payne has found himself sitting with Laughlin as a partner and title sponsor of the festival. “This collaboration has been a booming success, and thanks to the help of Mr. Laughlin, a dream come true,” he says.  Last year’s attendance for the three day event was just over 15,000 (which averaged at about 5,000 a day). This year, Mr. Payne says they’re projecting about 10,000 people a day. The lineup includes Jill Scott, Maxwell, Brian Culbertson, Charlie Wilson, Joe, Eric Darius, Ledisi, Mint Condition, Anthony Hamilton and many more. Laughlin also produces festivals in Arizona and Las Vegas. Payne’s mantra is: Give the people a festival that they can’t stay away from. “It’s been a lifelong dream of ours to pull off something this first class in San Diego,” and first class it is!

With all his success and new partnerships, Mr. Payne remains humble and very aware of his community.  “I never forget where I come from,” he says. “I’m blessed and thank God that I have the ability to do this. Brad has allowed our team to grow and brown from this.”  In eight years, his company has grown into what it is today, and he attributes that to hard work and organic growth. In the near future, Payne plans to produce more local concerts, in fact, having one set for the fall. In addition to eliminating pests and co-producing concerts, Mr. Payne has lent his hand to educating men on health through a foundation he chairs called “Permission to Talk,” which focuses on men, medicine and music. “We fund the foundation through festivals, conferences to offer, screenings, tests and PSAs.”  Mr. Willie Payne is indeed a busy man. For more information on the festival this weekend please visit www.sandiegojazzfest.com.