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Interviews

Nathan Davis: Back From Here

By Published: June 11, 2005

AAJ: And that was when?

ND: That was in 1974.

AAJ: Meanwhile you were teaching at Pitt the whole time.

ND: Yeah, I was lucky. I was the last cat who could use the GI bill. And I paid for everything, flights, enrollment, etc, through the GI bill. They wanted to give me a teaching assistantship, but I said, "No, I can't do that, I need to keep my job at Pitt, because I'm going back anyway, but if we can work this out so I can fly up, I'll do it." And that's what happened. It took me four years of flying back and forth.

AAJ: You also made a record around that time that I remember - The Sixth Sense In The Eleventh House.

ND: That was a good record with Alan Dawson (drums), Richard Davis (bass) and Roland Hanna (piano).

AAJ: Was that your own record label?

ND: No, no. That was a record company here in Pittsburgh.

AAJ: Segue, right?

ND: Yeah, Segue Records. A guy named George Bacasa started it. Bacasa was hired by the president of the original company whose main business was fill editing and stuff like that for the NFL. They contacted him, or he contacted them, and he talked them into doing a record label as a tax write-off. So George was the president of the record label and I was the vice president. We did a number of records. We did my record Makatuka, we did one with Silhouettes - a lot of people pay a lot of money for these records at auctions - Abraham Laboriel's wife recently sent me a printout of an online auction where one of my records sold for $350. We also did another record with me with the Sixth Sense In the Eleventh House and then we did one with Toots Thielman - I don't even have a copy of that one.

Then all of a sudden some rock cat got the CEO's ear, the cat that owned the place, and (laughs hard) he came in and said that we were wasting a lot of money and time with jazz. I will never forget. He said, "Look here, this is fun, boys, but this guy convinced me that what we got to do is make some music that's going to sell to a lot of people.'" So there wasn't much we could do, but the irony of the whole damn thing is that this rock cat is the one that made them almost go bankrupt - trying to make a quick buck. Anyway, things have a way of working out.

AAJ: Years ago, I had a record of yours, recorded in Europe, with Larry Young playing piano.

ND: Yeah, Happy Girl.

AAJ: That's the only record I know of with Larry playing piano.

ND: I don't know (laughs) The reason I'm laughing is I brought Woody Shaw to Paris. I had been working with Eric Dolphy and Donald Byrd, right? And so Eric Dolphy, when Eric died all of a sudden, his fiancé, Joyce, came to me and we went to Madame Ricard, who owned the Chateau Paris, and said "Why don't we honor Eric's last wish and bring one of his dream trumpet players, Woody Shaw, to Paris?" So that's how Woody got to Paris.

This was actually my group and Woody was the trumpet player. We were working seven nights a week and, after about two or three weeks, Woody came to me and said "I wanna go home, I wanna go home.'" He was right out of high school when I sent for him. I said, "Hey, wait a minute, man. You've only been here month or so, give it time.'" So he said, "Then send for my boys back in New York." So Woody and I and Maddam Ricard put some money together and sent for Larry Young in Oregon and (drummer) Billy Brooks. Woody said, "Larry plays organ.'" So I said, "Wait a minute. What kind of organ player are you talking about?' You know, because I'm thinking I'd rather not work with an organ player - I'd rather have a pianist." And Woody said - I'll never forget - "Nat, this cat plays organ like you've never heard the organ played before, plus he's a helluva piano player." And so I said okay, so we sent for Larry and Billy.

About that time Kenny Clarke recommended to Joachim Berendt, a producer form Germany, that he thought that my band in Paris was one of the best things that was happening at that time. So Klook said, "Well, Nathan's got this band at the Chat qui Péché, you got to check them out." And that's how we got the record date with SABAA to do the happy girl album and on that day Larry played piano, not organ.

AAJ: He played piano on the gig, too?

ND: When we worked in clubs he would play piano, but sometimes he would request that the club owner find an organ for him - his love was organ. Sometimes we would go to a place and say "See if they can get a B3?" And we'd do it. But when he started playing piano he sounded a lot like of McCoy.

AAJ: Yeah, that's what I heard on that record.

ND: On piano, man. Yeah, all the times that we worked around Paris, specially at the Chat qui Péché, he played piano. On one occasion I remember him playing both piano and organ for a recording we made for a Parisian company, Pathe Marconi. Recently I was talking to Woody's son and Larry's son, because they had both been in touch with me about their fathers, you know, to get pictures, find information about their careers and I told them about this recording date. Pathe Marconi came in a recorded us live at the Chat qui Péché every night for about 10 days and got some helluva stuff I remember. But it never came out - they just kept it in the vault. And on these recordings we requested an organ and piano, so Larry's played both.

This guy who produced it, Michelle, I saw him a few years back when I was appearing with the Paris Reunion Band at the Antibes Jazz Festival. I asked him about the recording and he said, "Well, I'm not there any more, but it's there in the archives of Pathe Marconi." I was fortunate enough to hear a few of the tracks before I left Paris, and it was some of the best stuff I had ever heard.



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