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Interviews

Nathan Davis: Back From Here

By Published: June 11, 2005

AAJ: Let's go to the band Roots. That was something you were in on from the beginning.

ND: Yeah, from the beginning. Actually, the idea of Roots, my involvement anyway, came from Mike Hennessey. Because we were always best of buddies - and still are. I just produced a big program for UNESCO in Paris in October, and I had Mike come in and be part of that, too. After Woody died that kind of killed the Paris Reunion Band, for me anyway. I mean we did some things after that, but it kind of petered out. Well, anyway, concerning Roots, Mike said, "Well I got an idea, why don't we do a group with just saxophones and pay tribute to all of the great saxophone players in jazz." And I said, "Hey! Whatever you got, let's do it." So that's how I got involved. It was Mike's idea and he mentioned Chico Freeman, and he mentioned Sam Rivers and Arthur Blythe as the other saxophonists. And we put the rhythm section (with Don Pullen, Santi Debriano and Idris Muhammed) together and we did it and we had a lot fun with it. That band was together for about five or six years. (The Paris Reunion Band, I think, lasted about seven years.)

AAJ: Does that band ever tour any more?

ND: No, that kind of petered out, too. But it's funny - I was surprised - but I was talking to Arthur about it a week ago and we were both surprised that the band had been together five or six years almost. I didn't realize it was that long. And the Paris Reunion Band, that was seven years. We worked mostly in Europe.

AAJ: You did make a gig with the Paris Reunion Band in New York at the Blue Note years ago, if I remember correctly?

ND: Yeah, yeah. In fact it was in '85. Then the last time I played at the Blue Note was the Tribute to Dizzy. There was a month long Celebration for Dizzy. I was on one with Mario Rivera (tenor), Tim Warfield (tenor). Three tenors, Dizzy, and a rhythm section - Lewis Nash (drums), Danilo Perez (piano) and George Mraz on bass.

AAJ: Were those the only gigs you've done in New York since returning from Paris?

ND: I haven't worked that much here. I did a gig with Slide Hampton at Saratoga when I first came back. Slide was in Paris during the time I was there; that's how he got in the Paris Reunion Band, and he got me on that all-star Mingus All-Star Big Band and we did a thing up in Saratoga. Then Slide and I did a couple of quintet gigs at Battery Park and recorded in some studios. And then I played there once again with the Paris Reunion Band one night at Town Hall; that was funny because it was still the Paris Reunion Band and we did one hit in New York. At the time I was in Europe and I had to come all the way back and play it and then go all the way back (laughs). But regular work in New York, no.

AAJ: Do you have a regular working band in Pittsburgh?

ND: Yeah, I just recorded a new CD (The Other Side Of Morning - Dedicated to Eric Dolphy)with this band. Mike Taylor is on bass. Actually, Dwayne Dolphin, is also on bass. I used two bass players. James Johnson on piano and Craig Davis on piano, Greg Humphries is on drums. He's related to Roger Humphries. Roger's his uncle. He plays his ass off. And David Baker is on cello. He's on it as a guest. It's out now. I'm handling it myself with my company, Tomorrow International.

AAJ: How is it that you came to be included on the program for this James Moody tribute at the Blue Note?

ND: Moody and I, number one, are very good friends and we have been playing together, actually, all over the place. A number of times I've had him down here at the University of Pittsburgh. We've known each other since Paris. I think I met him in '64, '65, or something like that. So we've been friends. For the past five years I have put together a program down at Florida Memorial College for a friend of mine, All Smith, so in addition to here, at the University of Pittsburgh, he's been on Florida with me. And Grover Washington, Jr. In fact, we used to call ourselves the Three Tenors.

I think the last tribute they had for Moody in New York at Lincoln Center, I think it was April of 2000. I was on tour with the Paris Reunion Band and he had asked me to do it then but I couldn't do it because we were doing a tour. So this time he had Ina Ditke, his manager, call me. Ironically, I'm actually at the Kennedy Center for the Betty Carter Jazz Ahead program during this time. It's like a residency program. So I'm there from the 23rd through April 1, and I arranged to get off and so I could fly up to New York and do that on the 25th. Ina thought it was a good idea because Grover and Moody and I, like I said, had been playing around, as the Three Tenors and they wanted to do a salute to Grover, so she called and that's how they got it together.

You know, I want to say something else about Moody, though, man. I did some analysis of transcriptions of Moody's solos. My wife's writing a book. They are going to have a book signing at the Blue Note during this time. This cat! I mean I know him, he's my friend, but, boy that's one bad-assed dude there. (laughs) Boy, this cat is super, super, super bad, man. And some of his shit is so fast man. On alto I definitely put him in the same class as Stitt and Bird. He is killing.

And still, Moody calls now, he's going to be 80, right? And he says, "Nathan, check this out. Try this." And he'll play on the phone. Sometimes I get the students to come. He'll call up here at school and I'll pick up the phone and we listen in on this shit. And he'll be playing shit, "Practice this. Now do this. Do this." And I'll say, "Okay, man." (laughs) and that's beautiful because this cat he could lay back and say "Well, I've done it."



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