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Meet Davis Wilson

Meet Davis Wilson
Tessa Souter and Andrea Wolper By

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Five years later I married again. She hated jazz. For seventeen years I was separated from my music. Finally, we divorced and I was free.
Jeopardy contestant, amateur pianist, dance teacher, actor, sailor, postal worker, our July Super Fan has lived all over the place and done it all. Now based in St. Paul, Minnesota, he met "zillions of artists" as keeper of the flame at the old Artists' Quarter jazz club. But he stumbled upon one of the most memorable concerts of his life at a funky auditorium in Seattle, where he saw the world's greatest-ever jazz singer, along with her favorite saxophonist.

Tell us a bit about yourself.
I was born in Tampa, Florida, in 1936. My father was a cop who died when I was nine years old. Somehow my mother raised my brother and me. We had an old Cable upright piano. I begged for lessons and, thanks to Ms. Russ and Schirmer [sheet music publisher], I learned to read music and gained a basic grasp of music theory. I am grateful. This was the foundation of my musical life.

I got through high school. Despite a good academic scholarship, I was tossed out of Florida State University. Afterwards, I bounced around a few jobs and then, in 1954, joined the Navy. After boot camp I was posted to Treasure Island, in San Francisco. I joined the boxing team so I was what they called "open gangway," which meant I was exempt from watch duty every third day, and not restricted to base.

Later, I sold books for a while and then became a dance teacher at Arthur Murray. After a year of living on the edge I drove the county bookmobile for the Tampa Public Library. I enrolled in the new University of South Florida as a theater major. The following summer I had a few small roles in a production of Hamlet. I met my first wife and left school to work for the U.S. Postal Service. A fellow worker sent my name to Jeopardy, so I made an appointment for an audition, flew to New York, and was selected. I went as a standby contestant and asked "What time is the call tomorrow?" "No! You're on in five minutes." That was the fastest half hour of my life.

At the time, I was appearing in a production of Brendan Behan's play, The Hostage, as a Russian sailor in a brothel, and the costume director had given me a buzz cut with pinking shears! That Jeopardy aired on Memorial Day. Everybody was home. I got calls from friends living God knows where. A year later I scored an appearance in the last episode of Route 66. I returned to USF to study sociology. I left school and became a steamship agent. I loved the work but it put a strain on the marriage and my wife divorced me. Five years later I married again. She hated jazz. For seventeen years, I was separated from my music. Finally, we divorced and I was free.

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