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Meet Davis Wilson

Tessa Souter and Andrea Wolper By

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I have lived in many places. I am currently based in St. Paul, Minnesota. Here, I am able to pursue my passions: theater, music, and poetry, although, these days, too much of my energy must be devoted to survival. I have a good memory, so my brain is stuffed with music, poetry, and everything I've stumbled across in eighty years.

How long have you been going out to hear live music?
Sixty years, off and on.

How often do you go out to hear live music?
As often as I can afford it.

What is it about live music that makes it so special for you?
For starters I'll quote Keith Jarrett. "Jazz happens and it's gone. You have to be present." Same thing I love about theater: the ephemerality. There's an exchange between performer and audience.

What are the elements of an amazing concert?
The music, the performers. In 1957, I stumbled into some funky auditorium I don't remember the name of in Seattle. The following musicians came out, played three songs, and split: George Shearing, Bud Powell, Lester Young, and Billie Holiday. I thought I was dreaming. I was saying, "That's Billie Holiday!" to people around me. I've caught many amazing gigs.

What is the farthest you've traveled to get to a jazz performance?
The first time I went to Paris coincided with the Paris Jazz Festival. I went to the Parc Floral, knowing that Tom Harrell, a friend, was playing. He had a great band: Conrad Herwig, Greg Osby, Ralph Peterson, Xavier Davis and two guys I forget. I knew Xavier from the Artists' Quarter. Angela, Tom's wife, was selling CDs and said, "What are you doing here? This isn't Minnesota." Me: "I didn't want to miss the gig."

Is there one concert that got away that you still regret having missed?
A few years ago, I passed on an Astor Piazzolla concert. He died four months later. Never pass up a chance.

If you could go back in time and hear one of the jazz legends perform live, who would it be?
Too many. Buddy Bolden, Django Reinhardt, Charlie Parker.

What makes a great jazz club?
Freedom, ambiance, affordability, good players/singers. Of course, I loved the Artists' Quarter in Lowertown, St. Paul. And I loved the old Blackhawk in San Francisco. When I was stationed on Treasure Island, every time I had a few bucks I headed for the Blackhawk, a nightclub in the Tenderloin that became my second home. I hung out there, fearlessly, in my little sailor suit. I dug it all: Shelly Manne's quintet with Monty Budwig, Stu Williamson, Richie Kamuca, Russ Freeman. Freeman was a garrulous cat, who I saw talking to three very cool men. Later I asked him: "Russ, who were those guys?" "The Montgomery Brothers; call themselves The Mastersounds." [Ed: Wes Montgomery and younger brother Buddy Montgomery, along with Richard Crabtree and Benny Barth, had a band called the Mastersounds] I also caught Cal Tjader's great quintet: Al McKibbon, Vince Guaraldi, Willie Bobo, Mongo Santamaria, who let me touch his drums. I had a good conversation with Dave Brubeck at the bar. I regret not having talked with Paul Desmond. Who knew he would die so soon?

Which club(s) are you most regularly to be found at?
Crooners Jazz and Supper Club in north Minneapolis. The owner, Mary Tjosvold, added the Dunsmore Room to commemorate pianist Larry Dunsmore, her late husband. It's a fabulous listening space with a nine-foot Steinway and a strict NO talking rule. Great venue. Andrew Walesch, a fine singer and pianist, books top local and national acts. Get there if you can.

Is there a club that's no longer around that you miss the most?
Of course, the AQ.

Tell us about your work there.
Legendary job. Kenny Horst had revived the Minneapolis Artists' Quarter. I convinced him to let me take care of the door. In September 2000, we moved to the Hamm Building and stayed for fourteen years. Fourteen years of incredible music and musicians. What a ride!

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