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Wild Bill Davison

Like a select group of other jazz instrumentalists, cornetist Wild Bill Davison had a talent that lives on long after his death. More than a decade after Davison died at the age of 83, record companies continue to reissue some of the more than 800 songs he recorded during his 70-year career. Jazz aficionados never tire of talking about some of the more memorable engagements played by the colorful Davison around the world.

Davison did not come by his lifelong nickname accidentally. He was a heavy drinker beginning in his teens and was known as a womanizer. Davison went through four wives before he finally got the knack of married life, settling down to a relatively monogamous relationship with his fifth wife—and love of his life—Anne Stewart. Heavy drinking and womanizing were the two most obvious characteristics that made Davison truly wild. He also enjoyed a reputation for playful antics and kleptomania as well.

In fact, given his wild streak, it's particularly amazing that Davison was a musician of such memorable ability. Beginning in childhood, he had displayed an unfailing ability to commit to memory every song he heard, and his natural ear for pitch amazed even his fellow musicians. It's equally amazing that even with a life of such excesses, Davison retained his musical abilities until the very end of his life. He practiced daily into his 80s and spent the final two decades of his life playing concert dates in Europe, where his music was extraordinarily popular.

William Edward Davison was born on January 5, 1906, in the northwest Ohio town of Defiance. The son of Edward Davison, an itinerant worker, and Anna Kreps Davison, a homemaker, he was raised by his maternal grandparents from the age of seven on. Davison displayed a love for music, as well as a natural ability to master musical instruments, at an early age. He first learned to play the mandolin, guitar, and banjo. He joined the Boy Scouts mostly because it provided an opportunity for him to learn the bugle. At age 12 he graduated from the bugle to the cornet. The sharper tones of the trumpet never really appealed to Davison, and he stayed with the cornet for the entirety of his musical career. His ear for music was so keen that after hearing a song only once he could reproduce its melody perfectly and elaborate on it with perfect chord progressions and harmonic improvisation. His ability to read music was limited, but it was a skill that he really did not need for the style of music that most interested him.

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Album Discography

Recordings: As Leader | As Sideperson

The Danish Sessions

Storyville Records


The Jazz Giants

Delmark Records


In Copenhagen

Sound Triangle Records


Wild Bill Davidson

Unknown label


Wild Bill Davison:...

Columbia Records




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