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Nathan Davis: Back From Here

Russ Musto By

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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.

AAJ: You were a Jazz Messenger, too. You worked with Art Blakey around that time, didn't you?

ND: I'm going to tell you something that few people know. In 1965 I toured with him, Art. According to Art, I was the first tenor player after Wayne. (laughs) He (Art) told me the story, he said, "Miles stole my tenor player." So when Joachim Berendt put together that tour first he turned it down because he didn't have a tenor player. I was working with Klook at the Blue Note in Paris. (The first time, when first I met him, we were at the Club St. Germaine des Pres in Paris and they had the battle of the bands - Art Blakey from Pittsburgh and Kenny Clarke from Pittsburgh, you know two Pittsburghers. So Bu - that's what they called Art - remembered that night and when Joachim suggested that he have a tenor player - me - Art liked the idea and that's how I got the job with Art. So when he got ready to book for the tour (Newport Jazz Festival in Europe) - everybody was on it. They remembered me and I joined Art in the new Jazz Messengers on that tour.

The tour went all over Europe - almost every capitol there. Freddie can tell you because he was there. The band was named as the New Messengers because of the direction the band was takings. Freddie Hubbard was on trumpet, I was on tenor, Jaki Byard was on piano. He took it in another direction - with him in there we had a little freedom thing going, Jaki could also play trombone, vibraphone, saxophone, clarinet and kill. Reggie Workman was the bassist and Buhaina on drums.

I got to tell you this (laughs), because this is bringing back good memories. We were playing in Stockholm at Ice Arena, you know, the big arenas. Now we'd been on tour and Jaki would be going out, but this night he was really going out this night, you know what I mean, stretching and Bu called me over, "Davis!" And I went over there and leaned down and Bu said, "What the hell is Jaki Byard doing?" (laughs) "Well he's trying to stretch out - loosen it up a little bit, you know," I told him. (laughs) So Bu said, "Well tell him he can't do that shit, man - he's going too far out." So I kind of - trying to be cool - you know, young and stupid, got in the middle. I went over to Jaki and I said, "Hey Jaki, you got to cool it a little bit, Bu's getting upset." And Jaki said out loud, everybody could hear him, "Oh man, I thought you were one of the cats, man. Come on, man." I said to myself, "Whoops! Let me get out of here." You know another thing with Art, I wanted to play flute sometimes, but he wouldn't let me play flute. He'd say, "Too light."

I think what was happening in my case because I was living in Europe, he didn't have to bring me. Joachim Berendt was doing the whole tour. I don't know all the particulars, but George Wein always did the Newport tours, but that one year Berendt did it. So he was in charge. So I was his guy because he had just produced my new album, so it was fate, I guess. Berendt said when he called my name, he (Bu) said "Oh yeah. Get him. It was cool."

I remember I showed up a day ahead of time in Munich, where we were supposed to start. I said, "Well, I'm going to learn this music." So I started listening to all the records and shit. I didn't know what they're going to play. So, maybe I was two days up there or something like that, because Freddie came the day before we started and I said ... everybody's looking for Bu. This is a new group getting together, Jaki Byard, etc., you gotta figure that shit out ... new tenor player, new pianist, etc ... So Freddie, I remember that afternoon in the hotel, he said, "We better rehearse something. Bu might not show up 'til right at the time we hit." (laughs) So sure enough, God bless his soul, Freddie rehearsed and I got some of the shit down, and we hit that night, you know, we hit. We had to hit and I was hanging and, after the gig, Benny Golson came up and he said, "Nathan Davis. Sound good. And I got it all right here (showing a portable cassette recorder)." And I said, "Oh shit," because I didn't know the music that well, you know what I mean, that good, because it was my first hit. I never forgot it. I looked at Benny like, boy, come on, man ... my hero Benny Golson, standing out there saying, "I got it all right here." Showing me the tape recorder. (laughs) "I got it all right here."

This is true, man. I always felt good about working with Klook. Klook was like my father. We were that tight because I worked with him all those years. Bu came to me at the end of the tour and asked me to stay with the band. Freddie said, "I got to talk to you, I'm just telling you this" - anyway what happened was Freddie said, "Bu loves you. He said you remind him a lot of Wayne and he likes you and he wants you to stay. But I would think this over, if I were you." This is what Freddie is telling me. And I always felt close to Freddie for being honest with me like that. "He's going to cry and he's going to do all kinds of shit, but you better think about." Freddie was just telling me to look out for myself.

Anyway, sure enough, this is what happened in Amsterdam. He called me in, "Yeah Davis, I want you to stick with the band. You'll be the musical director and whatever we play, you will write. You will be just the same as Wayne was." He's talking about how much he's going to pay me, work or not, you know retainer, that kind of shit. During that time my daughter was just born. She was like six months old or something like that and so I told him "You're the man," but actually I wasn't ever planning to come back to America anyway, to be honest, so that had something to do with it. But I said, "Man, I really appreciated this, but I can't go back. I'm staying in Paris to be with my family." And that was my intent.

Everytime I would see his new group with Terrence Blanchard, he would tell the story of me in Paris and not accepting a permanent position with the group. I first met Terrence and Donald together with Bu. Bu said, "Hey this is Nathan Davis, he used to be my tenor player. I want you all to meet him. And he's the only man in America who ever turned me down." So I mean he's lying, but I told him I wouldn't leave Paris because I wanted to raise my daughter. He would run that in my face every time I would see him.

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