Nathan Davis: Back From Here

Russ Musto By

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AAJ: What prompted you to stay in Europe at the time?

ND: Well, first of all I ended up being drafted into the military, right after I got my degree in Kansas. Joe Henderson and I met Joe in the military. They had this all army contest, I forget what you call it, it was set up so that army bands could go all over entertaining troops. They had this big contest and I had written some arrangements (hums) "It's Alright With Me," you know. I had two trombones and me playing tenor and we won the European arena, or whatever you call it, and they sent us back to the states. And Joe won with his group, in the U.S. arena. In America and we all played together down in Maryland someplace. And they selected people from each group for the Royal tour. This is weird, they didn't select a tenor player, they selected Joe as a bassist. Joe Henderson, that's true. And Joe toured and I went on back to Berlin 279th Army band, whatever the band was, in Berlin, and I looked up one day and Joe was in the barracks coming to see me. And we used to talk a lot, "What are you going to do when you get out." And both of us said that we wanted to go to Paris, play with Kenny Clarke and study with Nadia Boulanger. That was our dream. And Joe went back to New York and hooked up with KD, of course, and I stayed in Europe and I worked with Kenny Clarke. But I didn't study with Nadia Boulanger (laughs), she wouldn't accept me, you know. But I did play with Kenny Clarke. So my mind was set to stay in Europe when I got out of the army. I'd heard from one of the students of Nadia Boulanger, that she didn't accept me and the other students because we were not dressed properly with a tie and suit. She was very conservative.

AAJ: Did you feel it was a better way of life?

ND: The truth was when I decided to stay in Europe, I did so because I wanted to work as a musician and not a school teacher. First I worked with Benny Bailey (trumpet) and Joe Harris (drums) in Berlin, and then Joachim Berendt produced Expatriate Americans in Europe, and Kenny Clarke heard me and invited me from Koblenz in Germany, where the concert was held to join him in Paris at the club St. Germaine des Pres. So night after night I'm playing with Kenny Clarke, Dexter Gordon would come in, Johnny Griffin would come in, Sonny Criss and then Don Byas would come in. And then Erroll Garner, and the MJQ, would all come in and play with us. After a while I said, "Shit, what am I going back to the states for, I'm working with more people over here than I ever could in the states." And that's why I stayed because if I came back to the states I would just be another cat ...

AAJ: Scuffling like everybody else.

ND: Yeah and I'd never even get to meet them cats, and I'm working with Kenny Clarke and everybody who came there came to see him. So I just stayed and it ended up being five years, seven years, you know like that. I started when I was in the military, like '61 and stayed until I came back here in '69.

AAJ: Did you continue working as a player during this time?

ND: Yeah, that's the reason that I laugh. I remember sitting here, actually not this office, but another office here, reading in Downbeat magazine and it said, "Dexter Gordon returned back, Woody Shaw returned back, to great ovations. Whatever happened to Nathan Davis?" And boy, a big tear came to my eye, because I had been playing all the time. Still playing, but people had that kind of attitude - a different kind of attitude towards a musician who was teaching, too. But now that's all changed, everybody is trying to find positions.

AAJ: Also, you were in Pittsburgh.

ND: And I was in Pittsburgh, yeah, but say for instance - you know about the Paris Reunion Band. We made four or five videos and seven lps and then after that I was with the band Roots (with Chico Freeman, Arthur Blythe and Sam Rivers) and later Benny Golson. I was always touring even though I was in Pittsburgh. In fact, when I took this job I told them that I would only take it if I could continue to tour and do my thing. But I would just honor the fact that I had a schedule here and I wouldn't be gone all the time. But I never intended to give up (playing) and I never did.

I've got to tell you this story. I mean I laugh about it. Mike Hennessy is a good friend of mine. He used to be editor of Billboard; he was the European editor of Billboard for years. I was sitting in his office in London - I must have been working at Ronnie Scott's - and he said call these cats over in Germany because, man, they love your work, and maybe you can get a date and I can produce it. So I got on the phone and I called and I said, "Hey, it's Nathan Davis here," and the cat said, "Yeah, yeah, how are you doing, and everything?" and I said, "Well, fine, I'm in Europe playing at Ronnie Scott's." He said "Well, I don't know, Nathan. When you were living here you were playing all the time and the people, they really liked your playing, but now you started teaching. You chose another way of life." And I said, "What does that have to do with playing. Shit, I'm still a player." But that's the kind of attitude that they had then. Of course, that's changed now with a lot of guys teaching.

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.

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