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Take Five With Mike Davis


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Meet Mike Davis:

Mike Davis has lived several distinct musical lives. He has been a student, a serious student of performance and of theory and of composition and of art. He has been a gig warrior, playing multiple shows in multiple styles on different instruments at different venues with different bands on the same day numerous days per week, week after week after week. He has been a record producer, sitting in front of a computer and a rack of mic pre's and compressors recording, editing, mixing, and picking on artists until he finally feels they got it. He has been a recording artist, obsessing over whether the material is right, whether the concept is strong, and whether the ensemble gets it. He has been a record label owner, pondering how best to market a project and to whom, begging for reviews and hoping they don't stink, dealing with logistics that are a world away from the music they serve. He has been a bandleader, a sideman, an extrovert, and a recluse. What follows is a brief history of those lives, some of which are still being lived.

Over the years Mike has been fortunate to perform and record with many musical greats including Airto Moreira, Norah Jones, Steve Gadd, Ed Thigpen, Doc Watson, Bobby Womack, Ellen Greene, Peter Erskine and Poncho Sanchez to name a few. He was a regular member of the bands Little Jack Melody and His Young Turks and The Pasties. He studied music at the renowned University of North Texas. He has performed all across the US and all over the world.


Acoustic bass and electric bass.

Teachers and/or influences?

Classical teachers: Ed Rainbow and Jeff Bradetich;

Jazz teachers: John Adams, Eric Late, David Foster.

Main influences on bass are Palle Danielsson, Charlie Haden, Marc Johnson, Arild Andersen, and Gary Peacock.

Primary influences as jazz composers/bandleaders include Keith Jarrett, Jimmy Giuffre, Paul Bley, and Ralph Towner.

I knew I wanted to be a musician when...

I knew I wanted to be a musician immediately upon touching the bass for the first time. I had been an avid record collector as a child, interested in many different styles of music. A friend in high school played bass and I borrowed his sometime around 1986. Immediate reaction! I began taking lessons from David Foster (currently the bassist for Airmen of Note) and he really helped guide me to my first great jazz records. Now He Sings, Now He Sobs, by Chick Corea, was the first jazz record that made me need to play. It blew my mind. I knew I was a musician immediately. It felt right and I've never looked back.

Your sound and approach to music:

For me, music has to evoke a feeling or an image. I have long loved jazz but I have long loathed musical athleticism to no expressive end. Whether playing standards, improvising freely, or interpreting new original material, I believe a mature jazz musician/ensemble uses technique to serve the concept and the vibe- not to show off. When writing I think exactly the same way. I seek to tell a story rather than to create a vehicle on which to blow. The blowing should serve the song and its story in my opinion, not the other way around.

Your dream band:

To be honest, I have recorded with my dream band. I can't think of people better on their instruments and more giving as improvisers and ensemble players than saxophonist Jacob Duncan, guitarists Tim Miller and Niclas Haglind, along with drummers Norm Bergeron and Jason Tiemann. That said, I have always dreamed of playing with Keith Jarrett. Also, I'd love to work with Dave Douglas, Ralph Towner, Bobo Stenson and Jon Christensen.

Road story: Your best or worst experience:

In the summer of 1991, just one month shy of my 19th birthday I was playing with a big band at the Montreux Jazz Festival. It was my first time out of the country, I was young, excited, and ready for adventure. The evening before we were to return to the states, I went skinny dipping in Lake Leman with a few of the guys from the band and some girls we met. Like the 18 year-old numbskull I was, I left my passport in the pocket of my shorts on the beach. Naturally, it was stolen! The next day, I sent my bass with the band to the airport while I worked like a maniac in Geneva filing police reports, visiting the consulate to tell my tale, and having new passport photo taken. I got it done and made it to the airport with only moments to spare. Lessons learned: 1. It would be nice to know at least a little French when in Geneva; and 2. Don't go skinny dipping if you have your passport with you...just don't.

Your favorite recording in your discography and why?

Without question, my favorite recording in my discography is Fortunes and Hat-tricks, Vol. 1. It was 100% spontaneously composed by the ensemble and I feel it is a total success musically. We didn't rehearse, we didn't discuss, and we didn't listen back to a single take in the studio. In each moment we fully committed to the results and the end result was a very pure abstraction conveying the essence of each song title or set of prompts with great empathy and intuition. I am very proud of it.

The first Jazz album I bought was:

The first jazz album I bought was Chick Corea's Now He Sings, Now He Sobs. It absolutely blew me away. For a while I listened but had no idea what I was hearing. Later on, I performed a show in Houston with a trio including Bruce Dudley and Todd Harrison playing all the music in order from the original release. Very fun, very challenging, and totally humbling.

What do you think is the most important thing you are contributing musically?

I believe the most important thing I am contributing to the world is music with an unselfconscious blending of the lyrical and the abstract. By not feeling the need to fit neatly into a particular sub-genre of jazz or even always into the genre of jazz itself, I believe I'm making music that challenges listeners without excluding or disregarding them.

CDs you are listening to now:

Craig Taborn Trio, Chants (ECM);
Paul Motian , Lost In A Dream (ECM);
Enrico Pieranunzi, Dream Dance (Cam Jazz);
We3 (Dave Liebman), Amazing (ECM);
David Bowie, Heroes (RCA).

Desert Island picks:

Keith Jarrett, My Song (ECM);
Keith Jarrett, Belonging (ECM);
Echo and the Bunnymen, Ocean Rain (Korova).

How would you describe the state of jazz today?

I think jazz today is having a major identity crisis. There are some truly great artists but in this current hyper-marketed world (more than ever before) everything is a product, including art. Everything has to have a tweet angle, a Facebook Fan Page, a spinable look and vibe, etc. Edge is fine as long as it's part of the marketing strategy. Requisite hipness is making it hard for folks to listen to their instincts and make real art. There are also very few listeners whose ears haven't been so impacted by current popular music lacking in dynamics, totally pitch-corrected, metronomically steady tempo, drum sounds replaced to avoid any variation, and lead vocals looped from chorus to chorus. Humanity is being drained from popular music and jazz is all about humanity. Fewer and fewer listeners have the patience for jazz. It's more important than ever to do everything possible to reach people who might love jazz, who might love musical risks, and who might love real spontaneity. If only they just heard it.

What are some of the essential requirements to keep jazz alive and growing?

I think in order to keep jazz alive and growing we need to share it with kids. It needs to be a basic part of an education as an important aspect of American history and culture. It shouldn't just be taught to kids who might want to play. Jazz already tends to be played, first and foremost, for an audience of players. It's what makes it feel so exclusive. I think any cultured fan of art in general given an appropriate amount of exposure to jazz at an early age, could appreciate the tradition, the purity of expression, the near psychic level of communication, and cooperation between members of a group when they're really listening, mature, evolved, and trusting. Honestly, there needs to be a significant movement of jazz artists taking themselves seriously as composers of concert music. The pieces and the concepts behind them need to become as important, memorable, and worthy as the ensuing improvisations.

What is in the near future?

I am currently working on several projects as a leader. One is a piano-less quartet album of deconstructed standards. The "new compositions" use the original pieces as starting points employing a variety of compositional techniques. Another project, admittedly epic in scope, is a musical interpretation of Kurt Vonnegut's novel The Sirens of Titan. The project, called Universal Will To Become, is expected to be nine volumes/albums long. The song titles are evocative phrases from the novel itself. The writing techniques are extremely varied. The goal, esoteric to be sure, is to instrumentally explore the novel's "big questions." As producer and bassist, I am working on a trio album with Dallas-based pianist Brad Williams wherein we try to reinvent exceptional pop and rock songs by the likes of Band of Horses and Björk.

What is your favorite song to whistle or sing in the shower?

I catch myself whistling "Blue Monk" way too much.

By Day:

I run a dog walking service in Manhattan.

If I weren't a jazz musician, I would be a:

...can't imagine.

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