Take Five With Mike Davis

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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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