Saxophonist David Davis pushes against genre limits
Updated 12:00 am, Monday, March 12, 2018
David Davis would much rather play music than try to describe it.
The saxophonist is a jazz musician, but he likes to color outside the boxes that critics often try to create for artists. David Sanborn was his first big influence when he switched over from trumpet to sax, but these days he says “I’m not a traditionalist, I’m an evolutionist.”
Davis studied at the University of Hartford Harrt School, where he earned a degree in jazz studies and music management. He became a protege of the late great jazz saxophonist and Down Beat Hall of Fame member Jackie McLean.
Pop music and rock knocked jazz out of the center of musical culture some time ago, so players who want to perform a lot have to mix up genres to stay relevant. Over the years, Davis has learned from performing with a wide range of musical artists from Mary J. Blige to LL Cool J.
“I do think you have to know the roots of jazz in order to make changes,” Davis says, adding he is sometimes frustrated by those who want to “revolutionize” music without knowing what came before them. “I don’t like labeling a lot of music. When I worked in a record store, people would ask me where to find something and I would watch them walking past so much great music that they didn’t know about.”
Ideally, instead of sticking to one genre, musicians and listeners will open themselves up to types of material they haven’t encountered before. Technology makes instant delivery of any music possible and Davis says sites such as YouTube have exposed him to non-jazz artists he might not have come across in the pre-internet era.
The jazz player gives a lot of credit for his career path to a football coach at St. Thomas More School in Oakdale who heard him playing the trumpet one day and suggested that the high school student apply to Hartt. At the time, Davis was torn between his love of football and music, so his first question about the Hartford school was “Do they have a football team?”
The coach replied they didn’t have a team, but that the young man’s musical gift was too special to ignore. Davis auditioned and started at Hartt the next year.
“He was able to do that for me,” the musician marvels years later. “He pushed me in a totally different direction toward music and jazz. He knew I loved it and he knew if I kept playing football and I was hurt, that career would be done.”
When he got to college, Davis kept his hand in sports by playing rugby when he wasn’t studying.
Davis, who grew up in Stamford but lives in West Haven, has a new CD out, “Dig This!,” which illustrates the diversity of the music he likes to explore, from re-worked standards like “Blue Skies” to his own propulsive compositions. The recording includes a title tune that works variations on nursery rhymes and features elements of hi-hop and Indian music that he gives a jazz spin.
“Dig This!” is the product of a decade of work in the studio since Davis put out his last recording in 2007. He had been steadily recording and archiving material over the years, but put off releasing anything because he was busy getting married and having two daughters in the meantime. “My life became different and wonderful,” he says.
Fortunately, Davis had amassed close to 40 tracks over the years, so putting out the CD was just a matter of picking 15 tracks.
“It was hard to choose because I like all of the songs I recorded,” he says. “It has been great to see songs I wrote seven or eight years ago come out.”
One of the side benefits of Davis’ painstaking method of recording is the wide variety of musicians he has brought into the studio. The eclectic nature of the CD is a function of its long gestation.
“You have 40 different musicians (on the tracks) and each one has a different sound,” he says. “They all inspired me.”