Wild Bill Davison’s Excellent Danish Adventure

Davison 01

WILD BILL DAVISON: THE DANISH SESSIONS, 1973-1978

CD 1: S. EVANS: Driftin’ Down the River. BERRY-DAVIS-RAZAF: Christopher Columbus. WILLIAMS-WARFIELD: Baby, Won’t You Please Come Home? WOOD-GREY-GIBBS: Runnin’ Wild. REDMAN-DENNIKER-DAVIS: Save It, Pretty Mama. CONLEY-ROBINSON: A Cottage for Sale. WINFREE-BOUTELJIE: China Boy. RENE-RENE-MUSE: When It’s Sleepy Time Down South. JOHNSON-MACK: Old-Fashioned Love. JENSEN: Blues for Ann. Farfar’s Blues. LAYTON-TURNER: Way Down Yonder in New Orleans. REYNOLDS-DOUGHERTY: I’m Confessin’ (That I Love You). SWANSTONE- MORGAN: Blues My Naughty Sweetie Gave to Me. DUKE-GERSHWIN: I Can’t Get Started. G. & I. GERSHWIN: Oh Lady Be Good* / Wild Bill Davison, ct/voc w/Papa Bue’s Jazz Band: Arne “Papa” Bue Jensen, tbn; Jorgen Svare, cl; Bent Jædig, t-sax; Jørn Jensen, pno; Lars Blach, gtr; Jens Sølund, bs; Knud Ryskov Madsen, dm; *Ole Stolle, tp / WALLER-KIRKEBY: All That Meat and No Potatoes. AHLERT-YOUNG: I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter. HOWARD-ADAMS-HOUGH: I Wonder Who’s Kissing Her Now / Davison, ct; A. Jensen, tbn; Svare, cl; J. Jensen, pno; Bjarne “Lille” Pedersen, bj; Jórgen Hallin Olsen, gtr; Sølund, bs; Madsen, dm; Gustav Winckler, voc

CD 2: BERNIE-PINKARD-CASEY: Sweet Georgia Brown. McHUGH-GASKILL: I Can’t Believe That You’re in Love With Me / Davison, ct; Finn Otto Hanse, tpt; Ole “Fessor” Lindgreen, tbn; Elith Nykjær, cl/a-sax; Steen Vig, t-sax/s-sax; Torben Petersen, pno; Preben Lindhardt, bs-gt; Thorkild Møller, dm. / TRAD., arr. Lindgreen: Just a Closer Walk With Thee / Davison, ct; Verner Work Nielsen, tpt; Lindgreen, tbn; Vig, t-sax/s-sax; Hans Kjærby, pno; Claus Nielsen, gtr; Ole Mosgaard, bs; Møller, dm / BURWELL-PARISH: Sweet Lorraine / Davison, ct; Lindgreen, tb; Jesper Thilo, t-sax; Ralph Sutton, pno; Lars Blach, gtr; Hugo Rasmussen, bs; Svend Erik Nørregaard, dm / CARMICHAEL-GORRELL: Georgia On My Mind / Davison, Vig, Steen, Rasmussen; Torben Munk, gtr; Ove Rex, dm / BURKE-VAN HEUSEN: But Beautiful. ARMSTRONG: Someday You’ll Be Sorry. BLAKE-RAZAF: Memories of You. McHUGH-FIELDS: Exactly Like You / Davison, ct; Thilo, t-sax/cl; Uffe Karskov, t-sax; Flemming Madsen, bar-sax; Pere Carsten Pedersen, a-sax; Steen, pno; Munk, gtr; Rasmussen, bs; Rex, dm / ARLEN-MERCER: Everything Happens to Me. WALLER-RAZAF: Blue Turning Grey Over You / same, but omit a-sax & bar-sax.

CD 3: CONDON: Improvisation for the March of Time. SHAPIRO-CAMPBELL-CONELLY: If I Had You. SMITH-WHEELER-SNYDER: The Sheik of Araby. AUSTIN-McHUGH-MILLS: When My Sugar Walks Down the Street. OLIVER: Dippermouth Blues. WALLER-RAZAF: Keeping Out of Mischief Now. WALLER-RAZAF-BROOKS: Black and Blue. ALTER-DeLANGE: Do You Know What it Means to Miss New Orleans? YOUMANS-CAESAR: I Want to Be Happy. HANDY: Memphis Blues. Ole Miss / Davison, ct; Cutty Cutshall, tbn; Edmond Hall, cl; Gene Schroeder, pno; Eddie Condon, gtr; Bob Casey, bs; Buzzy Drootin, dm / JOLSON-DeSYLVA-ROSE: Avalon / Davison, Cutshall, Hall, Casey; Ralph Sutton, pno; Cliff Leeman, dm / WALLER-WILLIAMS; Squeeze Me / Davison, Cutshall, Hall, Sutton, Condon, Casey; Don Lamond, dm.

CD 4: PINKARD-ALEXANDER-MITCHELL: Sugar. WHITING-MORET: She’s Funny That Way. SHAPIRO-CAMPBELL-CONELLY: If I Had You. CARMICHAEL: Rockin’ Chair. CLARK-TURK-MEYER-JOHNSTON: Mandy, Make Up Your Mind. BROWN-HOMER-GREEN: Sentimental Journey / Davison, ct; Per Walther, Ivan Leth, Erik Vedel Peteren, Boris Samsing, Kurt Jensen, Niels Peter Ludbergsen, Willy Jensen, Hans Nielsen, vln; Finn Ziegler, Jørgen Haslev, vla; Niels Erik Clausen, Lueyna Lange, cel; Jørn Jensen, pno; Lars Blach, gtr; Jens Sølund, bs; Hans Nymand, dm. / GORDON-WARREN: Serenade in Blue. G. & I. GERSHWIN: Our Love is Here to Stay. ELLINGTON-GORDON-MILLS: Prelude to a Kiss / same, but add Jesper Thilo, cl; Ole “Fessor” Lindgreen, tbn / ARNHEIM-TOBIAS-LEMARE: Sweet and Lovely. WASHINGTON-YOUNG: A Ghost of a Chance. ELLINGTON-CARRUTHERS-MILLS: Black Butterfly. SWAN: When Your Lover Has Gone / same, but Torben Munk, gtr replaces Blach.

Storyville SVL1088621

Wild Bill in Copenhagen

WILD BILL DAVISON IN COPENHAGEN / SHAPIRO-CAMPBELL-CONOLLY: If I Had You. CONN-KRUEGER-MILLER: Sunday. DUKE-GERSHWIN: I Can’t Get Started. CARMICHAEL-GORRELL: Georgia on My Mind. BURKE-VAN HEUSEN: But Beautiful. Here’s That Rainy Day. DAVISON: B-Flat Blues. ARMSTRONG: Someday You’ll Be Sorry. CLARKE-AKST: Am I Blue? RODGERS-HART: You Took Advantage of Me. WASHINGTON-YOUNG: Ghost of a Chance. REYNOLDS-DOUGHERTY: I’m Confessin’ (That I Love You). ARLEN-MERCER: Everything Happens to Me. BLAKE-RAZAF: Memories of You. WALLER-RAZAF: Blue Turning Grey Over You. McHUGH-FIELDS: Exactly Like You / Wild Bill Davison, tpt/cnt; Torben Munk, gtr; Jesper Thilo, cl/t-sax; Per Carsten, a-sax; Steen Vig, Uffe Karskov, t-sax; Flemming Madsen, bar-sax; Niels Jorgen Steen, pno; Ove Rex, dm / Storyville 1018523 (Recorded in Copenhagen, February 6-13, 1974)

Perhaps no other trumpeter of the “Jazz Age” had quite as long and as interesting a career as Wild Bill Davison. Born in Defiance, Ohio in 1906, he was there in the late 1920s, alongside of Louis, Bix, Muggsy, Jabbo, Max, Bubber Miley, Red Nichols and all those other cats, but whereas they all became famous (some after their untimely deaths), Davison just meandered along, trying to survive in the Depression, until Eddie Condon hired him to join his band at Nick’s in Greenwich Village in late 1943. Suddenly, people stood up and took notice of this highly original and unorthodox trumpeter who blew out of the side of his mouth, blasting distorted and buzzing notes, lip vibrato and growls. And believe it or not, he kept it up into his 80s!

These sessions, made in Denmark when Davison was still a spring chicken of 66-72, show him still very much at the top of his game. The small band of Danish musicians are certainly all fine enough, particularly the saxophone soloists who try their best to follow Wild Bill, but there’s no question that he dominates this session like a colossus.

And it wasn’t just the blasting, buzzes and growls that made him so good. It was also the quality of his improvisations. Even when he used notes economically, as he does on many of these tunes, his note choices were always original and startling. No, he never really updated his style to incorporate bop or modern jazz, but he didn’t have to. Take his solo on I Can’t Get Started  from the In Copenhagen album, for instance. Not even Armstrong would play this tune except once, as a tribute to Bunny Berigan, and he supposedly “played the hell out of it,” but Davison is unfazed. He just tears into it in his own inimitable manner, and by the time Torben Munk enters playing a very nice but also rather polite guitar solo you’re well aware that Davison is dominating this session like a lion making a sudden appearance among a herd of gazelles. He was just that good and that different.

For a graphic example of what I mean about his dominance, just look at this wav file of this tune. Note how Davison’s overblown, powerful trumpet notes stand out like railroad spikes in an otherwise placid (in the middle, when he wasn’t playing) sound wave. You just have to take my word that nearly every track on this album looks like this:

Davison I Can't Get Started

But I’m getting ahead of myself, in part because I’m just such a big Davison fan. We start off with Bill in a surprising swing set with the band of trombonist Arne “Papa” Bue Jensen, which has great soloists despite a somewhat staid rhythm section. But Wild Bill could make any band swing, and he does so here, though he is the seventh soloist up in Christopher Columbus, coming after a particularly great clarinet solo by Jorgen Svare, nice barrelhouse piano by Jørn Jensen and the trombone of Papa Bue himself. This performance of Baby Won’t You Please Come Home is much mellower than the tone Davison played in the 1940s on his Commodore recording, but his lip vibrato, growls and rasps are as vital as ever. And if you think that was good, wait ‘til you hear Wild Bill driving the Danes on Runnin’ Wild. They can barely keep up with his energy! The liner notes describe Davison in the 1970s thus:

Davison was a sensitive ruffian who drank like an entire band, could be gruff and violent, tender and touching, generous or stingy. But ever since he had been put under administration by his fifth and last wife, Ann Stewart, the number of female acquaintances had diminished and his consumption of booze had dwindled to a trickle. Nevertheless, when it came to procuring alcohol, WBD had a number of evasive methods.

All the film clips I’ve seen of him interacting and playing with Danish musicians show a charming, funny guy who yes, could come across as brash in Danish society but who was also a really nice, kind, good-humored man…exactly what you’d think of him from listening to his recordings. Just think of him as a white, trumpet-playing Fats Waller. Same personality, different era. The first CD on the multi-disc set also gives us a glimpse of Davison as singer, particularly good on Save It, Pretty Mama but also stylish on A Cottage for Sale. Eddie Condon used to refer to him as “Wild Pitch Davison,” but this was obviously just a joke. No matter how volcanic Davison’s playing got, he was almost never off-pitch. The man had a tuning fork in his head. The best description I can come up with of his playing is barrelhouse trumpet with great ideas and perfect control of all his effects. As trombonist Ole “Fessor” Lindgreen put it,

I’ve played with many of the choice Americans, but I have to say I was always impressed by the punch there was in Wild Bill. No matter whether he was playing for forty people or four hundred, there was an enormous amount of power. If the concert was being recorded, or if there was a PA system, the sound people always thought there was something wrong with the equipment – that’s how strong he played. The fact that later in the evening he drank himself stinking drunk didn’t matter so much… Like all American musicians, he was very direct. And more serious with his music than you’d think, behind that smash-bang-pow façade. He practiced all the time. He said: “I have the kind of chops that, if I don’t practice one day, it’s okay. Two days, problems. Three days, serious shit.”

One New Year’s Eve, trumpeter Keith Smith started behaving badly, so much so that Papa Bue had to fire him and send him home. “Don’t worry, I’ll take the job,” said Bill, who sat in and played as if he had always been with them. He wasn’t a fast reader, though he was score-literate, but he had very quick ears. Even secondary figures in band arrangements didn’t escape him. One of his proudest moments came in a concert he gave with Clark Terry, Harry “Sweets” Edison and Louis Armstrong. During a break, Armstrong took Davison aside and said, “I’m so glad you continue to pursue this music, and you’ve never taken anything from me.” On Oh, Lady Be Good, Davison engages in a chase chorus with a guest trumpeter, Ole Stolle. Stolle is prodded to play at his absolute best, but Davison still tops him.

The session with Ole “Fessor” Lindgreen’s band, and various reductions thereof, really swings. Here is a rhythm section that needs no apologies. Steen Vig’s soprano sax on I Can’t Believe That You’re in Love With Me, taken at a surprisingly blistering tempo, has the same drive and fast vibrato as that of his own idol, Sidney Bechet, which spurs Davison on to a really hot solo. Davison and Vig also engage in a slower but equally hot dialogue, a cappella at the outset, in Just a Closer Walk With Thee before the tempo doubles and the rest of the band falls in. Much of this CD, however—seven tracks, in fact—is duplicated on the single CD, Wild Bill Davison in Copenhagen, reviewed separately. The live 1952 set with Eddie Condon’s band, taken from broadcasts, came a a surprise to me since it has nothing to do with his Danish experience, but of course any Wild Bill is welcome to hear.

A surprise in this set is CD 3, comprised of live broadcasts from Condon’s emporium in New York City in 1952. The band is a hot one, including Edmond Hall in addition to Davison and a really swinging rhythm section. Here is Davison in his element, pushing his fellow “Nicksielanders” through a program of old blues and standards, and a good time is had by all.

The Wild Bill-with-string session was an idea of Storyville Records’ producer Walther Klæbel. With so many outstanding jazz musicians having gone down that road and coming out of it sounding as if they’d been buried by Mantovani, it could have gone badly but somehow didn’t. As Davison put it, “The conductor, Ole Kurt Jensen, is an extremely conscientious young musician himself and we had the best scores with players who work with the Danish Radio Symphony or from the pit of the Royal Theatre. And contrary to the sessions back in New York, where there was always a distance between the strings and the soloist – why, here it became a one-big-happy-family style of things. We all played music!” Well, until he flubbed a note near the end of one number and immediately asked for a re-take. Sorry, they said, time for a break. “Fuck all strings!,” Davison bellowed. But the session came out great, with plenty of heart in it, and for the most part the arrangements are more creative and even swinging at times, a far cry from what many other jazz musicians (like Clifford Brown and Coleman Hawkins) were saddled with in this country. Check out, in particular, the swinging charts on Sugar, Serenade in Blue and Our Love is Here to Stay, but even the ballad A Ghost of a Chance has a nice beat to it, and in all of them Davison is fully relaxed and completely himself, no compromises in his improvisations.

As for the single CD that came out in 2008, Wild Bill Davison in Copenhagen, six tracks are duplicated from the 4-CD set already reviewed. One might ask, “What about I Can’t Get Started?,’ but the version on the boxed set is a different, shorter take, not quite as interesting as the six-minute version presented on the single disc. It’s all good stuff, though, and well worth hearing. Even with state-of-the-art stereo recording, Davison almost continually blasts the microphones with his buzzes and growls. Of the accompanying band, the saxophonists and guitarists are the most interesting soloists besides Wild Bill himself.

Three of the songs on this album, But Beautiful, You Took Advantage of Me and Memories of You, have surprisingly rich background arrangements for the reeds, playing like a section in a big band, which gives you a small idea of how Davison might have sounded in such an environment. Regardless of his accompaniment, however, he remained steadfastly gritty in his approach. Wild Bill was Wild Bill, regardless of surroundings. In the latter’s second chorus of his solo he lets out an upward glissando rip that probably took the roof off the studio. Throughout the session, Davison’s powerful tone and buzzing distortions dominate. And even in well-known songs like Ghost of a Chance and Am I Blue?, his improvisations were so inventive, right from the first note, that you might not even recognize them unless you looked at the titles first.

The boxed set also includes a bonus DVD of Davison playing with the Condon band in the early 1960s, but I couldn’t play it from the downloads I received.  All in all, a splendid tribute to a true original, one of the few “trad-jazz” musicians I really admire and respect. Davison was one of a kind!

—© 2017 Lynn René Bayley

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