01. The Gems Of Mims 10:45
02. Little Miss Jump Up 7:15
03. Linda 11:30
04. Ingia 9:15
Alto Saxophone, Flute – Gerald Hayes
Baritone Saxophone, Producer, Arranged By – Charles Davis
Bass – David Williams
Drums – Louis Hayes
Guitar – Louis Davis
Piano, Electric Piano – Ronnie Mathews
Trumpet, Flugelhorn – Andrew "Tex" Allen
Recorded Juy 15, 1974. Minot Sound Studio, White Plains, NY. Published by Ophnell Music. All compositions BMI
Davis was born in Mississippi and raised in Chicago. He graduated from DuSable High School, studied at the Chicago School of Music and was a private student of John Hauser.
In the 1950s he played in the bands of Billie Holiday and Ben Webster, Sun Ra, and Dinah Washington. Performed and recorded with Kenny Dorham with whom he had a musical association that lasted many years.
In the 1960s he performed and recorded with Elvin Jones and Jimmy Garrison, Illinois Jacquet, Freddie Hubbard, Johnny Griffin, Steve Lacy, Ahmad Jamal and worked with Blue Mitchell, Erskine Hawkins, John Coltrane, Clifford Jordan, among others. In 1964 he won Downbeat Magazine's International Jazz Critics Poll for the baritone saxophone. He performed in the musical production of The Philosophy of The Spiritual – A Masque of the Black under the direction of Willie Jones and the auspices of Nadi Qumar. Davis taught at PS 179 in Brooklyn and was musical director of The Turntable, a nightclub owned by Lloyd Price.
In the 1970s he was member of the cooperative group Artistry in Music with Hank Mobley, Cedar Walton, Sam Jones, and Billy Higgins; was the co-leader and composer/arranger for the Baritone Saxophone Retinue, a group featuring six baritone saxophones; made European tours of major jazz festivals and concerts with the Clark Terry Orchestra; and toured the USA with Duke Ellington’s Orchestra under the direction of Mercer Ellington. As musical director of the Home of the Id nightclub, he presented artists such as Gene Ammons, Randy Weston, and Max Roach. As the producer of Monday Night Boat Ride Up The Hudson, he presented, among others, Art Blakey, George Benson, and Etta Jones. Davis made TV appearances with Archie Shepp, Lucky Thompson, Ossie Davis, and Ruby Dee.
In the 1980s he performed and recorded with the Philly Joe Jones Quartet, Dameronia and with Abdullah Ibrahim’s Ekaya in the United States, Europe and Africa. Toured Europe with the Savoy Seven Plus 1: A Salute to Benny Goodman. With his own quartet, performed in Rome, at the Bologna Jazz Festival, Jazz in Sardinia Festival, and the La Spezia Festival. Was the musical director of the Syncopation nightclub. Performed in the movie, The Man with Perfect Timing with Abdullah Ibrahim. In 1984 he was named a “BMI Jazz Pioneer.”
In the 1980s he was the musical librarian for Spike Lee's Mo Better Blues; performed at the Jamaica Jazz Festival with Dizzy Reece and returned to perform with Roy Burrowes; was in the Apollo Hall of Fame Band accompanying such stars as Ray Charles, Joe Williams, Nancy Wilson, among others. Toured Holland saluting the music of Kenny Dorham; was the guest artist at the 12th Annual North Carolina Jazz Festival at Duke University. Featured soloist of the Barry Harris Jazz Ensemble and performs in clubs with the Barry Harris/Charles Davis Quartet. Recorded and toured Europe and Japan with the Clifford Jordan Big Band. Was the tenor saxophonist and a major contributor of musical arrangements with Larry Ridley's Jazz Legacy Ensemble which appeared at the Senegal Jazz Festival, performed concerts and conducted clinics, seminars and master classes. This ensemble also appeared in an ongoing concert series at the famed Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. Was a featured artist at the Amman, Jordan Jazz Festival, arranged by the American Embassy. Was also the featured artist in clubs and concerts in Paris, Toulouse and Hamburg. Appeared at the Williamstown Theatre Festival in an original production of Eduardo Machado's Stevie Wants to Play the Blues] directed by Jim Simpson. Performed in the Three Baritone Saxophone Band with Ronnie Cuber and Gary Smulyan, which toured Italy, appeared at the New Orleans Jazz Festival, the 1998 JVC Jazz & Image Festival at Villa Celimontana in Rome, and Ronnie Scott's Jazz Club in London. Charles was also a featured soloist at the 1998 Chicago Jazz Festival. In June 1999, he performed with Aaron Bell and the Duke Ellington Tribute Orchestra at the Jackie Robinson “Afternoon of Jazz” Festival in Norwalk, CT. Featured artist at the 1999 Jazz & Image Festival at Villa Celimontana in Rome.
Since 2000 he has been the featured artist at the Blue Note in Beirut, Lebanon as well as numerous other clubs in Italy and Spain and at the 2000 Jazz & Image Festival at Villa Celimontana. Performed with his quartet on the “M.S. Dynasty,” a Carnival Lines Cruise ship. Produced and performed in the “Tribute to Stanley Turrentine” concert in Philadelphia. In August 2001, he performed for President Bill Clinton at the “Harlem Welcomes Clinton” celebration. The Barry Harris/Charles Davis Quintet appeared several times at Sweet Basil in New York City. They continue to perform together in various venues including yearly appearances at Birdland. In August 2004, they performed in the 50th Anniversary of the Newport Jazz Festival. He was a featured artist at the 14th Annual Jazz Festival in Badajoz, Spain and was a member of the Walter Booker Quintet. He performed with his quartet at New York's Rubin Museum of Art, performed in the Netherlands and toured Denmark and Israel. In addition to performing and recording with the guitarist Roni Ben-Hur and the El Mollenium Band (featuring the music of Elmo Hope), In 2009 he toured Germany, Austria,Switzerland and Italy with the Charles Davis Allstars: A Tribute to Kenny Dorham and in 2010 this quintet performed in Germany, Austria, France, Italy, Slovenia and Croatia. Charles also performs with the Spirit of Life Ensemble and his own quartet, featuring Tardo Hammer (piano), Lee Hudson (bass) and Jimmy Wormworth (drums) in the United States and Europe.
Davis is a saxophone instructor of private students from The New School, a teacher at the Lucy Moses School and for over 25 years has been an instructor at the Jazzmobile Workshops. He has made eight of his own albums and is featured on over 100 recordings. Some of his CDs as a leader include Blue Gardenia, with Cedar Walton on piano, Peter Washington on bass and Joe Farnsworth on drums, released on Reade Street Records; Land of Dreams, with Tardo Hammer, Lee Hudson and Jimmy Wormworth, released in 2007 on Smalls Records; and Our Man in Copenhagen, released in October 2008, on Fresh Sound Records, with Sam Yahel, Ben Street, and Kresten Osgood on which they play the music of Bent Jaedig. Just released in 2010 is The Charles Davis Allstars: A Tribute to Kenny Dorham with Tom Kirkpatrick on trumpet, Claus Raible on piano, Giorgos Antoniou on bass and Bernd Reiter on drums. This CD was recorded live at the Bird's Eye in Basel, Switzerland.
Charles Davis: Sweet Storyteller by R. J. DeLuke, October 2003.
Theres a difference between the elder statesmen in jazz and the newer firebrands, no matter how talented. One is the formers ability to take their time to tell a story. They've been around life and they're not in a rush. Like Dexter was. And Prez.
Out of that mold is 70-year-old Charles Davis, displaying his rich tenor sax sound and strong baritone sax work on his new CD Blue Gardenia, titled as much for his admiration for Dinah Washington as for his association with Billie Holiday. He played with both, but longer with Washington. Hes not a household name in jazz, but his resume is impressive as is his new music.
Davis is a bopper with a sense of adventure. Hes a smooth storyteller with a sonorous sound influenced by his upbringing in Chicago, a musical hot bed (though he was born in Mississippi). On Blue Gardenia, hes joined by Cedar Walton on piano, bassist Peter Washington and drummer Joe Farnsworth. It's a straight ahead set and a smooth ride.
"It's songs I felt and songs I like. There's more I wanted to do, but we didn't have so much time. But those are some of the ones I liked", says Davis. Its got a taste of blues, bossa and bop, and show Davis great style with melodic improvisation. There are pieces of the great players in his playing, but they've been amalgamated into a personal sound and the world should hear more of Charles Davis.
"The main influence was Lester Young, Charlie Parker, Ben Webster, Coleman Hawkins. Don Byas", he says of his formative days learning the instrument. "Getting out later on, I became friends with John Gilmore, Clifford Jordan. In my neighborhood was John Jenkins and Johnny Griffin. So there was music all around".
He also learned from the singers he worked with. Billie got phrases from Lester Young. Dinah was very clear on her diction. That was always something to listen to, says the soft-spoken sax man.
"I started out on alto. I have played baritone and tenor all along. I was playing baritone with Coltrane. I played tenor with John Gilmore, Clifford Jordan, Johnny Griffin, back in Chicago in the 50s. Ive always played the tenor, he says".
About the CD, Davis says hes very self-critical. "I hear things and I say, I could have done this better. But its like telling a lie, once you do it, it sticks forever. But I enjoyed it, but when you first record something, you think youre the worst sounding individual on the record. Because youre trying to get out all of yourself, and thats an impossibility".
While the recording industry seems to be taking its lumps from musicians in the new millennium, Davis takes things in stride. He says its not a lot different than it ever has been. Musicians arent getting rich, and many arent getting notoriety. But thats not new.
"For the most part, the people I've been involved with seem to be able to come to an amicable agreement about what should be done [on a recording]. There's also an area where an artist should take a suggestion. Some things may be personal, as far as what you want to do, but may not be appropriate at the time. I remember a friend of mine, Eddie Harris, when he put out Exodus, that was one they didn't want. But he got it on there, and that was a hit. Shows you how much they know. Thats happened in a lot of cases, the ones they dont want turn out to be the ones that become most popular".
"Its a language, a dialect, a dialog. You have to learn that. Once you learn the scales, that's one thing. But it's the way the scales are put together in the form of a solo, for improvisation. It's a dialect you have to learn. Some people say you just play, but you don't just play. You have to learn what to say. Lester Young would put it: You have to learn how to tell a story".
Davis began playing in grammar school, then I went to a famous high school in Chicago. DuSable, named after the person that discovered Chicago. John Baptiste Pointe DuSable. We had a tedious bandmaster. A lot of famous musicians came through there. He tutored people like Dinah Washington, Nat Cole, Gene Ammons, Johnny Griffin, Von Freeman. Its a long list.
"The better you got, the more gigs you would come by. I started in high school, playing a few little gigs. People give you $2 or $3. But that was big time then, because you had a gig. The money wasn't the prerequisite then. You play for dances and social events that people have, parties or whatever", he says.
Davis first big break, he says, was getting the call to join Sun Ra, the self-proclaimed being from another planet who combined swinging arrangements with far-out charts from his unique musical mind. "It was great. We sort of had a bebop mystical band. With Pat Patrick, John Gilmore, Julian Priester Arthur Hall, myself, and at one time Richard Evans, a bassist. I still play with the band from time to time".
So big name or not, Davis has played with the greats and blessed their work with his professional approach and sweet style. His tenure with Lady Day came about when she toured through the city, as so many jazz acts did. "That was through a bandmate in Chicago called Al Smith. I periodically played with him from time to time. He got the gig and she came into a place called Budland, at the time. The guy opened it up as Birdland, but Birdland in New York made him change it. She was there for three or four months. It was great. Along with her, was Ben Webster. I was playing in a band that was backing her and Ben was doing feature solos. She was great to work with. She had a heck of a command and stage presence when she came on. She was very professional".
"After Billie Holliday, I went on the road with Clarence Henry. He was a protge of Fats Domino. He had the record out "I Could Sing Like a Frog". It was like rock and roll or whatever you want to call it. I stayed with him a few months. Then I came back and I started working with Dinah Washington. Along with Eddie Chamblee, Julian Priester, Melvin Moore and myself, and later on Jack Wilson and Richard Evans. This was in 1958 or 1959. After the band broke up, I worked for her on a few more occasions".
"After Dinah, I made a trip to California. After six months I had to get out of there. I came back, went from Chicago to New York, then started working with Kenny Dorham. That lasted a few years. Been in New York ever since. I worked with John Coltrane, Illinois Jacquet, Clark Terry, Thad Jones-Mel Lewis. I was in the band when Thad quit. We did about three months in Europe. I worked with Erskine Hawkins".
Today, Davis continues to work steadily in these tough times for musicians. "I'm still gigging around New York. I'll be in Birdland with Barry Harris. I'm going to Japan for a few days and do a concert in Italy after that. I'm hanging in there".
"It's up and down", says Davis with no hint of bitterness or undue concern. "That's the reality of life. I'd like to have gigs in abundance, but I don't have them. You still have to maintain. Keep going. There's always going to be a complaint. If you have 1,000, you want 10,000, and if you have that, you want 50,000. Its always something".
The propensity for record labels to look for the new young lions, often overlooking some of jazzs major contributors in the process, who are still going and still goring, also doesn't phase Davis. "That's nothing new. That always happened. You still have to maintain what your'e doing. You can't let that bother you. At one point, you have to get a name, and when you get a name, its not big enough. That happens to all of us. That's just part of the realities of being a jazz and bebop musician. And for those who don't like it, You can go to the other side (pop) and work all the time".
While his friend and influence saxophonist George Coleman talks of retiring (He's retiring every year. God Bless him if he can do it. There are only two musicians that I knew of that retired. Sid Catlett and Jonah Jones), Davis says that it's not in the cards for him. He'll continue to tote his horn and tell his stories and please audiences wherever he can.
Like Duke Ellington said: Retire to what? "I don't have an eye for retiring right now", he says, adding with a sparkle, "but I could come into a lot of money and live the good life, though".
As for the future of jazz from his spot as a veteran musician, Davis isn't dissuaded. The music has been through tough times and will continue to persevere.
"It was supposed to have been squashed years ago, with the onset of bebop. But as long as you have records of Charlie Parker and Miles Davis and Coltrane and Sonny Rollins, the young kids make new discoveries. The younger kids are into it, so I think it will be around for a long time".
His advice to those who are coming up that will keep the flame?
Now 70, Davis continues to exercise his instrumental voice as soloist; this time out he employs a 50-50 balance between baritone and tenor. The leaders solo saxophone voice stands sweet and melodic, but the session turns uneven in places due to a few slips of pitch control on baritone. Cedar Walton, Peter Washington and Joe Farnsworth do more than their share to make up for it with a hands-down rock-solid foundation for each piece.
On tenor, Davis sends a lovely melodic message that calls upon his vast experience for flavor. Texas Moon recalls time he's spent on the road with Hank Crawford, while Blues for Yahoo moves more in the hard bop direction of New York City. Yahoo is the producers dog, who must have inherited Charlie Parker's uptempo grit. Either that, or he simply reminded Davis of Birds unique soul. Blue Gardenia, a solid straightahead album, swings with tradition and a true, blues-based spirit.