A late June surprise for me brought Mike Davis (cornet) from New York to our local Century Room at the Hotel Congress in downtown Tucson. I was excited to see him again as he was making his 2nd “annual appearance.”
We originally saw Mike at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival in May 2022 with trombonist Charlie Halloran, and then he had his first show at the newly opened Century Room the following June. He and General Manager & Artistic Director, Arthur Vint, attended the Manhattan School of Music together in New York. Arthur has been “instrumental” in bringing coastal talent to our community. (See additional commentary in this column in last month’s issue of The Syncopated Times) Six of our music-loving friends also attended and we had the two front tables for our party. We couldn’t have gotten any closer unless we were on the stage itself!
Mike Davis and The New Wonders are out of New York and for this occasion, several of the local Wildcat Jazz Band members became his New Wonders. Mike named his band after the Conn Victor cornet model “New Wonder” that Bix Beiderbecke used. The Conn Victor cornets were heavier with rich tones and larger bore sizes made in the 1918-1928 years.
With Marco Rosano (bass sx), Kevin Ravelette (reeds), Ray Templin (p), Rob Boone (tb), Evan Dain (bj/gtr) and Arthur Vint (dr), Mike played some of his favorite tunes from the Bix era. Reminiscent of the Jean Goldkette, Frankie Trumbauer, and Paul Whiteman bands, Mike carried us back to that wonderful period of popular traditional jazz.
They did a terrific arrangement of Chicago bandleader Tiny Parham’s “Jungle Crawl” originally released in 1929. Mike is incredibly talented in creating his own arrangements considering the instruments being played in the band and how he wants to interpret the composers’ original emphases.
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A few weeks later we found ourselves again downtown at a fundraising dinner just a block away from The Century Room on traditional jazz night. A late visit found Evan Dain (bj), Kevin Ravelette (reeds) Marco Rosano (bass sx), Sly Slipetsky (p), Chris Constantine (dr), and Glenn Gross (tp/flgl/French/euphonium) with Ken Barry on tenor. Ken developed Saxscape Mouthpieces and the Arizona model is one of his creations. His website promotes the mouthpieces as having a dynamic range, a smoothness of response and timbral flexibility. We have such talented musicians in our midst!
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The Historic New Orleans Collection Quarterly issue for the summer featured an article on “House Music.” Before radios, stereos and phonographs, live music was the primary means of listening to music. Public entertainment such as balls and operas were enjoyed in the 19th century but equally important was the music made in the home. Small pianos and other more portable instruments, i.e. mandolins, banjos, lutes, harmonicas were often found in living rooms across our nation and in other countries. Home phonographs came about in the late 1890s and then ornate music boxes with discs and player pianos with piano rolls. Currently, the Grapevine Wine Bar & Bistro on Orleans near Bourbon has a player piano for nightly entertainment.
And so it is that “House Music” makes its return in Tucson! One of our musician friends offers her home several times each month for a visiting fellow musician(s) and hosts an evening concert or two. The lucky invitees are asked for a small contribution to the artist’s presentation and she provides an appetizer meal and drinks. The lovely setting in our most beautiful and serene desert environment allows patrons to enjoy listening to an accomplished performer in a close and intimate setting.
We attended one such performance by guitarist Richard Smith, a nationally recognized and awarded guitarist and entertainer. Richard played a variety of tunes with commentary and his left hand moved with such speed and dexterity that it was visually hard to follow. It was as if he had twenty fingers on each hand! A master thumb-picker, Richard was an engrossing performer and had the audience captivated with every note and word. It was a very special evening and other musicians in the audience were equally enthralled. I will look forward to additional musical evenings of this caliber!