WILD BILL DAVISON: Sweet and Hot
Bill Davison Six (Side 1): “Wild Bill” Davison (cnt) Jimmy Archey (tb) Farvin Bushell (cl) Ralph Sutton (p) Sid Weiss (b) Morey Feld (drs) (On Yesterdays, Bushell plays bassoon; Sutton, celeste. Vocal on A Ghost of a Chance by Davison.)
New York; December 27, 1947
All-Star Stompers (Side 2): “Wild Bill” Davison (cnt) Jimmy Archey (t) Sidney Bechet (ss) (on #6 only) Albert Nicholas (cl) (replaced by Edmond Hall on #3 and 4) Ralph Sutton (p) (replaced by James P. Johnson #2) Danny Barker (g) Pops Foster (b) Baby Dodds (drs) (replaced by Johnny Blowers on #5) New York; June-September, 1947
1. Why Was I Born? (3:26) (Hammerstein-Kern)
2. Just a Gigolo (3:27) (Leonello-Casucci)
3. Yesterdays (3:14) (Harback-Kern)
4. A Ghost of a Chance (2:51) (Crosby-Washington-Young)
5. She’s Funny That Way (3:02) (Moret-Whiting)
6. When Your Lover Has Gone (3:20) (E. A. Swan)
1. Hotter Than That (3:08) (Lil Hardin)
2. St. Louis Blues (3:08) (W. C. Hnady)
3. Swinging Down the Lane (2:55) (Jones-Kahn)
4. Avalon (2:28) (Rose-Jolson-DeSylra)
5. Shimmeshawabble (3:04) (Spencer Williams)
6. As Long As I Live (3:39) (Koehler-Arlen)
The fact that WILD BILL DAVISON can play hot is no secret at all to anyone who has been paying even the slightest attention to Dixieland jazz activities at any time since the early 1940s. It is considerably less well-known that there is another side to this cornet star, that the usually searing jazzman is also capable of a rich and moving lyricism. In this album, which combines several notable examples of Davison’s late-‘40s work, both facets are most effectively on display.
This writer must admit to a certain amount of pro-Davison bias (a sentiment shared by a good many other Dixieland addicts, of course), having first been heavily exposed to live jazz at the time, when Bill was first dominating the bandstand at Nick’s, in Greenwich Village: sitting there with legs crossed, horn jutting out at a sharp angle to the left, and blasting out the sort of ruggedly swinging music that predominates on the second, or “hot,” side of this LP. (There was dancing Nick’s in those days, and there was one night when Davison decided that the dancers were holding him back. So at the end of one intermission he noted, in a quite aside, that he was now going to blast them off the floor. And he did. But unless memory has tidied up the picture unfairly, he did not accomplish this by merely getting raucous or playing at impossible speed. He did it the hard way: with taste and imagination, but just playing too much for them. Similarly, there is a biased memory to fit with the prettier music that takes the spotlight on Side 1. It was at Condon’s, a few years later, towards the end of a half-empty weekday night. They put a purple spot on Bill and he played When Your Lover Has Gone for quite a long time. It was jazz all the way, but it was purple-spotlight jazz; we were with an interesting new girl that night, and the mood was appreciated . . .
Bill Davison was born in January, 1906. This simple statistic takes on significance when you start adding on your fingers and note that he was therefore in his forties when these recordings were made and is at this writing (1956) at the mid-century mark. Nevertheless, there is more than enough fire and strength in his horn to arouse considerable envy in even the most spirited performer half his age. Davison’s birthplace was Defiance, Ohio (a place name that can lead searchers after symbolic coincidence and/or puns to draw all sorts of parallels with the usually wild sound of his horn).
His first instrument was the banjo; as a banjoist and when he first switched to cornet, he was a member of assorted undistinguished bands in Cincinnati and thereabouts. According to some accounts, Bill was at first no better than his surroundings called for, but by the mid-‘20s he had (like a good many other young horn men) heard Armstrong and Beiderbecke, and had fallen under the spell of honest creative jazz. He has playing, ever since then, in much the same full and aggressive style he displays here.
But it took Davison a while to make his presence really felt on the jazz scene. Later in the ‘20s he played with such midwestern bands of those of Chubb Steinberg and Benny Meroff, which have been described as “genuinely corny.” His earliest recordings were with these groups, and a couple of them do manage to testify rather clearly that Bill deserved to be in better company. He did work briefly with the Chicago jazz crowd, but did not record with them. (It might as well be set down here, as it is in most accounts of Davison’s career, that for quite some time he was identifiable to jazz fans only as the driver of the car at the time the brilliant clarinetist Frank Teschemacher met his death in an auto accident.)
Bill led groups in Milwaukee throughout the ‘30s, and it was not until 1942 that he first struck New York. “Struck” is no exaggeration. A long stand at Nick’s established his reputation with local fans; he recorded with George Brunis, Eddie Condon and others; and when Condon’s own club was opened just after the end of World War II, Davison became just about a staple item there and – along with Condon – just about living symbol of latter-day Dixieland.
During 1947, Wild Bill Davison was a mainstay of the series of weekly Mutual Broadcasting System programs, produced by Rudi Blesh under the overall title of “This is Jazz,” that marked the only serious inroads made by unadulterated jazz into commercial (even though unsponsored) network radio. The personnel consistently represented the best available talent of its kind, and the lineups on the selections issued here are typical : Albert Nicholas, Edmond Hall, and on occasion their great New Orleans colleague, Sidney Bechet; Harlem trombonist Jimmy Archey; pianists like Ralph Sutton and Jimmy Johnson; and usually a solidly traditional Danny Barker – Pops Foster – Baby Dodds rhythm section. Quite often, as here, the group was lifted and driven by the fierce Davison horn. The Side 2 selections are from the following 1947 broadcasts; #1 – July 26; #3 – June 21; #3 and 3 September 27; #5 July 5; #6 – August 2.
The more unusual examples of the richly romantic potentials of the Davison horn are form a recording session that also featured Sutton, Archey, and Garvin Bushell, a skilled and versatile reed-man whose credits range from playing with Jelly Roll Morton to playing with symphony groups/ All twelve of these selections originally appeared on the Circle label.
Davison can also be heard on the following ten-inch Riverside LP, which is entirely selected from “This Is Jazz” broadcasts:
WILD BILL DAVISON featured with the All Star Stompers (RLP 2514) –
Eccentric – Tishomingo Blues – Clarinet Marmalade – Trombone Preaching Blues – Can’t We Be Friends – Sheleton Jangle – Ain’t Gonna Give Nobody None of This Jelly Roll – It’s Right Here for You
Outstanding 12-inch Riverside albums in a Dixieland vein include:
RAGTIME: Tony Parenti’s Ragtime Band (with Bill Davison) and Ragpickers Trio (RLP 12-205)
JOE SULLIVAN: New Solos by an Old Master (RLP 12-202) – 5-star rating in Down Beat
GEORGE LEWIS: New Orleans Band and Quartet (RLP 12-207)
DIXIELAND IN HI-FI: Gene Mayl’s Dixieland Rhythm Kings (RLP 12-210)
RALPH DUTTON: piano solos, with George Wettling drums (RLP 12-212)
San Francisco Style: LU WATTERS’ Yerba Buena Jazz Band and BOB HELMS’ riverside Roustabouts
CONRAD JANIS: Dixieland Jam Session (RLP 12-215)
LP produced by Bill Grauer
Notes by Peter Drew
Cover designed by Gene Gogerty; photographs by Robert Parent.
Re-mastering by Reeves Sound Studios.
RIVERSIDE RECORDS are released by BILL GRAUER PRODICTIONS
418 West 49th Street New York 19, New York