Who is Nathan Davis? A guest post

 Guest post, by Pedestroika

LJC says: Who is Pedestroika? An expat in Pittsburgh with an ear rooted in Indian classical music, who says he came to jazz by way of McCoy Tyner’s Search for Peace, in graduate school nearly 20 years ago. Having navigated the “have the time but not the means, and have the means but not the time” phases of life without losing his passion for jazz, he tries to make it an integral part of every day life. “I see collecting the vinyl form as an assumed stewardship of sorts; what we collect, enjoy, share, and hopefully preserve will ultimately be part of what we hand on to future generations.” Amen to that, the floor is yours Pedestroika..

Nathan Davis, “ParisPittsburgh: A Story in Jazz”

When I proposed a second guest column to LJC about two months many many moons ago, an offer that was graciously accepted, I realize in hindsight that I could’ve framed the request by way of a more compelling teaser to my subject line: Who is Nathan Davis? While Nathan Davis was no relation to John Galt by way of Ayn Rand, he certainly did move mountains and more during an accomplished career spanning multiple decades. If I were Davis’ agent today, charged with fleshing out a Twitter profile, I would have to say Nathan Davis: Father & Husband, Educator, Artist, …

Pic 1: A pithy if comprehensive bio from the liner notes on the back cover of Makatuka. Another great extensive resource is Pittsburgh Music History’s bio of Nathan Davis—the deeper I got into assembling this compendium, the more respect I developed for the sum total of his accomplishments and contributions. He passed away in 2018, and here is his New York Times obituary.

A multi-instrumentalist reedsman, he collaborated widely (Dolphy, Blakey, Gordon, Byrd, …), and yet (gasp) has not been celebrated here on the LJC blog. Time to set the record straight, yet where does one start? After sitting on this draft for nearly two months many many moons, I finally came to the conclusion that I am in no way qualified to provide anything more insightful and substantive than what can be found with a simple Google search. And if we were to feel lucky (who still visits Google’s home page for that famous button), look no further than this eloquent All About Jazz review of the Jazzman album The Best of Nathan Davis ’65-’76. Friends of the LJC blog will recognize the Jazzman label as the provenance of the exquisite Rendell-Carr quintet session remasters/reissues. While Davis doesn’t quite come in for that all-vinyl marquee treatment, it is nevertheless a compelling testament that they hold him in the same high regard as Rendell and Carr as seen in this entry here 10 records that define 20 years of Jazzman.

All I can say is that after procuring two of Davis’ albums from his time in Pittsburgh, I was so impressed that I sought out his biography through the city’s generous Carnegie Library System to learn more about him and his adventures alongside (and as one of) the deities of the jazz pantheon. It is interesting to learn that he spent nearly 10 years stationed in Europe, where he rubbed shoulders and held his own with the best of the best. And turned down an opportunity to play with Blakey’s Jazz Messengers?!

And every time I saw Art after that, he would always ask “How’s the baby?”. And when I’d say, “She’s twenty-some years old and she’s doing fine,” he’d say, “I know, you gave up one of the best jobs in jazz.”. (smiles) “You’re the only man I ever run into who turned me down. Any kid would have leaped at that chance.”. And I think he respected me for that. But he always teased me about it.

Pic 2: With his daughter Joyce. Excerpt from his bio: So I thought about it and thought about it. And finally I told him, “Look, I’ve got this little girl who is about six months old and I can’t do it.”

Upon his return to Pittsburgh, he founded a Jazz Program at the University of Pittsburgh that continues to thrive to this day. His biography, if one can call it that since it is an atypical form of biographical literature, makes for a fascinating read with multiple in-person commentaries, and several extracts from the best publications of the day curated and reproduced for good measure. I will freely admit that I have not read it from cover to cover; however, each time that I picked it up and went searching for something interesting, I did not put it down for quite some time. Not even when the dog threw up all his cookies on the new carpet one evening and my wife went about cleaning it within line of sight and range of hearing—needless to say, the smoke from this fire that I lit took some time to clear. On to the music …

Music

Selection 1: Makatuka (Makatuka)

.  .  .

Selection 2A Shadow Of Your Smile (6th Sense in the 11th House)

.  .  .

Makatuka (1971, Segué LPS 1000) and 6th Sense in the 11th House (1972, Segué LPS 1002) are the two records from Davis’ days at Pittsburgh, and feature a rich set of original compositions. Segué Records (the é in Segué is a nice touch and nod to Davis’ Parisian roots and his place in the launch of the new label as their first artist) was an unsuccessful attempt by the WRS Motion Picture Labs in Oakland, Pittsburgh (Oakland is the part of town that hosts the Pitt and CMU campuses) to get into the music business. History has it that Segué Records went out of business after losing money pressing records for several unsuccessful rock music releases, which partly explains why NoS copies of these records pop up on eBay (more on this shortly).

All tracks are great to outstanding and I have simply chosen one from each album to get the ball rolling. Adventurous music, constantly shifting direction, challenging, and packed with enough surprises to sound fresh and rewarding on every listen. For this review, I chose the tracks Makatuka from the eponymous album and The Shadow of your Smile from 6th Sense. Makatuka is not a vinyl capture, but a copy of the track from the Jazzman album. It runs a little hot here in my opinion, and it is definitely more laid back in presentation on the record itself. Listening to it, I can see why the label likes Davis’ music … lots of semblance to some Rendell-Carr tracks in its scope and stretch, hypnotic searching lines, and a fusion of ideas nibbling from multiple modes of the day. ’twas 1972 after all.

The second track is a capture from my DA-3000 with a touch of noise reduction and subsequent normalization. I favored this over the title track and the track This for Richard composed for bassist Richard Davis. An unconventional bossa-driven interpretation, The Shadow of Your Smile clocks in at 9+ minutes and features Davis on the bass clarinet. And that ending fade with Getzesque cool … definitely a great bookend, and it features enough work by everyone to showcase as my second selection.

Richard Davis is another jazz great featured on albums such as Dolphy’s Out to Lunch among many classics. If you can, listen to the track This for Richard on Youtube and the leading intro. Richard also recorded heavily for Muse, a personal favorite as a label that released some outstanding jazz on reliable vinyl—some of those records also command a decent premium of late, and are in short supply. And finally, while I usually do not favor my jazz with vocals, Winstead is a revelation on I Want to be Free on Makatuka. Please read the scans of the liner notes to Makatuka and 6th Sense in the 11th House to get a complete picture of all tracks on these albums.

For the curious, 11th House does not presumably refer to a jazz fusion group that was founded in 1972, but rather to the last succedent house in astrology. Per Wikipedia, “the ancients called the 11th house the House of Good Spirit or Good Divinity, and it was considered a very beneficial place in the chart.”. There’s more information to consume if you click through, but this summary is sufficient enough that I can see the desire to marry it to that most desirable yet missing of senses in today’s world and move on. I sincerely hope that Nathan Davis will be rewarded with some additional coverage on the LJC blog in the future (nudge nudge).

Pic 3: Scan of liner notes from Makatuka. Rodger Humphries on drums is another Pittsburgh jazz icon and pillar of the community; he has hosted and participated in Art Blakey tributes—yes, Blakey is another Pittsburgh native—on more than one occasion. And for those who may one day make it to the Steel City, there is a state historical marker in front of Blakey’s childhood home in Chauncey St. in the Hill District.

Vinyl:

WRS Segué label, rarely seen outside the US

I acquired NoS/promotional pressings of Makatuka and 6th Sense in the 11th House about two years ago. Typical for the period, they are light (120-140 grams) but definitely pack a sonic punch. Again, anecdotal evidence from multiple Google sources all credit WRS sound engineer Olaf Kuuskler as playing a central role in the proceedings. Let your ears be the judge. These albums cost a pretty penny (maybe not by going prices for G+ deep groove Blue Notes, so stock up), but I have found both to be very satisfying listening and emotional experiences overall and they definitely occupy positions of pride in my collection. NM (or VG+) copies pop up for less than the nosebleed buy-it-now prices on eBay and I daresay the patient collector will be rewarded in a couple of months.

That said, a big shout out to eBay seller subaru15012, who picked up a considerable number of these records when the studio went out of business. In his words, “I got these from the original WRS recording studio in Pittsburgh a few years ago.”. He has worked with me to replace a copy that clearly had a pressing defect and if anything, his prices are super fair and his service is just plain outstanding. For those unable to source these albums, or any of his other equally rare outings, may I recommend the Jazzman evil silver disc collection/compilation The Best Of Nathan Davis ’65-’76. (also issued on vinyl x3)

Pic 4: Scan of liner notes from 6th Sense in the 11th House.

Epilogue

Full disclosure: I spent eight years as a tenured faculty member at Pitt, before opportunities and priorities pulled me in a different direction. I moved here a little too late to have sought Nathan Davis out, but I can definitely attest to the fact that his legacy lives on in this beautiful city that I continue to call home.

Pedestroika, June 2021

 

My thanks to Pedestroika for bringing this cult figure of the expatriate1960’s/1970s jazz scene to life . I knew he  was important from  the slightly eye-watering price of those Segué albums – the few times I saw them. Couple of YT entries worthy of note, including dream-team – Woody Shaw AND Nathan Davis, in Paris, 1965

Le saxophoniste Nathan Davis et le trompettiste Woody Shaw le 2 juin 1965 dans l’émission Paris Carrefour du Monde avec Jack Diéval (piano), Jacques Hess (contrebasse), Franco Manzecchi (batterie)

Nathan Davis Core Discography (artist wiki Links)

Nathan Davis Most Collectable Albums

A walk through Ebay results for Nathan Davis has been an eye-opener. Top of the heap the UK Lansdowne with Dusko Goykovich at over $900, followed by the French issue of Peace Treaty ($500), our friend Jef Gilson a Gaveau, and all the others at between $200-500. The two segué titles in this post are actually among Davis’s most affordable. 

This is indeed the mark of a jazz cult figure. The Jazzman compilation is suddenly beginning to look more attractive by the minute. Curious if any LJC readers have any of the above, and comment on sound quality. The SABA titles should be pretty good, of the rest I’d welcome any opinions.

If you have any Nathan Davis insights or encounters to add,  comments are open

LJC

17 thoughts on “Who is Nathan Davis? A guest post

  1. I have a Yugoslav copy of Macedonia, sounds a bit meh but then I wasn’t expecting much, still cost me about £80 though. Nice man in Roston-on-Don sold it to me, the Russian world cup stamps were a nice extra. I also have a copy of Live in Paris which is also going for silly money now although at least the sound quality is a lot better.

  2. Thank you for that great post. I am going to listen to The hip walk and Swinging Macedonia this evening. The sound quality of both is great. Great line up too. Carmell Jones, Dusco Goikovich, Mal Waldron ………..

  3. ‘Swinging Macedonia’ on the Lansdowne Series is extremely expensive and scarce – I saw a stone mint copy a few years ago but it was £650 !

    More than happy to slum it with a lovely Sawano CD facsimile purchased in Tokyo for about £15 ! Other than size and format, it is a straight replica.

  4. Great post! The “Peace Treaty” LP is extremely hard to come by; Popsike doesn’t tell because it hasn’t been sold on eBay for a quite a while, but good copies sell for 1000 € + nowadays. I had the chance to get a copy (plus the mono version of Moncurs “Some Other Stuff”) by trading 3 dozen records I wanted to get rid of anyway. “Happy Girl” has also become increasingly expensive, though still not reaching “Peace Treaty” territory – but I doubt that good copies will sell below 400 €. Love the record and MPS should finally reissue this instead of Oscar Peterson. My favourite albums by Davis are the above reviewed Segué albums though, especially “Makatuka”. Really deep stuff.

  5. The Nathan Davis “Peace treaty” LP (SFP 10 003) sounds very good: a kind of good old natural recording, made on the stage of a theatre in Paris (of course without audience). This is mono recording. N. Davis playing gives some clear tribute to Dexter Gordon. The “Jef Gilson à Gaveau” LP (SFP 10 004, also mono) was in fact recorded in at that time a new studio (Studio Davout, May 15 1965) one and a half month after the creation of this big band repertoire in the “Salle Gaveau” concert hall (April 3, 1965). The sound is quite good. Nathan Davis and Woody Shaw, living and working in and around Paris at that time, share the stage with some of the best of the young generation of the french jazz scene (Bernard Lubat, Michel Portal, René Urtreger, Jacques Thollot…).
    This records can surely be said RARE! SFP (Société Française de Production Phonographique) has produces very few albums and I can remember that theses albums were even not nationally distributed in France: you had to find them in some very distinguished records shop in Paris.
    That’s what I did in those times….
    Cheers.

  6. What a player! You could tell Davis had the talent and the ear to the ground to incorporate the contemporary sounds of his stateside peers and collaborators while keeping his unique voice and styling.

    I highly recommend checking out his releases on Sam Records. I was lucky enough to pick up a copy of the five sided Live in Paris 1966-67 at retail after hearing one track on the radio. I did not know who he was prior to that and I figure the record store owner and his customers didn’t either because this is one of the best live recordings I’ve ever heard and is selling for $$$$ on the secondary market. Definitely my best purchase of the year so far.

    Great post!

  7. I have Rules of Freedom on a UK reissue label called Hot House. The sound is pretty average but the music is superb, a great rhythm section of Hampton Hawes, Jimmy Garrison and Art Taylor and Davis is strong and fluent on tenor (a hint of Dexter Gordon),soprano and flute. Definitely one of the music’s unsung heroes.

  8. I have the French (Polydor, licensed by Saba) Happy Girl and sounds very good. Different picture sleeve and difficult to find also, cheaper than the German issue.
    I also recommend and missing in the discography, the Sam records (best reissue and unissued records) issued a couple of years ago.
    A never before released Nathan Davis 1966/1967 live recordings with George Arvanitas, an absolute must have.
    Also recommend the Larry Young in Paris,with a big presence of Nathan Davis and Woody Shaw.

    • The Sam Records reissue of Peace Treaty is indeed excellent and well worth having. Hoping Sam’s Live In Paris gets another repress as even the second pressing is commanding higher prices than I’m willing to pay for a recent release.

      • Live In Paris repress has become available for pre-order from Sam Records and will be out in mid September…I ordered mine yesterday!

  9. Also recommended: Happy Girl (SABA). Feat. Woody Shaw! Larry Young! Jimmy Woode on bass, Billy Brooks drums.

  10. His short time in Turkey in the early 70s mentioned in his biography (with the names written all wrong) left a permanent mark on the local scene. You can hear him with Akagunduz Kutbay and Emin Findikoglu in a track from the Yonca Lp TRT Ara Muzikleri (Intermission Music of Turkish Television), a wonderful rendition of the classical Turkish tune Cecen Kizi (the Chechen girl).

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s