Eddy Davis, “The Manhattan Minstrel.”
Late in 2005, I made my way to an unusual New York City jazz club, The Cajun, run by Arlene Lichterman and the late Herb Maslin. Unusual for many reasons, some of which I won’t explicate here, but mostly because it offered traditional jazz bands nine times a week — seven evenings and two brunch performances.
Who was there? I will leave someone out, so apologies in advance, but Kevin Dorn, Jon-Erik Kellso, Vince Giordano, John Gill, Michael Bank, J. Walter Hawkes, Pete Martinez, Michael Hashim, Scott Robinson, Barbara Rosene, Danny Tobias, Steve Little, Bob Thompson, Barbara Dreiwitz, Dick Dreiwitz, Hank Ross, Craig Ventresco, Carol Sudhalter, Peter Ecklund, Brad Shigeta, John Bucher, Sam Ulano, Stanley King, and Eddy Davis — banjoist, singer, composer. More about Eddy and his wondrously singular little band, “Wild Reeds and Wicked Rhythm,” which was no hyperbole, in a moment.
Originally I brought my cassette recorder to tape some of the music, but I had a small epiphany: seeing that every grandparent I knew had a video camera to take to the kids’ school play, I thought, “If they can learn to do this, so can I,” and I bought my first: a Sony that used mini-DVDs, each of which ran about 30 minutes. It was, I think, the most inconvenient camera I’ve ever owned. For some reason that I can’t recall, I tended to let the discs run rather than starting and stopping. They were, however, nearly untransferable, and they sat in small stacks in a bookcase.
This April, though, I tried to take a cyber-detour, and was able to transfer all the videos, perhaps forty hours or so, to my computer and thus to YouTube. I sent some to the players and the response was not always enthusiastic, but Eddy Davis was thrilled to have his little band captured, even though it did not have all of its usual personnel. Usually, WR and WR had Orange Kellin, clarinet; Scott Robinson, C-melody saxophone; Conal Fowkes, piano and vocal; Debbie Kennedy, string bass, in addition to Eddy. On this night, Michael Hashim replaced Orange; Dmitri Kolesnikov took Debbie’s place.
I find these videos thrilling: this band rocked exuberantly and apparently was a small jazz perpetual motion machine, a small group where the musicians smiled at each other all night long, and it wasn’t a show for the audience. And there’s some of the most exciting ensemble interplay I’ve ever heard — to say nothing of the truly false “false endings.”
I’d asked Eddy to write something for this post, and he responded gloriously.
WILD REEDS AND WICKED RHYTHM
I, Eddy Davis, have in my lifetime had the pleasure of having many wonderful Jazz Bands filled with wonderful musicians. It all started back in “The Windy City” in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. I was a Composition student at the Chicago Conservatory and working as a band leader for the Syndicate on Chicago’s infamous Rush Street. Boy, those were the days. During this time many great, interesting musicians came through the band.
Fellows like “Kansas” Fields, who had just returned from a ten year stint in Paris and Charles “Truck” Parham who started in the music business as a truck driver for the Fletcher Henderson Band. He was hauling the band instruments from job to job. When I asked Truck how he got his nickname he told me this story. He said: “One night the bass player got drunk and couldn’t play, so Fletcher said “Hey, Truck, get up on the band stand and act like you are playing the bass.” He said he liked it so much that he bought a bass and learned to play it. When he came to my band he had just gotten off the Pearl Bailey/Louie Bellson trio. When he left my band he joined the CBS staff orchestra. I was lucky enough to have the likes of Frank Powers or Bobby Gordon on Clarinet. I had the wonderful Norman Murphy on trumpet who had been in the Brass section of Gene Krupa’s Big Band. I also had the hilarious Jack “The Bear” Brown on trumpet. My band played opposite the original “Dukes of Dixieland” for a solid year at the club “Bourbon Street” in the middle. There were the Asuntos — Frank, on Trumpet — Freddie on Trombone and PaPa Jack on Trombone and Banjo. Gene Schroeder was on piano (where I learned so much) and the fantastic Barrett Deems on Drums.
At the Sari-S Showboat I was in the band of the great Trombonist Grorg Brunis, the Marsala Brothers, Joe and Marty, along with “Hey Hey” Humphries on drums, were also on the band. Another great band I played on was listed as Junie Cobb’s “Colonels of Corn.” The main reason this band was so great was that they were the very originals of JASS MUSIC. Junie was a multi-instrumentalist who on this band was playing Piano (he also recorded on Banjo). Al Wynn who had been the musical director for the great blues singer “Ma Rainey” was on Trombone and the wonderful Darnell Howard, who made terrific recordings with “Jelly Roll Morton,” was on Clarinet. We were playing at the Sabre Room and I was 17 (maybe 16) years old. I was a member of the last Jabbo Smith “Rhythm Aces” in New York City in the 1970’s.
Well, I could go on and on, but I’ll just say that the band “Wild Reeds and Wicked Rhythm” which I had for four or five years at the “Cajun Restaurant” on 16th Street and 8th Avenue in Manhattan was the thrill of my life. With the GREAT Scott Robinson and Orange Kellin on Reeds and Debbie Kennedy on Bass and MY BROTHER from a another mother — Conal Fowkes — was on Piano (he knows what I’m going to do before I do it and fits me like a glove). These were perhaps the most satisfying Musical Evenings I’ve ever known.
Scott Robinson is easily the best (for me) musical mind and player I’ve ever been in the presents of. I couldn’t come up with enough words to express my JOY with this band for those several years we performed every Wednesday night at the Cajun Restaurant in the great town of Manhattan.
We had two great subs on the night of this video. Dmitri Kolesnikov was on bass and on saxophone, the truly wonderful “The Hat” Michael Hashim.
Mr. Steinman, I would like to thank you so very much for supplying these videos and if you or anyone else has any other footage of any combination of this band, it would please me to no end to know of it.
The Banjoist Eddy “The Manhattan Minstrel” Davis
Here’s the first part of the evening. Eddy announces the songs, some of them his originals and a few transformations — all listed in the descriptions below the videos.
Come with me to the glorious days of 2006, to a club that has been replaced by a faceless high-rise apartment building, which has none of the joyous energy of the band and the Cajun. And enjoy the music, with no cover charge — yours for keeps.
Part One, concluded (with apologies to Dmitri):
May your happiness increase!