In the years that I was able to see and hear him live (1972-2006), Kenny Davern had unmistakable and well-earned star power, and on the sessions that I witnessed, his colleagues on the bandstand would have it also: Bob Wilber, Dick Wellstood, Dill Jones, Vic Dickenson, Bobby Hackett, Milt Hinton, Cliff Leeman, Dan Barrett, Jake Hanna, Bob Barnard, Randy Sandke, Buzzy Drootin, Bucky Pizzarelli. You can add your own names to that list, but these are some of my memorable sightings.
Here, in 2020, I confess to admiring some musicians more than others, and feeling that some that I know are going to give great performances . . . and they do. Musicians I’ve not met before might bring a moment of trepidation, but then there is the joy of discovering someone new — a stranger, now a hero. I write this as prelude to a video record of a performance Kenny gave (I think it was a patrons’ brunch) at the Manassas Jazz Festival on November 25, 1988.
This band, half of them new to Kenny (Jernigan and Proctor) produces wonderful inspiring results, and if you think of Kenny as acerbic, this performance is a wonderful corrective: how happy he is in this relaxed Mainstream atmosphere. And he was often such an intensely energized player that occasionally his bandmates felt it was their job to rise to his emotional heights. When this worked (think of Soprano Summit, Dick Wellstood and Cliff Leeman) it was extraordinary, but sometimes it resulted in firecrackers, not Kenny’s, being tossed around the bandstand.
All three players here are models of easy swing, of taking their time: notice how much breathing space there is in the performance, with no need to fill up every second with sound. I’d only known Dick Proctor from a few Manassas videos, but he is so content to keep time, to support, to be at ease. Dick left the scene in 2003, but his rhythm is very much alive here. I’d met and heard Larry Eanet at the 2004 Jazz at Chautauqua, and was impressed both with his delicacy and his willingness to follow whimsical impulses: they never disrupted the beautiful compositional flow of a solo or accompaniment, but they gave me small delighted shocks.
But the happy discovery for me, because of this video, is string bassist David Jernigan — the remaining member of this ad hoc quartet (younger than me by a few years! hooray!) — someone with a great subtle momentum, playing good notes in his backing and concise solos, and offering impressive arco passages with right-on-target intonation. You can also find David here.
That Kenny would invite the receptive audience to make requests is indication of his comfort, as are the words he says after SUMMERTIME:
I accept the applause for Dick and Dave and Larry, because I feel as you do. It’s not every day you can walk up on the bandstand . . . and really, literally, shake hands with two out of three guys that you’ve not played with before, and make music. And I think these guys really are splendid, splendid musicians.
Hear and see for yourselves.
‘DEED I DO / LAZY RIVER / “Shall I speak?”/ THERE WILL NEVER BE ANOTHER YOU / Johnson McRee and Kenny talk / SUMMERTIME / WRAP YOUR TROUBLES IN DREAMS //
Indeed, it’s not every day we hear music of this caliber. How fortunate we are.
May your happiness increase!