Tag Archives: Don Davis

“IT WAS WILD AND LOOSE AND FREE”: THE MICROSCOPIC SEPTET RETURNS TO NEW YORK (Part Two): THE JAZZ FORUM, July 17, 2022.

For the first performance of the evening and the full introduction, please see here.

Our business today is musical, not verbal: more from the wonderful Sunday gig at The Jazz Forum.

Monk’s FRIDAY THE THIRTEENTH:

WHEN YOU GET IN OVER YOUR HEAD:

PARIS BLUES:

BABY STEPS:

PANNONICA:

This post is of course for the Micros themselves, creators of dense translucencies, stomping minuets, and for Mark and Ellen of the Jazz Forum, and loyal listeners Maurice and Amber. All hail! We hope for a Micros reunion in New York sooner than 2027.

And there are fifteen or so more video-performances to come from that night, so watch this space.

May your happiness increase!

“IT WAS WILD AND LOOSE AND FREE”: THE MICROSCOPIC SEPTET RETURNS TO NEW YORK (Part One): THE JAZZ FORUM, July 17, 2022.

Halley’s Comet comes back every ninety years. By those standards, The Microscopic Septet is a frequent visitor to New York: 2017, then now. But five years is a long time by earthly standards, so the return of the Micros is a jubilant thing.

News flash: the Micros will be playing their other New York gig at Smalls, Christopher Street, Thursday, July 21. Be there if you can or become a member for free, or better, make a donation here and watch the live-stream.

Michael Hashim, Dave Sewelson
Co-leaders, composers, arrangers Joel Forrester, Phillip Johnston

I know it’s odd to start with still photographs, since the Micros are such a mobile group, but they are terribly photogenic, so I couldn’t resist. One more:

Phillip, Don Davis, Dave Hofstra, Michael

And now to more words. The Microscopic Septet wowed us in two sets at Tarrytown’s hidden jazz oasis, the Jazz Forum (a wonderful place!) on Sunday night, July 17, 2022. They are Joel Forrester, pianist, composer, arranger, co-leader; Phillip Johnston, soprano saxophone, composer, arranger, co-leader; Richard Dworkin, drums; Dave Hofstra, string bass; Dave Sewelson, baritone saxophone, vocal on I’VE GOT A RIGHT TO CRY; Michael Hashim, tenor saxophone; Don Davis, alto saxophone.

And if you are new to the Micros — who have been visible and audible for thirty-and-more years — they are more expansive than my words could convey. They have energies in profusion, and they rock. Their rhythm never falters, and you’ll hear elements of the last hundred years of jazz mixed in a savory stew, always surprising: reed-section unisons and backgrounds, riffs and stop-times, passionate soloing that owes much to early rhythm and blues on one end, free jazz on the other. Strong melodic lines and lots of drama, leavened with humor, futuristic and earthy all at once.

Here’s the first performance of the first set, Joel’s MANHATTAN MOONRISE:

Oh yes, there will be more! But get yourself to Smalls on Thursday night, two sets.

May your happiness increase!

BRIEFLY BUT MEMORABLY, THE MICROSCOPIC SEPTET RETURNS TO NEW YORK (July 17, The Jazz Forum, Tarrytown, New York // July 21, Smalls, Greenwich Village, New York)

The Microscopic Septet is one of the most imaginative jazz groups it’s ever been my privilege to encounter. The last time that happened five years ago, since co-leaders Joel Forrester and Phillip Johnston live far apart, but they are reuniting in New York for four sets, two nights, in July 2022.

The Septet is Joel Forrester, piano, compositions, arrangements; Michael Hashim, tenor saxophone; Don Davis, alto saxophone; Phillip Johnston, soprano saxophone, compositions, arrangements Dave Sewelson, baritone saxophone; Dave Hofstra, string bass; Richard Dworkin, drums. If I tried to describe what they did, it would be inaccurate because narrow: let’s just say they lovingly take the past and send it Priority Mail into the future, with surprises thrown in free of charge.

Here’s a taste of what they did (and I captured) in 2017.

WHEN YOU GET IN OVER YOUR HEAD (you’ll forget the noisy audience immediately):

Phillip’s LET’S COOLERATE ONE:

HANG IT ON A LINE:

And here’s Phillip’s commentary on the return / reunion:


 Active for a dozen years, the Microscopic Septet were widely recognized as “New York’s Most Famous Unknown Band.” The group started with a basic reeds-and-rhythm texture (soprano, alto, tenor and baritone sax, piano, bass and drums) that was sonically similar to the sound of the Swing Era. However, they employed these textures to address a widely eclectic range of styles, from free-form music to R&B, rhumbas and ragtime. The result was a brilliant blend of fresh-sounding orchestration and inspired soloing. Beloved in New York, where they generally drew capacity crowds, “The Micros” were one of the most celebrated of the many cutting-edge units associated with experimental music’s best-known venue, the Knitting Factory, during the peak years of the “Downtown” music movement in the mid 1980s onward. Beginning in 2006, the Micros came back together again, sparked by a re-release of their 1980s LPs on a series of CDs on Cuneiform, eventually releasing a series of highly regarded CD, also on Cuneiform, featuring both new and earlier, unrecorded Micros music. Beginning with Lobster Leaps In and followed by Friday The 13th: The Micros Play Monk, Manhattan Moonrise and Been Up So Long It Looks Like Down to Me: The Micros Play the Blues, the Micros began playing once or twice a year in New York, despite the fact that the two band-leaders, Phillip Johnston lives in Sydney, Australia, and Joel Forrester in Lyons, France, until the pandemic made travel impossible.  . . . until now.

In July 2022, for the first time since the 2017 concert ‘Forever Weird’ at The Kitchen (with generational fellow travelers Jazz Passengers & Kamikaze Ground Crew), the Micros are gathering in New York to play two gigs, at Jazz Forum and Smalls Jazz Club.

“The Micros skip merrily through the century, finding an avant-garde side street branching off from a trad-jazz Main Street…. As always with the Micros, it’s gloriously, delightfully and inappropriately right. Welcome back.” – DOWN BEAT

And the gig details. Sunday, July 17, 2022, The Jazz Forum, Tarrytown, New York, two shows, 4 and 6 PM. Tickets: https://jazzforumarts.org/.

Thursday, July 21, 2022, Smalls Jazz Club, New York, New York, two shows, 7:30 and 9 PM. Tickets: https://www.smallslive.com/events/24212-microscopic-septet/

Don’t miss them. Who knows what the future brings, for them or us?

May your happiness increase!

A SUNNY BLUES IN F: THE FINALE TO “FOREVER WEIRD” (The Kitchen, December 9, 2017) featuring THE MICROSCOPIC SEPTET, THE JAZZ PASSENGERS, and THE KAMIKAZE GROUND CREW

For the story behind this riotous explosion of joys, please visit part one and part two of JAZZ LIVES’ exclusive multi-media coverage, where I posted all of The Microscopic Septet’s set.  Very little could follow Dave Sewelson’s passionate singing of I GOT A RIGHT TO CRY, but saxophonist-visionary Phillip Johnston did not want us to go out into the snowy night feeling lachrymose.

He’d asked members of the other two bands, the Jazz Passengers and the Kamikaze Ground Crew, to hang around for the finale if they felt like it (and no one wanted to miss anything the Microscopic Septet was playing) so at the end, he assembled a giant “JATP-style” jam session on a blues in F he’d written, DON’T MIND IF I DO, for the three bands.

It was clear that if everyone took even twenty-four bars apiece, we would be at the Kitchen well past closing time, so the musicians quickly arranged to play solos in tandem, trade choruses or parts of choruses — a heartwarming reminder that improvisation is more than simply playing one’s instrument, and a delightful reminder of the great players of the Thirties and Forties who could create a whole short story in eight bars.

Here’s the result, first a few minutes of jovial rustling-around, which I think is priceless, then ten minutes of rocking cheerful collective improvisation:

and a lovely postscript, an appreciative review by “TG” in THE NEW YORK JAZZ RECORD:

What a gift to everyone at The Kitchen, which (with the permission of the three bands) I am now able to share with you.

May your happiness increase!

“FOREVER WEIRD”: THE MICROSCOPIC SEPTET and FRIENDS at THE KITCHEN, PART TWO (Dec. 9, 2017)

Here’s Part Two of that glorious evening at The Kitchen in New York’s Greenwich Village with the Microscopic Septet and friends.  Part One, for those who want to review their notes (and the Septet’s) is here.  But here’s the personnel for those who, like me, need to know the names of our heroes: Joel Forrester, piano, composer, co-leader; Phillip Johnston, alto and soprano saxophone, composer, co-leader; Dave Hofstra, string bass; Richard Dworkin, drums; Dave Sewelson, baritone saxophone and vocal on CRY; Michael Hashim, tenor saxophone, Don Davis, alto saxophone.  Incidentally, for some listeners who like their jazz only one or two ways, the Micros may sound “avant-garde.” I urge them to listen: this band loves the blues and has its own ferocious swing.  They seem to me to be taking traditional forms and approaching them with loving zealous individualities.

The Microscopic Septet, if they are new to you, is a long-lived improvising ensemble — devoted to “serious fun,” as my friend John Scurry terms it.

Phillip Johnston’s LET’S COOLERATE ONE:

From The Middle Period, LOBSTER IN THE LIMELIGHT:

If you need directions, just TAKE THE Z TRAIN:

Finally, I GOT A RIGHT TO CRY (vocal Dave Sewelson) — originally performed by Joe Liggins but sounding eerily and happily like a Joel Forrester composition:

The Grand Finale, deserving of initial capitals, where the Micros, the Jazz Passengers, and the Kamikaze Ground Crew, jammed on DON’T MIND IF I DO, will appear in the last post of this series.  Look for it wherever better blogposts and videos are given away for free.

Extra!  This post is in celebration of Micros co-leader Phillip Johnston, who yesterday won the 2017 Johnny Dennis Music Award:

The 2017 winner of the Johnny Dennis Music Award, which acknowledges great achievement in Australian music composition, is composer/performer Phillip Johnston.

Outgoing Australian Guild of Screen Composers’ President, Guy Gross, said “The AGSC Board were delighted with the choice of Phillip Johnston as the 2017 recipient of this major award which carries a cash prize of $20,000.”

“This award gives the recipient the creative and financial freedom to work on a project of their choice. The project chosen by Phillip Johnston will expand the knowledge and understanding of the history of the Australian film industry, both in Australia and internationally, as well as create new and innovative fusions of film and music.”

The JD Awards were established in perpetuity through the will of Dennis John Mole, whose stage name was Johnny Dennis.

Phillip Johnston’s winning proposal was to conduct research at the National Film and Sound Archive with the purpose of creating new original scores for historical Australian silent films that would help to make the films accessible to modern audiences.

On receiving the Award Phillip Johnston stated “Receiving the Johnny Dennis Award will support my new original scores for silent film project, which involves both research into the rich history of Australian silent film and the creation of new musical scores to be performed live with the films.”

“After 25 years of composing and performing new scores for American, European and Japanese silent films worldwide, I’m very excited about turning my attention to a new exciting project combining two of my major interests: new relationships between music and film, and Australia’s great contribution to world film history.”

May your happiness increase!

“FOREVER WEIRD”: THE MICROSCOPIC SEPTET and FRIENDS at THE KITCHEN, PART ONE (Dec. 9, 2017)

For me, 2017 has been a year of wonderful music, meeting and hearing Nancy Harrow, interviewing Dan Morgenstern, and more.  The “more” includes hearing and recording The Microscopic Septet twice.

I know I am late to the festivities, since the Micros have been changing the world one song at a time for more than thirty years, but I am certainly enjoying them.

The facts, or what they resemble: the Micros are co-led by pianist / composer Joel Forrester and saxophonist / composer Phillip Johnston.  The five other nobles in the crew are Richard Dworkin, drums; Dave Hofstra, string bass; Dave Sewelson, baritone saxophone and vocal; Michael Hashim, tenor saxophone; Don Davis, alto saxophone. They make uplifting, always surprising music.

The first time I had the pleasure was on June 6, at the Astor Room in Astoria, New York, and the results are here and heregloriously.

Six months later, I very happily found myself in a reserved seat in the front row of The Kitchen at 512 West 19th Street in the West Village of New York City, waiting for the music to begin.  Phillip had gathered the Micros and two other bands from the same time and place — the Jazz Passengers and the Kamikaze Ground Crew, for what he called FOREVER WEIRD.

At times, the music was weird, but in the most friendly ways.  To attempt to “interpret” it would be an impudence both to the musicians and this audience. I will indulge myself in only one metaphor: imagine a train rhythmically moving through a constantly shifting multi-colored landscape, changing, morphing, returning.  Just as we’ve gotten comfortable with the purple stalactites outside the window, they are replaced with three (not four) upholstered kitchen chairs. And we are happy.

Not knowing the two other bands, I did not video-record them (although we might get to see the finale, when everyone gathered onstage and played DON’T MIND IF I DO — in a future post) but I devotedly captured the Micros. The premise of their hour-long set was a quick retrospective through their collective history — too rich to compress into eight performances, but what a satisfying jaunt.  Here are the first four:

Phillip’s A STRANGE THOUGHT ENTERED MY HEAD:

LIEUTENANT CASSOWARY, by Joel:

Joel’s SECOND AVENUE:

A “seasonal favorite” for the “generic holiday season,” recomposed by Joel:

The second half will come soon.  I know this offering is but a fraction — one-half of the closing third, but it’s a very rewarding sixth.

Thanks to Phillip Johnston, Don Davis, Dave Sewelson, Michael Hashim, Richard Dworkin, Joel Forrester, Dave Hofstra, and to the kind people at The Kitchen, who couldn’t have been more welcoming.

May your happiness increase!

THE MICROSCOPIC SEPTET FINDS ITSELF IN ASTORIA, NEW YORK, AND WE ARE GRATEFUL: PART TWO (June 6, 2017)

Here is the first set of the Microscopic Septet’s performance at the Astor Room on June 6.

What follows might seem self-indulgent (the reference is back to me, not the band) but here is what I wrote for that first post.  I don’t think the Micros are as widely admired as they should be, and although Milton’s “Fit audience, though few,” still is true to me, I’d like to extend the circle of admirers just a little . . . through words as well as videos.

Had you told me, several decades ago, when the Microscopic Septet came, gently ferocious, out of the speakers of my stereo system, that I would be spending a June night in 2017, sitting in front of them with a video camera, I would have said it was cruel to tease me.  But it happened.  And to me, it’s one of the half-dozen accomplishments of this blog-endeavor I’m most proud of.

A brief digression.  I’m coming to the realization that most categorization has nothing to do with the subject.  Of course, at the farmers’ market, it is useful for the purchaser to know what kind of kale or apple or cucumber that unlabeled beauty is, because the purchaser might have certain tastes.  But music is thankfully more expansive than the space between the Ida Red and the Jonagold. So those jazz listeners who wish to debate whether their favorite band plays postmodern-New Orleans-Second Line-funk OR you could call it retro-modern-Creole-trad are encouraged to go outside and play, if the weather is nice.

I confess that I, too, have fallen into the categorizing urge (or is it prison?) now and again, and I even did it for one moment with the Micros, when I whimsically categorized their music to Joel Forrester (to whom I apologize) as “super-intellectual-rhythm and blues,” and the politely pained look that crossed his face as he said, “Well, I don’t know,” was the look you give to a dear friend or relative who has just said something quite surprisingly foolish.  So I gave that up and simply revel in the music: its energy, its surprising twists, its rollicking momentum, its dramatic shapes, its tender musing sadness.  They are too large and luscious to fit in any Facebook group, and that’s something to celebrate.  (Incidentally, I hope any readers who might get scared away by “modernism” give the Micros an attentive few minutes.  They’re not “the Dixielanderini,” but they certainly swing.)

I apologize for the brutality of the image that follows, but when someone asked William Carlos Williams why he didn’t write sonnets, he said, “Forcing twentieth-century America into a sonnet–gosh, how I hate sonnets–is like putting a crab into a square box. You’ve got to cut his legs off to make him fit. When you get through you don’t have a crab anymore.”

The Microscopic Septet plays within forms — the blues, other people’s compositions — but they also extend and stretch those forms, with ingenuity and love, so that no metaphysical animals are harmed.

For this New York gig, the Micros are Phillip Johnston, soprano saxophone and articulate announcements; Don Davis, alto saxophone; Mike Hashim, tenor saxophone; Dave Sewelson, baritone saxophone and vocal; Joel Forrester, piano; Dave Hofstra, string bass; Richard Dworkin, drums.

Here’s the first set of their evening at the Astor Room.  By choice, I sat as close as I could without joining the band, so occasionally the players on either end are bisected or in the dark, but I trust that the closeness of the sound recording makes up for this.

Now, here is the second set (I’d moved back several feet, so all the players should appear in the video as they do in life).

CAT TOYS:

DARK BLUE:

LOBSTER IN THE LIMELIGHT:

PANNONICA:

LITTLE BOBBY:

STAR TURN:

WHEN YOU GET IN OVER YOUR HEAD:

WHEN IT’S  GETTING DARK:

I’VE GOT A RIGHT TO CRY, with vocal chorus by Dave Sewelson:

Rushing time away is never a good thing, but I hope the Micros visit New York again — soon — if not sooner.

May your happiness increase!

THE MICROSCOPIC SEPTET FINDS ITSELF IN ASTORIA, NEW YORK, AND WE ARE GRATEFUL: PART ONE (June 6, 2017)

The Microscopic Septet’s most recent CD.

Had you told me, several decades ago, when the Microscopic Septet came, gently ferocious, out of the speakers of my stereo system, that I would be spending a June night in 2017, sitting in front of them with a video camera, I would have said it was cruel to tease me.  But it happened.  And to me, it’s one of the half-dozen accomplishments of this blog-endeavor I’m most proud of.

A brief digression.  I’m coming to the realization that most categorization has nothing to do with the subject.  Of course, at the farmers’ market, it is useful for the purchaser to know what kind of kale or apple or cucumber that unlabeled beauty is, because the purchaser might have certain tastes.  But music is thankfully more expansive than the space between the Ida Red and the Jonagold. So those jazz listeners who wish to debate whether their favorite band plays postmodern-New Orleans-Second Line-funk OR you could call it retro-modern-Creole-trad are encouraged to go outside and play, if the weather is nice.

I confess that I, too, have fallen into the categorizing urge (or is it prison?) now and again, and I even did it for one moment with the Micros, when I whimsically categorized their music to Joel Forrester (to whom I apologize) as “super-intellectual-rhythm and blues,” and the politely pained look that crossed his face as he said, “Well, I don’t know,” was the look you give to a dear friend or relative who has just said something quite surprisingly foolish.  So I gave that up and simply revel in the music: its energy, its surprising twists, its rollicking momentum, its dramatic shapes, its tender musing sadness.  They are too large and luscious to fit in any Facebook group, and that’s something to celebrate.  (Incidentally, I hope any readers who might get scared away by “modernism” give the Micros an attentive few minutes.  They’re not “the Dixielanderini,” but they certainly swing.)

I apologize for the brutality of the image that follows, but when someone asked William Carlos Williams why he didn’t write sonnets, he said, “Forcing twentieth-century America into a sonnet–gosh, how I hate sonnets–is like putting a crab into a square box. You’ve got to cut his legs off to make him fit. When you get through you don’t have a crab anymore.”

The Microscopic Septet plays within forms — the blues, other people’s compositions — but they also extend and stretch those forms, with ingenuity and love, so that no metaphysical animals are harmed.

For this New York gig, the Micros are Phillip Johnston, soprano saxophone and articulate announcements; Don Davis, alto saxophone; Mike Hashim, tenor saxophone; Dave Sewelson, baritone saxophone and vocal; Joel Forrester, piano; Dave Hofstra, string bass; Richard Dworkin, drums.

Here’s the first set of their evening at the Astor Room.  By choice, I sat as close as I could without joining the band, so occasionally the players on either end are bisected or in the dark, but I trust that the closeness of the sound recording makes up for this.

MANHATTAN MOONRISE:

LET’S COOLERATE ONE:

WE SEE:

MIGRAINE BLUES:

TWELVE ANGRY BIRDS:

BRILLIANT CORNERS:

HANG IT ON A LINE:

Thrilling, no?  Also lyrical, pensive, multi-textured, raw, hilarious, moving . . . you can fill in your own praises.

A second set of videos will follow.

May your happiness increase!