Eddy Davis was a stubborn fellow — he did what he wanted to, but more important, he would not budge from what he had in mind. (I speak from experience.) So Eddy refuses to go away, which is a wonderful thing.
Here is the third part of my delighted-yet-grieving evocation of him: a session from The Ear Inn on June 3, 2012. The Ear was darker than usual (hence the yellow graininess of the image so that you and I could see as well as hear) but the brilliant music is nearly blinding. The details, and the music, below, as I offered them in September 2012. The first part of my series can be found here; the second part here. I have one more session to offer, from even more years ago. But love and joy and loss are not bound by clocks.
Eight years ago, I first visited the Cajun Restaurant in the West Village (that’s Greenwich Village, New York) on Eighth Avenue. It had been around for a long time, but it was known as the only place that still featured “traditional jazz,” however one defined the term, seven nights and two afternoons a week.*
A regular attraction was the Wednesday night band — a compact unit led by banjoist / singer / composer Eddy Davis, and dubbed by him late in its run WILD REEDS AND WICKED RHYTHM. Most often, the instrumentation was Conal Fowkes, string bass; Scott Robinson, C-melody saxophone; Orange Kellin, clarinet, and Eddy — four players with a strong lyrical streak who could also make a bandstand seem wildly hot in the tradition of the Bechet-Spanier Big Four or Soprano Summit on an uptempo outchorus.
Since the regular Wednesday night gig ended, this band has gotten together for musical reunions — although not as often as its fans and partisans would like. Thus, I was thrilled to learn that Eddy, Conal, Orange, and Scott would be “the EarRegulars” on Sunday, June 3, 2012, at The Ear Inn. And I present some of the frankly magical results herein.
Eddy would not be insulted, I think, if I called his approach “quirky,” and his whimsical view of the musical spectrum colors and uplifts the band. Another leader might have stuck to the predictable dozen “New Orleans” or “trad” standards, but not Eddy. His musical range, affections, and knowledge are broad — he approaches old songs in new ways and digs up “new” ones that get in the groove deeply. He knows how to set rocking tempos and his colleagues look both happy and inspired. In addition, Eddy writes lyrics — homespun rather than sleek — for some classic jazz tunes, and he sings them from the heart. All of these virtues were on display at The Ear Inn — friendly, jostling, witty solos and ensembles, and performances that took their time to scrape the clouds.
The melody for BABY, YOU’RE THE BEST might be elusive for some, but it has deep roots — Lil Hardin Armstrong’s TWO DEUCES, which Eddy has turned into a love song and the band has turned into a down-home West Village classic:
TWO-A-DAY is one of Eddy’s favorite obscure songs — a Jerry Herman number praising a kind of vaudeville bill (and time and place) from the ill-starred musical MACK AND MABEL, charting the lives and times of Mack Sennett and Mabel Normand. When Eddy sings lyrics about the “atomic age,” Scott emphasizes the point through his distinctive space-age attire:
POTATO HEAD BLUES, with jaunty lyrics and wondrous playing. All for you, Louis:
I DON’T WANT TO SET THE WORLD ON FIRE needs no introduction — recalling the Ink Spots and their sweet lovemaking on Decca Records:
Jon-Erik Kellso, Hot Man Supreme, came into The Ear Inn after another gig — hence the formal wear — sat down, and joined the band for a calypso-infused THE BUCKET’S GOT A HOLE IN IT. Maybe this bucket was full of Red Stripe beer?:
At the start of THANKS A MILLION, you’ll notice an empty chair next to Orange — soon to be filled by the illustrious Dan Block on bass clarinet, with Scott switching over to one of his taragotas, or taragoti — which he’d first taken out for POTATO HEAD BLUES:
STRUTTIN’ WIH SOME BARBECUE, complete with verse:
And the session closed with Eubie Blake’s lovely affirmation, LOVE WILL FIND A WAY, taken at a strolling medium tempo:
P.S. This session happened in the beginning of June and has only emerged three months later — no reflection on the splendid heartfelt music, but because of some small technical difficulties . . . now happily repaired.
*At the end of July 2006, The Cajun closed after a twenty-eight year run — to make way for a faceless high-rise apartment building. When I find myself on Eighth Avenue and Sixteenth Street, I try not to search the spot where it once was. It was a flawed paradise, but we miss it.
Early on in this post, you can see Barbara Rosene’s painting of The Cajun. Barbara, as you know, is also a very personal singer — heartfelt and tender. It was in this incarnation that I first met her, and she knew Eddy before I did. Here are her feelings about him:
He welcomed me on the stage of The Cajun with Conal Fowkes, Debbie Kennedy, Scott Robinson, Simon Wettenhall and a myriad of other players and singers. I never wanted to be anywhere else on Wednesday nights. I would often sing “My Foolish Heart” which was a favorite of my Mom’s and I later realized was a favorite of Eddy’s. He was always so pleased when someone knew something other than the “regular” tunes. He would play “Artificial Flowers,” a Bobby Darin hit, or a Jerry Herman tune. There were no rules. Just good songs.
A few of us worked on a play that he had written for a while and we would do read-throughs at his apartment. One particular time I was late, having just gone through an emotional goodbye with someone we all knew, and he gave me a fatherly hug and an expression of understanding that made me know how much he cared for me. It floored me. This depth of feeling and understanding certainly came out in his music, but not always one on one, so it was very meaningful to me. About this same time he arranged for me to sit in at the Carlyle with Woody Allen for a couple of different nights. He would just gesture for me to come up and sing a chorus without any fanfare. I remember doing “One Sweet Letter From You.” He knew how much this meant to me. If he could give someone an opportunity, he did so with joy and without thought of compensation.
I also loved that he was from Indiana. We were small town midwesterners in Manhattan. He reminded me of the people I had grown up with. We talked the same language. My parents would have liked him. I will miss him terribly. He taught me so much.
May your happiness increase.