Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Ya! Ya! or Mama Tried

This is about Budd Johnson, Richard Davis, and my mom.

Budd Johnson (1910-1984) was a jazz saxophonist who played and recorded with Louis Armstrong and Dizzy Gillespie, but who is probably best known for his long association with Earl Hines. He was a big-toned, swing-era player, but he enthusiastically embraced bebop in the forties - he participated in what has been called the first bop recording session, a Coleman Hawkins date that also included Gillespie and Max Roach, and he played with and wrote arrangements for Billy Eckstine's pioneering bop big band.

Richard Davis (b. 1930) was the favorite bassist of both Eric Dolphy and Stravinsky. He was associated with the avant-garde during the sixties, but in more recent years his music has tended to be more mainstream. In any case, he is a player of matchless technique and taste.

My mom, who died in 2005, fostered my interest in jazz, sometimes influencing my tastes in ways she didn't realize. When I was 12 and had just taken up the saxophone, one of my Christmas presents from her was the first record I owned - Budd Johnson's Ya! Ya! on the Argo label. She found it in the cut-out rack of Treasure Island (yes, there was a department store called Treasure Island) and bought it for me because the cover had a picture of Johnson holding a tenor sax.

My first reaction was of disappointment. I had just discovered rock music (a few years later than most of my friends) and I wanted a rock album like my brother got that Christmas. But I gave it a listen, and liked about half of the tracks right away. They were, of course, the most obvious, bluesy tunes on the album. Even though I didn't know anything about jazz, I could tell that the bass playing was good - George Duvivier played on half of the album, replaced by Richard Davis on the rest. One of the pieces that I liked, "Exotique," had a bass solo by Davis that can only be described as bizarre. It's played arco, with microtonal glissandos, quarter tones, and dissonant double-stops. It seemed a little strange to me at the time, but I didn't know anything about music, and figured, hey, these are professional musicians - they know what they're doing. I liked it.

My acceptance of this bass solo stood in good stead later, as I started to explore free jazz. Another way to look at it is that this strange solo screwed me up for life. It's like the pop psycologists say - it's all my mom's fault.

I listened to Ya! Ya! today. It still sounds pretty good.


Anonymous said...

really? Stravinsky was into Richard Davis?! I want proof of this!

Jeff Crompton said...

I can't remember where I read that Davis was Stravinsky's favorite bass player. The best I can come up with right now is an article on the University of Wisconsin website, which says that faculty member Davis played under the baton of "Igor Stravinsky (who accorded Davis the rare tribute of walking over to him onstage at concert's end to lay his hand on Davis' shoulder)...."

Anonymous said...

Well, that's proof enough for me; and as long as it didn't come from Wikipedia.

I love the way Richard Davis and Tony Williams sound together on the Dolphy's Out to Lunch.

Jeff Crompton said...

What I didn't say in the original post was that Richard Davis is (with all due respect to Dave Holland, Jean-Jacques Avenel and Fred Hopkins) probably my favorite bass player. I have a bootleg (pardon me - Recording of Unknown Origin) of the 1966 Miles Davis Quintet with Davis subbing for Ron Carter at a Portland concert. It kills!