Magazine article IAJRC Journal

Obituaries: Saxophonist Charles Davis Dies at 83

Magazine article IAJRC Journal

Obituaries: Saxophonist Charles Davis Dies at 83

Article excerpt

The saxophonist Charles Davis, who has died aged 83, forged his bracing, bebop tenor saxophone style in Chicago's clubs and jam sessions, but it was only when he began to specialize on the more cumbersome baritone that he found his true voice and gained wider international recognition.

It was his instrumental command and solo fluency on baritone that brought Davis several recording opportunities and led band leaders as varied as the trumpeter Clark Terry and jazz mystic Sun Ra to recruit him for their touring orchestras. It also led to Davis combining with Gary Smulyan and Ronnie Cuber in the memorable Three Baritone Saxophone Band which played Ronnie Scott's in 1998 - my own first encounter with the majesty of his playing.

Latterly, Davis had returned to the tenor saxophone as his main instrument, fronting his own quartet and playing with the all-star Jimmy Heath big band while still taking the occasional tour with Marshall Allen's Sun Ra Arkestra.

Davis was born in Goodman, Mississippi, during a period of marked African- American repression and unrest, to Lindsey Davis and his wife, Vernell (nee Coleman). By 1936 he had relocated with his mother to Chicago's South Side, then the destination of choice for black southerners seeking a better life.

Initially Davis was sent away to St Benedict's, a Catholic boarding school in Milwaukee, before entering the celebrated DuSable high school in Chicago in 1949. There he came under the eagle eye of Captain Walter Dyett, whose music instruction had been crucial in shaping the careers of many African-American musicians and entertainers including Dinah Washington and Nat Cole. Davis said he was "brought up on Basie and Ellington", and recalled his mother taking him to see all the great black bands of the day at the city's Regal theater, citing her enthusiasm for Louis Jordan and Lionel Hampton, while he stayed starry-eyed at the sight of the bebop pioneer Charlie Parker with Jay McShann's band in 1942.

"I remember him playing a solo and it brought down the house," he told me in 2008. Davis also studied formally at the Chicago School of Music for three years and received private tuition from John Hauser from 1951 onwards.

Having already worked with the organist Brother Jack McDuff, Davis was called by a local bandleader, Al Smith, in 1956 to back the singer Billie Holiday at Budland in Chicago, alongside the featured tenor saxophonist and former Ellington star Ben Webster. …

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