This article is copyright 2005 by Antonio J. García and originally was published in the International Trombone Association Journal, Vol. 33, No. 3, July 2005. It is used by permission of the author and, as needed, the publication. Some text variations may occur between the print version and that below. All international rights remain reserved; it is not for further reproduction without written consent.
Michael Davis: Making a Case for Brass
by Antonio J. García
Associate Jazz Editor, ITA Journal
I have known trombonist Michael Davis since 1982, when he was graduating from the Eastman School and I was enrolled in the summer “Arranger’s Holiday” workshop there. Our working relationship solidified at the 1997 International Trombone Festival in Champaign, Illinois, where I had the privilege of performing on a jazz-night bill that included a number of trombonists who had inspired me for decades: Bill Watrous, Raul deSouza, Bruce Paulson, Bill Reichenbach, and Michael Davis. As usual, Michael played marvelously; and the evening proved to be the inspiration for a new collaboration he would form with Reichenbach that lasts to this day. That duo presented a workshop at the 2004 Midwest Clinic that offered their attendees a wealth of practical approaches towards improved sound production, intonation, and stylistic interpretation.
Michael long ago established himself as a first-call sideman in the studio and on the concert stage for such artists as the Rolling Stones, Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Nelly, Bob Dylan, Michael Jackson, Sarah Vaughan, Sting, Harry Connick, Jr., David Sanborn, Beck, Branford Marsalis, Aerosmith, Bon Jovi, Sheryl Crow, Lyle Lovett, Terence Blanchard, and Bob Mintzer. He is an active clinician, a recipient of multiple awards from The National Endowment For The Arts, and has authored a number of highly esteemed instructional books and band arrangements for musicians of all ages and abilities. For the past 10 years his own company, Hip-Bone Music, has housed his publishing activities and work as a recording artist.
This September Michael embarks on yet another tour with the Rolling Stones, a band he’s been a part of for more than 10 years. I asked Michael how he put his career together, what’s ahead for him, and what he sees ahead for the trombone itself.
García: Which trombonists have influenced you the most?
Davis: Frank Rosolino comes to mind immediately. He’s probably my all-time favorite. Many others have been very inspirational, including Urbie Green, Carl Fontana, J.J. Johnson, Bill Reichenbach, Dick Nash, and Conrad Herwig. I’m very fortunate to live and work in New York City. It gives me the opportunity to work with and be inspired by some of the finest musicians in the world on a daily basis. It’s always a gas to show up for work and sit in a section with players like Birch Johnson, Larry Farrell, George Flynn, and John Fedchock.
AG: Who were your primary trombone teachers of any genre?
MD: My dad is a musician, and I started off studying music with him. As a youngster, I studied trombone with Phil Zahorsky, the bass trombonist in the San Jose Symphony. From there I went to a gentleman whom I still consider the best teacher I’ve ever had: Mitch Ross, at that time the principal trombonist of the San Francisco Ballet. He’s been in the Jerusalem Symphony for the past 15 years or so. Although I was studying primarily orchestral trombone playing with him, he really taught me about music, how to approach a piece from a musical perspective. We need more teachers like Mitch Ross.
From there I went to Eastman and studied trombone with John Marcellus and jazz improvisation with Bill Dobbins. After college I received an NEA grant to study arranging with Bob Mintzer. Bob’s one of my all-time favorite musicians; so that was really inspiring.
AG: Could you isolate for us a few of what you believe are the most essential tips for a trombonist?
MD: To me, it comes down to three important fundamentals: time, pitch, and sound. Of course there are additional important elements to becoming a solid player, but those three are the most important. The ability to listen and adjust would probably be next on my list. Some players get so wrapped up in their own sound that they seem to forget the importance of listening and trying to play together as an ensemble or section. And being able to play different styles is a big plus. Sight-reading is very important, as is being able to pick things up by ear and not have to rely on the printed page.
AG: You spent a couple of years touring with Buddy Rich, who was known for both his high musical standards and his stormy confrontations with many band members. What did you gain the most from the various highs and lows of your time on the band?
MD: I had an absolute ball playing with Buddy Rich. Buddy’s band was my first professional gig, and I’m still grateful for that opportunity.
Buddy did have a rather unique “style” in terms of motivating the band. It was an old-school approach he had learned from Tommy Dorsey. It was part of his legend and one of the things we had to deal with. Having said that, Buddy’s band was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had. Playing six or seven nights a week at that level of intensity was simply invaluable. I learned a great deal about music from the experience and also felt like the band gave me an opportunity to mature as a player. Because of Buddy’s volatility, the band really developed an “us-against-him” kind of attitude, which led to a lot of great friendships and great hangs. Buddy definitely taught you to bring your “A” game to every situation you find yourself in.
AG: You have been prolific in offering a wide variety of professional recordings and educational aids to brass players. Let’s focus first on the recordings. Can you briefly trace your journey from solo jazz recordings to duos with Bill Reichenbach to collaborations with so many of the best jazz, classical, and studio players in the world?
MD: The first three solo albums I did were for labels that concentrated on smooth-jazz releases. Unfortunately, these labels offered very little support for the projects once they came out. After doing business in a somewhat frustrating manner for several years, I decided to start releasing CDs through my publishing company, Hip-Bone Music. Releasing my own CDs presented some very exciting possibilities as well as some challenging problems.
I decided to make my initial release an all-trombone project that eventually became known as ABSOLUTE TROMBONE. Working with many of my favorite trombone players in New York and recording my own compositions was a thrill. Unfortunately, recording, mixing, mastering, packaging, and marketing a CD like ABSOLUTE TROMBONE carries with it a fairly hefty price tag. With all my projects, the challenge comes in trying to recoup enough of the initial investment so I can do the next one.
After ABSOLUTE TROMBONE came out, I was trying to think of a follow-up project. Thanks to Elliot Chasanov, I was on the faculty of the 1997 International Trombone Festival in Champaign, Illinois. To my good fortune, so was Bill Reichenbach. I had been a huge fan of Bill’s since my days at Eastman; and after hearing him play one tune on bass trombone, I knew what my next project was going to be. The CD was named BONETOWN and also became the name of our group. Much to my delight, Bonetown has developed into a regular touring ensemble. Bill and I have hooked up with several rhythm sections around the country and in Europe and have performed over 50 concerts together. We also recorded a second CD, NEW BRASS. It features the original Bonetown group along with a classical brass quintet that includes Phil Smith, Ray Mase, Phil Myers, Joe Alessi, and Gene Pokorny.
In between the two projects with Bill, I recorded what has to be my most ambitious project yet: BRASS NATION. It features 55 of the world’s finest brass players, including the brass sections of the Chicago Symphony and New York Philharmonic, Los Angeles’ outstanding core of studio players, and a cross-section of New York’s finest jazz and commercial players. It’s my proudest accomplishment as a composer and producer. BRASS NATION was well over a year in the making.
My latest CD, TRUMPETS ELEVEN, features (as you might guess) 11 different trumpet players, one on each track. For the most part, it’s a jazz-quintet setting with a front line of trumpet and trombone plus piano, bass, and drums. I’m very happy with the way it turned out—and even more pleased that it spent several weeks in the top 10 of the jazz charts.
AG: How does your career with the Rolling Stones fit into this equation, musically and financially?
MD: I’ve been with the Rolling Stones for 10 years now. It’s been an incredible ride, one that I’m extremely grateful for. The Stones themselves are consummate pros and truly an inspiration. Their organization is run so unbelievably well; and the treatment is, as you would expect, absolutely wonderful. I’ve learned a tremendous amount about music, business, and life from being around them. From a financial perspective, the Stones gig has given me the freedom to pursue projects from a creative point of view. They’ve made it possible for me to record CDs that probably wouldn’t have gotten made otherwise.
AG: What do you see ahead as your next directions as a performer, composer, and publisher?
MD: We’re in the middle of a fairly aggressive expansion plan with Hip-Bone Music. The focal point of the expansion is a new division of the company called Club Hip-Bone. It will be a series of play-along books/CDs, DVDs, solo pieces, duos, and trios for the beginning-level brass player. It’s being crafted for the fourth- to eighth-grade trombone, trumpet, french horn, or tuba player. I’m really juiced about it! The new features we’ll be offering on the site look very cool.
Next year I’ll begin working on ABSOLUTE TROMBONE II, which will feature trombonists from New York, Los Angeles, and London. I’ll also be releasing a DVD of that project. Other upcoming releases will include a play-along book/CD of the TRUMPETS ELEVEN recording and a solo-transcription book of Bill Reichenbach’s and my solos from the BONETOWN and NEW BRASS CDs.
I’m planning on remaining as active as possible on the recording scene here in New York, as well as keeping a full schedule of clinics and concerts around the country.
A Case for the Trombone
AG: With your trombone ensemble and solo compositions, it seems as though you have adopted the mission of making the trombone more accessible for young students choosing instruments. Has that been a conscious decision?
MD: To a degree, yes. I think the trombone has gotten a bit of a raw deal over the years, in terms of public perception and popularity. To most people, it doesn’t have the sex appeal that a trumpet or saxophone does. Obviously, we trombonists would disagree! The trombone is a beautiful instrument, and it always amazes me how much youngsters enjoy playing it. With that in mind, I try to write and present music that will be fun, both for the player and the listener. If that ends up inspiring youngsters to play the trombone, I couldn’t be happier.
AG: Explain to us how The Commission Project and Trombone Circus fit into this mix.
MD: I haven’t worked with The Commission Project since 1999; so it really doesn’t fit into the mix at all these days. I did help TCP get “Trombone Circus” off the ground in its first couple of years. Trombone Circus is a day-long celebration of the trombone: workshops, lessons, coachings, exhibits, concerts...a very cool event.
AG: Are there any specific suggestions for making the trombone accessible and attractive to prospective young players choosing an instrument, jazz and/or classical?
MD: As musicians who perform acoustic instruments, we’re at a bit of a crossroads in terms of both popularity and survival. I’m sure my orchestral colleagues would share my concern for the future of acoustic music and the use of the trombone. Almost on a daily basis, I feel the contraction of the commercial music business. The inclusion of musicians on everything from CDs to film soundtracks to television commercials and broadway shows no longer feels like a given but more like a luxury. The all-too-familiar feeling of corporate belt-tightening is affecting all of us in the professional music business.
With this pragmatic viewpoint in mind, I feel an obligation to my instrument and my profession to do what I can to make people of all ages understand how important it is to be involved with music being played by human beings—live and recorded. It continually amazes and inspires me to see how joyous young people are after creating a sound on an instrument with their very own air, the feeling they get when playing in a band with other developing musicians. These are feelings that transcend time, technology, and budget constraints. They are truly part of the human experience.
Every time I pick up the trombone, I try to approach playing with this sense of purpose. While I believe all musicians—specifically all trombonists—must be honest and true to themselves in the way they play, I would encourage players of all levels to make their instrument sound as good as possible at all times. Consider that someone who has no idea of how beautiful a trombone can sound may be judging the instrument on your performance. We want people who know nothing about music or the trombone to think, “Wow! I didn’t know it could sound like that. I like it! Let me hear more.”
(compositions, arrangements, recordings)
(brass for kids)
Suggested Discography (all Hip-Bone Music):
TRUMPETS ELEVEN (#M105), 2004
Featuring trombonist Michael Davis with trumpeters Eddie Henderson, Randy Brecker, Phil Smith, Chris Botti, Ryan Kisor, Bobby Shew, Scott Wendholt, Malcolm McNab, Tom Harrell, Chuck Findley, and Jim Hynes, plus an all-star New York/Los Angeles rhythm section.
NEW BRASS (#M109), 2002
Michael Davis, Bill Reichenbach, plus Phil Smith and Ray Mase (trumpets), Phil Myers (french horn), Gene Pokorny (tuba), and Joe Alessi, Nitzan Haroz, Ko-ichiro Yamamoto, and Blair Bollinger on trombones, plus the rhythm section of Phil Markowitz, John Patitucci, and Jeff Ballard.
BRASS NATION (#M108), 2001
Fifty-five of the world’s finest brass players, featuring Phil Smith, Randy Brecker, Jerry Hey, Dale Clevenger, Chuck Findley, Bill Reichenbach, Malcolm McNab, Gene Pokorny, Joe Alessi, Jim Hynes, Tommy Johnson, Tim Hagans, Gary Grant, Charles Vernon, Ralph Sauer, Vince DeRosa, Sam Pilafian, Lew Soloff, Phil Myers, Dick Nash, and Charlie Loper.
BONETOWN (#9856), 1999
Featuring Michael Davis, Bill Reichenbach, Joey Calderazzo, John Patitucci, & Will Kennedy.
ABSOLUTE TROMBONE (#M106), 1997
Featuring Urbie Green, Steve Turre, Bill Watrous, Michael Davis, David Taylor, Conrad Herwig, John Fedchock, Robin Eubanks, Birch Johnson, Herb Besson, and Jim Pugh.
MIDNIGHT CROSSING (#M101), 1994
Featuring Kenny Garrett, Bill Evans, Gary Burton, Toninho Horta, Anthony Jackson, Steve Ferrone, and Philippe Saisse.
HEROES (#M102), 1992
Featuring The Yellowjackets, Eddie Daniels, and Bob Mintzer.
SIDEWALK CAFE (#M103), 1990
Debut release: top 20 jazz radio airplay.
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _
Antonio J. García is a Professor of Music and Director of Jazz Studies at Virginia Commonwealth University, where he directs the Jazz Orchestra I; instructs Applied Jazz Trombone, Small Jazz Ensemble, Music Industry, and various jazz courses; founded a B.A. Music Business Emphasis (for which he initially served as Coordinator); and directs the Greater Richmond High School Jazz Band. An alumnus of the Eastman School of Music and of Loyola University of the South, he has received commissions for jazz, symphonic, chamber, film, and solo works—instrumental and vocal—including grants from Meet The Composer, The Commission Project, The Thelonious Monk Institute, and regional arts councils. His music has aired internationally and has been performed by such artists as Sheila Jordan, Arturo Sandoval, Jim Pugh, Denis DiBlasio, James Moody, and Nick Brignola. Composition/arrangement honors include IAJE (jazz band), ASCAP (orchestral), and Billboard Magazine (pop songwriting). His works have been published by Kjos Music, Hal Leonard, Kendor Music, Doug Beach Music, ejazzlines, Walrus, UNC Jazz Press, Three-Two Music Publications, and his own garciamusic.com, with five recorded on CDs by Rob Parton’s JazzTech Big Band (Sea Breeze and ROPA JAZZ). His scores for independent films have screened across the U.S. and in Italy, Macedonia, Uganda, Australia, Colombia, India, Germany, Brazil, Hong Kong, Mexico, Israel, Taiwan, and the United Kingdom.
A Bach/Selmer trombone clinician, Mr. García serves as the jazz clinician for The Conn-Selmer Institute. He has freelanced as trombonist, bass trombonist, or pianist with over 70 nationally renowned artists, including Ella Fitzgerald, George Shearing, Mel Tormé, Doc Severinsen, Louie Bellson, Dave Brubeck, and Phil Collins—and has performed at the Montreux, Nice, North Sea, Pori (Finland), New Orleans, and Chicago Jazz Festivals. He has produced recordings or broadcasts of such artists as Wynton Marsalis, Jim Pugh, Dave Taylor, Susannah McCorkle, Sir Roland Hanna, and the JazzTech Big Band and is the bass trombonist on Phil Collins’ CD “A Hot Night in Paris” (Atlantic) and DVD “Phil Collins: Finally...The First Farewell Tour” (Warner Music). An avid scat-singer, he has performed vocally with jazz bands, jazz choirs, and computer-generated sounds. He is also a member of the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences (NARAS). A New Orleans native, he also performed there with such local artists as Pete Fountain, Ronnie Kole, Irma Thomas, and Al Hirt.
Mr. García is a Research Faculty member at The University of KwaZulu-Natal (Durban, South Africa) and the Associate Jazz Editor of the International Trombone Association Journal. He serves as a Network Expert (for Improvisation Materials) for the Jazz Education Network and has served as President’s Advisory Council member and Editorial Advisory Board member. His newest book, Jazz Improvisation: Practical Approaches to Grading (Meredith Music), explores avenues for creating structures that correspond to course objectives. His book Cutting the Changes: Jazz Improvisation via Key Centers (Kjos Music) offers musicians of all ages the opportunity to improvise over standard tunes using just their major scales. He is Co-Editor and Contributing Author of Teaching Jazz: A Course of Study (published by NAfME) and authored a chapter within The Jazzer’s Cookbook (published by Meredith Music). Within the International Association for Jazz Education he served as Editor of the Jazz Education Journal, President of IAJE-IL, International Co-Chair for Curriculum and for Vocal/Instrumental Integration, and Chicago Host Coordinator for the 1997 Conference. He served on the Illinois Coalition for Music Education coordinating committee, worked with the Illinois and Chicago Public Schools to develop standards for multi-cultural music education, and received a curricular grant from the Council for Basic Education. He has also served as Director of IMEA’s All-State Jazz Choir and Combo and of similar ensembles outside of Illinois. He is the recipient of the Illinois Music Educators Association’s 2001 Distinguished Service Award.
Regarding Jazz Improvisation: Practical Approaches to Grading, Darius Brubeck says, "How one grades turns out to be a contentious philosophical problem with a surprisingly wide spectrum of responses. García has produced a lucidly written, probing, analytical, and ultimately practical resource for professional jazz educators, replete with valuable ideas, advice, and copious references." Jamey Aebersold offers, "This book should be mandatory reading for all graduating music ed students." Janis Stockhouse states, "Groundbreaking. The comprehensive amount of material García has gathered from leaders in jazz education is impressive in itself. Plus, the veteran educator then presents his own synthesis of the material into a method of teaching and evaluating jazz improvisation that is fresh, practical, and inspiring!" And Dr. Ron McCurdy suggests, "This method will aid in the quality of teaching and learning of jazz improvisation worldwide."
About Cutting the Changes, saxophonist David Liebman states, “This book is perfect for the beginning to intermediate improviser who may be daunted by the multitude of chord changes found in most standard material. Here is a path through the technical chord-change jungle.” Says vocalist Sunny Wilkinson, “The concept is simple, the explanation detailed, the rewards immediate. It’s very singer-friendly.” Adds jazz-education legend Jamey Aebersold, “Tony’s wealth of jazz knowledge allows you to understand and apply his concepts without having to know a lot of theory and harmony. Cutting the Changes allows music educators to present jazz improvisation to many students who would normally be scared of trying.”
Of his jazz curricular work, Standard of Excellence states: “Antonio García has developed a series of Scope and Sequence of Instruction charts to provide a structure that will ensure academic integrity in jazz education.” Wynton Marsalis emphasizes: “Eight key categories meet the challenge of teaching what is historically an oral and aural tradition. All are important ingredients in the recipe.” The Chicago Tribune has highlighted García’s “splendid solos...virtuosity and musicianship...ingenious scoring...shrewd arrangements...exotic orchestral colors, witty riffs, and gloriously uninhibited splashes of dissonance...translucent textures and elegant voicing” and cited him as “a nationally noted jazz artist/educator...one of the most prominent young music educators in the country.” Down Beat has recognized his “knowing solo work on trombone” and “first-class writing of special interest.” The Jazz Report has written about the “talented trombonist,” and Cadence noted his “hauntingly lovely” composing as well as CD production “recommended without any qualifications whatsoever.” Phil Collins has said simply, “He can be in my band whenever he wants.” García is also the subject of an extensive interview within Bonanza: Insights and Wisdom from Professional Jazz Trombonists (Advance Music), profiled along with such artists as Bill Watrous, Mike Davis, Bill Reichenbach, Wayne Andre, John Fedchock, Conrad Herwig, Steve Turre, Jim Pugh, and Ed Neumeister.
The Secretary of the Board of The Midwest Clinic, Mr. García has adjudicated festivals and presented clinics in Canada, Europe, Australia, The Middle East, and South Africa, including creativity workshops for Motorola, Inc.’s international management executives. The partnership he created between VCU Jazz and the Centre for Jazz and Popular Music at the University of KwaZulu-Natal merited the 2013 VCU Community Engagement Award for Research. He has served as adjudicator for the International Trombone Association’s Frank Rosolino, Carl Fontana, and Rath Jazz Trombone Scholarship competitions and the Kai Winding Jazz Trombone Ensemble competition and has been asked to serve on Arts Midwest’s “Midwest Jazz Masters” panel and the Virginia Commission for the Arts “Artist Fellowship in Music Composition” panel. He has been repeatedly published in Down Beat; JAZZed; Jazz Improv; Music, Inc.; The International Musician; The Instrumentalist; and the journals of NAfME, IAJE, ITA, American Orff-Schulwerk Association, Percussive Arts Society, Arts Midwest, Illinois Music Educators Association, and Illinois Association of School Boards. Previous to VCU, he served as Associate Professor and Coordinator of Combos at Northwestern University, where he taught jazz and integrated arts, was Jazz Coordinator for the National High School Music Institute, and for four years directed the Vocal Jazz Ensemble. Formerly the Coordinator of Jazz Studies at Northern Illinois University, he was selected by students and faculty there as the recipient of a 1992 “Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching” award and nominated as its candidate for 1992 CASE “U.S. Professor of the Year” (one of 434 nationwide). He was recipient of the VCU School of the Arts’ 2015 Faculty Award of Excellence for his teaching, research, and service. Visit his web site at <www.garciamusic.com>.
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