Guitarist and composer Drew Davidsen, newcomer to the contemporary jazz scene, is fast becoming a familiar name among fans in this genre. Having been invited to the Catalina JazzTrax in October, here's what Art Good, festival producer, had to say about him:
"Drew Davidsen turned out to be one of the absolute best "finds" the JazzTrax Festival has landed in recent memory. I was especially on "the hunt" this year for young talent that few had seen and especially that the West Coast had never seen. Never having seen or met Drew, I took a real chance in this booking and had no idea until the show began, how it would turn out.
I knew he was good enough for the first third of the show, but the last two-thirds showed he was not only good enough, but a sure bet for other festivals to follow in putting this young guitarist on stages across America.
Davidsen not only put forth an amazing live show, displaying a rabid guitar and pure enthusiasm, but he turned into the perfect lead-on as new, never-before-seen talent by many who were there for the exciting evening follow-through by the legendary George Duke. Drew himself couldn't believe he was leading off for George Duke.
Audience response was that it was a 'perfect island match-up' with hopefully much more to follow from Drew Davidsen in future years."
Having an endorsement from someone like Art Good has only served to fuel Davidsen's enthusiasm and desire to compose and play great music that fans can enjoy.
During this break in November, before returning to California, I had a talk with Drew about his music and what it means to him.
BJP: You've been in the music industry for 20 years. What have you been doing in music until more recently when you began to explore contemporary jazz as a favorite genre for you?
DD: I was playing in any and every band possible, learning my craft. I was studying every inch of my guitar. I worked some odd jobs too. I was even a preschool music teacher for a season!
BJP: How did you get your start in music and who has influenced your playing?
DD: My start came in the third grade in public school when they gave me a cello to take home. That was the first time I was ever playing with other musicians and had to learn to work together as a unit. My Dad was an early influence. He filled our home with the music he loved and encouraged me to explore music. BB King, Ray Charles, Carole King, The Beatles. I can still remember when his old college band mates would come over to the house to jam. Those were really fun times for me.
BJP:What was your favorite music to listen to over the years?
DD: When I was a kid I really enjoyed listening to The Beatles. Another group I liked was called XTC, and the Dukes of Stratosphere, also Squeeze. These are British pop groups. Then it was a steady diet of all the jazz guitar giants, George Benson, Joe Pass, Pat Metheny, Larry Carlton, Earl Klugh, to name a few.
BJP: How did you become drawn to contemporary jazz?
DD: When I was in the navy a shipmate gave me the Breezin' album. When I listened to that I thought, "Wow! That's amazing!" I was really drawn to the clean sound of George Benson's guitar and the whole concept of scatting the vocals alongside the lead.
BJP: You've composed 2 CD's, This Journey, and Around (Again) within a relatively short time span. How do you come up with your tunes and do you have a sort of method you use to get a good composition?
DD: Many of my tunes are created in the middle of the night. I usually start with the "hook" that is the main melody that I want someone to remember from the tune. If they don't remember anything else I want them to get that. Some tunes are constructed from a rhythm - a groove that I hear. When I was recording "Little Wing" I was trying to do something different. I was imagining what would it sound like if Pat Metheny did "Little Wing?"
BJP: Your hit single from the second CD, 'Astro,' is climbing the charts in contemporary jazz and that's pretty unusual for someone who has come onto the scene recently. Tell us about that song and is it the one you would have predicted would do this well?
DD: "Astro' was first put together in my studio. Then I invited Jay Rowe to be a part of it. I asked him to give me a piano track. Jay's response about the song was very encouraging to me. My producer, Eric Copeland, liked the tune too and we rebuilt it around Jay's piano. Yes, I always liked "Astro" and knew it was a good tune. But I like all my songs! I had imagined that "Island Blues" might be the first thing to go to radio.
BJP: What was it like to work with people like Jay Rowe and Gerald Veasley on this second CD, Around (Again)?
DD: I feel very blessed that these two guys came on board my project. They are both first rate.
BJP: This year you've been able to play at Blues Alley in Washington, D.C. and you were also invited to perform at the California Catalina Island JazzTrax festival. What were these experiences like for you?
DD: Blues Alley is always a treat. I had played there before, but this was the first time to have my name on the marquee. It made it extra special to be performing my music. Playing JazzTrax was incredible. i enjoyed every minute. It felt like the right fit. The ballroom is really beautiful. The whole experience was very cool. Be sure to visit my website to check out the new video of it. I am very grateful to my friend and videographer, Michael Packard, who came and did the honors. It was super cool to play with the wonderful band I had, Dave Krug-sax, Jesse Powers - bass, Moyes Lucas - drums, and Bill Steinway - keys.
BJP: The crowd loved your music at Catalina Island, and Art Good said you were the best 'find' he's made in many years, and wants you to return. What does this mean to you in terms of your goals and direction you want to go?
DD: I truly hope I get invited back. I was very humbled by his positive feedback of my show. When there are 1000's of great artists out there and only 30 can be invited I count it a huge honor. I hope to continue to be doing shows like this as long as the Lord allows.
BJP: You'll be returning to California soon -- what will you be doing there this time?
DD: I will be hanging out with Allen Kepler doing interviews, radio liners and all that good stuff. We plan to be jumping in with the guys at Spaghettini's and crashing Melanie Maxwell's 10th Anniversary Party for Smooth Jazz News.
BJP: You have a dynamite saxophone player in Dave Krug, as well, and you two complement each other very well. How would you describe him as a bandmate? How was it to work with Bill Steinway and Moyes Lucas at Catalina? And your bass player, Jesse Powers, how did you connect with him?
DD: Dave is a genius. His tone, and skill on sax are amazing. I am sure that he will one day be the next Michael Brecker. Dave is a very good listener and is teachable. He understands the idea of dynamics and all of that. He is also fun to travel with. Working with Bill and Moyes was eye opening. These guys are incredibly professional musicians all the way around. They brought their A game to the rehearsal and their AA game to the gig! Moyes had contacted me through MySpace offering to put together the musicians I would need for the Catalina show. I took a risk but I knew two minutes into the rehearsal that it would be a hot show. When I was a Ft. Dix hanging out at a Guitars and Saxes show I was talking with Jessy J. She had worked with both of these guys in the past and assured me that everything would be fine. And it WAS! As for Jesse Powers, he is my long time friend and mentor. We met at a jam 14 years ago. It was awesome to be able to take him on this trip. Jessie and I play together in Baltimore a lot and I am sure that we will continue.
BJP: Are you ready to begin composing new tunes for another CD? Any ideas of who might play on the next one?
DD: Yes, I am composing and thinking about new music for the next CD. I like working with Eric Copeland and we will continue our relationship into the next CD. Definitely Gary Lunn - bass and Dan Needam - drums will be on it. I also have something for Jay Rowe in mind. One big thing I am really thinking about is how to stay commercial but also grow deeper as an artist. The inspiration to meet that challenge came from a recent conversation with Jason Miles who I deeply respect.
BJP: You're a tireless player, obviously you love what you're doing ~~ what is it you're hoping to convey to the fans when you're up there playing?
DD: I am creating moments with the fans. I want them to remember the experience, buy a CD and take it home with them -- I can even sign it! Next time I hope they bring all their friends! It is really one big party when we play. We like to have a lot of fun. My job is to entertain the fans. I am there for them and I'm always aware of their needs. I want to "bring it" to them.
BJP: Is there anything you'd like to share with fans as far as what your music means to you?
DD: Yes, this is what I want the fans to know about me: I am truly grateful for the gifts I have. Yes, I have worked very hard to learn the craft of playing music, but I do believe that I was born to do this and it was a gift given to me by my Father to be shared with others.
BJP: Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts, Drew. And I wish you safe traveling and a great, productive time in California on your trip out there!
DD: Thanks for the questions, and I'm sure I'll have a lot to tell you when we get back!
BJP: Great, I'm looking forward to it!
Learn more about Drew Davidsen at www.drewdavidsen.com.