Winnipeg's Jazz Magazine

July/August 2011: Derrick Gardner

Steve Davis

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Trombonist Steve Davis is one of my favorite musicians playing jazz today. We share similar bloodlines, having both studied with Jackie McLean at the Hartt School in Connecticut. After graduation in 1989, Jackie recommended Steve to his old boss Art Blakey, making Steve one of the last musicians to join the Jazz Messengers before Blakey’s death in 1990. In fact, Steve penned the title track of Blakey’s final recording, One For All (A&M Records, 1990). More on that title later…

I took my first lesson from Steve at the Artists’ Collective (Jackie McLean’s community arts school) when I was 16 years old. The musical nuggets I carried away from that lesson form the hallmarks of Steve’s playing and are ideals I have tried to embody ever since: a priority on tone, a firm grounding in the jazz tradition, a thorough understanding of harmony and melody, an adventurous desire to create new vistas through dialogue in improvisation, and swing! Steve has a gorgeous sound; warm, round, centered, and powerful. His sense of melody is profound, he doesn’t waste a single note and can express a wide spectrum of colors and shapes on his instrument.

After Blakey’s death, Steve joined Jackie McLean’s sextet and recorded on one of my favorite JMac opuses, Rhythm of the Earth (Verve/Antilles, 1992). His time with JMac was followed by long stints with Chick Corea’s Origin sextet, Freddie Hubbard and the New Jazz Composers Octet, Benny Golson’s New Jazztet, the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, and his collective ensemble along with saxophonist Eric Alexander and trumpeter Jim Rotondi, One For All (yes, named after Davis’ 1990 composition).

Steve has recorded no fewer than 15 times as a leader for the Concord, Criss Cross, Positone and Smalls Live labels, to rave reviews. If you haven’t yet had the opportunity, please check him out! is a good place to start…

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