During the decade he spent in Paris, saxophonist Nathan Davis became a pillar of its jazz scene. Sam Records just released exclusive live sessions that he recorded with pianist George Arvanitas in 1966/67.
In France, jazz lovers proudly maintain the image of the leading host country, where people know what’s good: this music and its heroes. Nathan Davis holds a prominent position among the figures revered for their art and loved for settling in Paris. When he died, the saxophonist — who spent the 1960s in Paris — was the subject of tributes in Libération and Le Monde. This is rare enough to be reported when the artist doesn’t have the fame of a legend. Eight months later, Sam Records is releasing a new declaration of love and admiration for this forgotten talent with the release of a live recording from the INA archives. Fred Thomas’s label, which is entirely dedicated to re-releases and the quest for new releases lost in history, integrates geographical data into its algorithm: most of these jazzmen are American and all have a strong link with France.
1966. Nathan Davis had lived in Paris since the beginning of the 1960s. Like his expat colleagues, he was the American who was called on to accompany the visiting greats, often with Kenny Clarke, who liked him. It was these opportunities that also helped local musicians find international and historical recognition. That year, George Arvanitas, a regular pianist in the city’s major clubs (Club Saint-Germain, Blue Note, Chat qui Pêche) and pillar that visiting Americans counted on, recorded with his trio alongside Nathan Davis for the ORTF. The year before, during an extended stay in New York, Yusef Lateef had invited him to record the album Psychicemotus for Impulse. Back in Paris, he teamed up with soprano saxophonist Nathan Davis, who also shone on the flute, for this session, which remained unpublished before Fred Thomas fell for it — which was inevitable — and made it public once again. Six months after his death, the French producer pays tribute to the saxophonist with whom his work as a memorialist had brought him into contact. They made a connection, with the Frenchman advising and working on a quality reissue of the records that should have established the American’s fame.
Live in Paris with George Arvanitas
Since Nathan Davis lived and played regularly in the capital for almost a decade, the question of the existence of other sound archives arises. How many of his concerts were recorded? Will we find others? These were recorded in studio 105 of the Maison de la Radio and at the City of Paris Museum of Modern Art, with Georges Arvanitas on piano and organ, Jacky Samson on double bass, and Charles Saudrais on drums. These live sessions have the nerves and swing of the traditional post-bop school. They rely mainly on compositions from Nathan Davis’s repertoire, and remind us that cheerful groove and engagement were two major components of the saxophonist’s music. Unpublished until now, “Nathalie’s Bounce” and “Mid Evil Dance” are good examples, as well as the already well-known “The Hip Walk” and “A5.” They all bear his signature style.
In one year, Nathan Davis laid the foundations of his future reputation with the release of three high-flying albums that revealed him as a respectable composer: Hip Walk, Peace Treaty, and Happy Girl. Kenny Clarke and then Billy Brooks (drums) and Larry Young (double bass) handle their rhythm sections, alternately accompanied by Francy Boland, René Urtreger, and Larry Young on piano. A Belgian, a Frenchman, and an American: three excellent musicians to whom a few renowned blowers lend a hand: trumpeters Carmell Jones and Woody Shaw and baritone Jean-Louis Chautemps. These ensembles were in a good position at a time when a jazz club residency still meant daily concerts spread over whole weeks. They were part of the hard bop tradition of a jazz still completely imbued with its American roots, from which future European generations have gradually freed themselves over the past decades. There was swing, blues, and heartbreaking intensity. They didn’t invent anything and that wasn’t the goal. Originality was intruding into the fabric of an idiom that was always readjusted by the greatest.
Within it, Nathan Davis composed powerful, lyrical and heartfelt themes. He forged the personal sound we know him for today, sometimes going towards oriental sounds, perhaps influenced by the time, with Yusef Lateef, Charles Mingus and Eric Dolphy (to name but a few) lending themselves to this significant opening towards a non-Western world, when theirs took all the forms of disappointment in their eyes. Compared to them, he remained under appreciated. Nevertheless, as observed by Blue Note and Art Blakey, he was able to forge a voice that was full of character.
After a European tour with the Jazz Messengers, the drummer suggested that he join the group that Wayne Shorter had just left. Nathan Davis would have taken over the role of soloist and composer from the man who became a living legend in the history of jazz. The offer included a requirement: to return to live in the United States. The story with Blue Note ended the same way. At a dinner in Paris, Alfred Lion, co-founder of Blue Note, offered Nathan Davis the chance to join the catalogue, provided he made a name for himself in the United States. But Nathan Davis’s career was flourishing in Paris, where he was enjoying his daily life and raising his daughter. If he hadn’t preferred France to fame, what would have happened to Nathan Davis’s career? The saxophonist, a rare African-American jazzman with a degree – in ethnomusicology – was one of the first to head a jazz department at an American university in the late 1960s. It was in Pittsburgh, where he taught for more than thirty years until his retirement. This choice offered him a life that was comfortable but far from the front of the stage. Until his nostalgia for Paris took over and led him to create the Paris Reunion Band, which, from 1985 to 1989, brought together former American jazzmen who had become Parisian residents for a time: Nat Adderley, Kenny Drew, Johnny Griffin, Slide Hampton, Joe Henderson, Idris Muhammad, Dizzy Reece, Woody Shaw, and Jimmy Woode. Nathan Davis described his Parisian years in the happiness of the beautiful memories that shape a life. This reissue by Sam Records is proof. This reissue by Sam Records is testament to that.