“Davis doesn’t conduct himself like the type of improviser who is trying to dazzle you with his chops or his technique. He comes across as the type of improviser who wants to tell you a story.” Alex Henderson
Mike Davis has lived several distinct musical lives. He has been a student, a serious student of performance and of theory and of composition and of art. He has been a gig warrior, playing multiple shows in multiple styles on different instruments at different venues with different bands on the same day numerous days per week, week after week after week. He has been a record producer, sitting in front of a computer and a rack of mic pres and compressors – recording, editing, mixing, picking on artists until he finally feels they ‘got it’. He has been a recording artist, obsessing over whether the material is right, whether the concept is strong, whether the ensemble gets it. He has been a record label owner, pondering how best to market a project and to whom, begging for reviews and hoping they don’t stink, dealing with logistics that are a world away from the music they serve. He has been a band leader, a sideman, an extrovert, a recluse. What follows is a brief history of those lives, some of which are still being lived.
Mike grew up in a small Texas town not far outside of Houston called Rosenberg. Though a music fanatic from a very early age, Mike didn’t begin seriously playing an instrument until around age 14. His very good friend Roger started showing him how to play bass. Before long Mike was playing bass in his high school big band as well as in the Symphonic band. The flood gates opened. He borrowed other instruments from the school and began to practice and experiment. He tried clarinet, trombone, trumpet, french horn, drums, piano. Turns out bass was a great fit, and an ensemble role that made absolute sense to him. He discovered his first great jazz album – Chick Corea’s ‘Now He Sings-Now He Sobs’. He studied with his first teachers of bass and theory and jazz – Dave Foster, Eric Late, Shelly Berg, Bruce Dudley. He played gigs in Houston with his first influential peers – Todd Harrison, Mike Wheeler, Harry Shepard, Joe LoCascio, Tony Campisi, Woody Witt, Clark Erickson, Ted Wenglisnski. He fell in love with performing, composing, and recording.
In 1993 Mike began studying jazz at the College of Music at the University of North Texas. There he studied classical bass with Ed Rainbow and Jeff Bradetich, jazz arranging and composing with Paris Rutherford, jazz bass with John Adams, jazz improvisation with Dan Haerle, Fred Hamilton, Mike Steinel and Ed Soph, South Indian classical music theory and performance with Poovalur Srinivasan, tabla and North Indian classical music theory with Ganesh Gupta, Aloke Dutta and later in NYC, Samir Chaterjee. During this time Mike performed regularly with Dave Zoller, Pete Peterson and the Collection Jazz Orchestra, Allison Wedding, Pablo Mayor and many others. He was a regular member of the bands Little Jack Melody and his Young Turks, Sol Caribe and The Great Escape. Most importantly however, he began his original avant-garde ensemble Sand with guitarist Niclas Höglind, saxophonist Jacob Duncan and drummer Chris Michael. This group played every Sunday evening for nearly 2 years at the Cosmic Cup (now called Cosmic Cafe). The owner, Praveen, gave Mike and the guys complete artistic freedom, absolutely no restrictions. It was liberating to say the least. This proved to be a very prolific era for Mike. Sand played a lot of original material from each band member as well as free improvisations. This was the first ensemble with which Mike began to form his idea of spontaneous composition instead of free improvisation, a seed planted which blooms years later in NYC.
In 1998 Mike moved to NYC. During his first few years there he focused the bulk of his musical energy on performing jazz. He played with great musicians at small clubs and brunches in NYC, and slightly less small clubs around New England. Musicians he performed with regularly include Lynne Arriale and Steve Davis, Cheryl Pyle, Tom Chang, Rez Abbasi, Dave Phelps, the SoHa Big Band, Mike Freeman, Jonathan Kreisberg, Dave Wood, Billy Eric and Mike Freeman.
Eventually Mike found himself playing with and producing albums for pop, rock and folk singer/songwriters including Fergus McCormick, Preston Clarke and Pete Sinjin. He worked as a ground-up producer, helping artists develop original material, create and manage budgets and contract musicians and studios. He also in most cases edited and mixed the projects himself, saving the artist significant funds and sticking closely to the original vision agreed upon by artist and producer. This was Mike’s primary musical focus from 2000 until May of 2012. After finishing a second album for Matt LaCapra, Mike decided quite suddenly to return his focus and energy to his own creative endeavors. This is where we find him now.
In Jan of 2013, Mike launched Tmpf Records and over the course of 6 weeks released 3 albums under his own leadership. I See Better With My Eyes Closed is a pianoless quartet album which marries the lyrical and the abstract deftly. It Won’t Get Dark is an incredibly intense and probing duo album featuring Mike Davis on acoustic bass and Niclas Hoglind on acoustic guitar. The two play expertly crafted and arranged songs with an almost psychic level of communication during solos. Fortunes and Hat-tricks, Vol. 1 features music spontaneously composed by Mike Davis, Jacob Duncan and Jason Tiemann using 2 innovative improvisation techniques. The three improvisers work as one composer – defining and refining roles, themes and abstractions, all while simultaneously leading and submitting, creating canvas and paint and piece all in a moment.
Mike is currently working on a project entitled Universal Will To Become. It is an epic small jazz ensemble work, deconstructing and then reconstructing the Kurt Vonnegut novel Sirens of Titan. Mike seeks to explore and evoke the novel’s themes and big questions through composition and focused improvisation. Additionally, Mike is currently collaborating with Dallas-based pianist Brad Williams on material development for a trio album to be recorded in the fall of 2013.
Over the years Mike has been fortunate to perform and record with many musical greats including Airto Moreira, Norah Jones, Steve Gadd, Ed Thigpen, Doc Cheatham, Bobby Womack, Ellen Greene, Peter Erskine and Pancho Sanchez to name a few. He was a regular member of the bands Little Jack Melody and His Young Turks and The Pasties. He studied music at the renowned University of North Texas. He has performed all across the US and all over the world.