Wild Bill Davison - cornet; Unknown - piano; Barney Bigard - clarinet; Unknown - trombone; Arvell Shaw - bass, vocals; Unknown - drums; Maxine Sullivan - vocals
Like most hot cornet players of his generation, Wild Bill Davison was hugely influenced by two towering figures in jazz from the 1920s -- trumpet kings Louis Armstrong and Bix Beiderbecke. A longtime close friend of promoter George Wein, going back to the early '50s when Wein booked him into his Storyville nightclub in Boston, Davison appeared on the bill at the very first Newport Jazz Festival in 1954. He re-appeared several times at Wein's annual summer clambake in Rhode Island and also had a prominent role in Wein's 1970 Newport Jazz Festival 70th birthday tribute to Louis Armstrong, held just a year before Satcho passed away. In 1973, Davison appeared as part of a joint send-off to jazz icons Eddie Condon and Ben Webster, held at Carnegie Hall for the Newport Jazz Festival in New York. Four years later, Wein booked a Davison-led group of all-stars to perform at the Grande Parade du Jazz in Nice. The French Riviera never swung so hard before Wild Bill's arrival on the Cote d'Azur.
Davison and his All-Stars open with the mellow mid-tempo swinger "I'm Coming Virginia," a tune introduced by singer Ethel Waters in 1926 but made famous in jazz circles the following year when Bix Beiderbecke recorded his classic version with Frankie Trumbauer's band. Davison takes a decidedly Bix-like approach here, laying back behind the soulful vocals of Maxine Sullivan before bursting forth with great élan in his brief solo turn. Next they tackle something more contemporary, a lively, swinging rendition of the Rodgers and Hart chestnut "Lady Is A Tramp," with Davison shadowing Sullivan's vocals with restraint. The cornetist puts a decidedly Pops-influenced spin on George and Ira Gershwin's "S'Wonderful," letting out with some of the more raucous statements of the set while bassist Arvell Shaw holds down the fort. Shaw then steps front and center to deliver some bluesy vocals on a lowdown rendition of the Tin Pan Alley chestnut "All of Me" before the group launches into a raucous version of the Dixieland staple "Royal Garden Blues," featuring New Orleans-born clarinet great Barney Bigard, a stalwart in the Duke Ellington Orchestra from 1927 to 1942 and later a veteran of Louis Armstrong's touring band. Davison is next featured on a slow drag version of "Tin Roof Blues," a trad jazz favorite originally recorded in 1923 by the New Orleans Rhythm Kings.
On the jaunty, good-time "Struttin' with Some Barbecue," a tune eternally identified with its ever-ebullient creator, Louis Armstrong, Davis strikes a distinctly Satchmo-like pose on his high note cornet attack. Bigard is then featured on a mellow reading of "Rose Room," a Tin Pan Alley tune dating back to 1917 that Duke Ellington recorded in 1932 as a clarinet feature for Barney. (Ellington would later use these same chord changes for his 1940 composition "In a Mellow Tone.") This version includes an interesting breakdown with clarinet and drums where the rest of the band drops out to let Bigard explore his 'licorice stick' in freewheeling fashion. The All-Stars conclude their Grande Parade du Jazz appearance with Sullivan, a one-time vocalist with the John Kirby Sextet during the 1930s, leading the band through the 1930 Broadway show tune "You're Driving Me Crazy," a popular number recorded by everyone from Rudy Vallee and Betty Boop to Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra.
Born in Defiance, Ohio on January 5, 1906, Davison was a fiery jazz cornet player who played in various bands around the Midwest during the '20s and '30s. His nickname "Wild Bill" matched his reputation for heavy drinking and womanizing, as well as his urgent attack and fiercely uninhibited solos. Davison moved to New York in 1941 and first came to prominence in 1943 following a series of Commodore 78 rpm recordings (later compiled as the album That's A Plenty) which also featured fellow Dixielanders Pee Wee Russell on clarinet and George Brunis on trombone. After a stint in the service, he joined Eddie Condon's band in 1945 and remained with him through the '60s, recording several albums with the banjoist-guitarist-bandleader-club owner-impresario. He also made some recordings with jazz giant Sidney Bechet during the 1950s. He continued touring and recording through the '70s and '80s and made his last studio recording in 1986 at the age of 80. He died on November 14, 1989 at age 83. Davison's colorful life is detailed in the 1996 biography, The Wildest One, by Hal Willard. (Bill Milkowski)