Jazz Profile: Michael W. Davis

Michael W. Davis  Photo: Frank Zipperer
Michael W. Davis Photo: Frank Zipperer

by Eddie LeShure

“Michael Davis is not only a fine drummer, he’s more importantly a fine musician.  He plays with great time, groove and taste while also being a very creative soloist – something very hard to do as a drummer. All of us stood up and took notice when he came to town.”  ~ Drummer Justin Watt

Michael W. Davis grew up in San Jose, California and began music at an early age, starting with piano and trumpet before eventually arriving at the drums in middle school. “I owe a lot to my teacher Dave Gregoric, as well as the community of musicians in San Jose for my rapid musical growth.” Michael began playing professionally at age 14 and quickly won recognition at music festivals and competitions throughout the west coast. His high school years were spent performing with some of the Bay Area’s finest musicians, as well as the SFJazz High School All-Stars and the San Jose Youth Jazz Orchestra.

“When I first started drums, my biggest influences were John Bonham, Ringo Starr, Mitch Mitchell and Ginger Baker. I got turned on to jazz the same way many others did – by hearing Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue. For several years I was buying two to five CDs a week and learning them backwards and forwards, soaking in as much as I could. My first drum hero was Max Roach, but I also gravitated towards Philly Joe Jones and Art Blakey. Later I caught the Tony Williams bug and for a long time my “Big 3” were Tony, Elvin and Jack DeJohnette.”

In 2006, Michael moved to New York City to attend the Manhattan School of Music on a Presidential Scholarship where he studied with world-renowned drummers John Riley, Justin DiCioccio, Bill Stewart, Ari Hoenig, Dan Weiss, and Henry Cole. He graduated in 2010 with a BA in Jazz Performance. While there he remained active as a performer/recording artist, working with Joshua Redman, Jason Moran, Dave Liebman, The LeBoeuf Brothers, Steven Lugerner, The Guggenheim Grotto, Matt Marantz, Jeremy Siskind and many more.

“I moved from New York to Asheville in 2010 with my rock band The Broadcast. I play jazz with the E.Normus Trio featuring Steve Alford and Jay Sanders, which features perhaps the most unique instrumentation I’ve ever seen and we’re now recording our second album. I’m also part of the Hard Bop Explosion, featuring some of the best musicians around who all happen to be NYC expatriates: Jacob Rodriguez, Justin Ray, Bill Bares and Zack Page. I also team up with Shane Perlowin on occasions, which is always a blast, and with anyone else I can. I love freelancing – it keeps me on my toes.”

“Michael Davis can play intelligently at any tempo and has drum muscles in places where most people don’t even have places. He’s got amazing technique, which enables him to let his fertile imagination run wild on the bandstand, yet he’s deeply interested in swinging and playing sensitively behind soloists. He’s a consummate professional and an avid listener. He thinks orchestrationally on the drums, which is one of the many reasons why I love playing with him.” ~ Dr William Bares, pianist/educator

“I’ve recorded a handful of records, mostly with musicians up in New York. A couple of my favorites are Steven Lugerner Septet’s Narratives, and Matt Marantz’s Offering. My favorite experience in the studio was working with Joshua Redman, who I was fortunate to meet and play with while working at the Stanford Jazz Workshop. My biggest influences over the past five years or so have been Roy Haynes, Ed Blackwell, Brian Blade, Frankie Dunlop and especially Paul Motian, who in my opinion is among the most influential musicians in the history of jazz.”

“I’ve known Michael since our days together at the Manhattan School of Music. He’s always been one to pay attention to details and has developed into the complete artist. You can’t help but wiggle and jiggle when he plays…there’s no shuckin’ and jivin’! His jet-propelled groove helps remind everybody he plays with that we’re all drummers.”  ~ Saxophonist Jacob Rodriguez