[JPL] Speaker knows the language of jazz

Dr. Jazz drjazz at drjazz.com
Wed Jan 28 12:33:59 EST 2009

  January Series speaker knows the language of jazz

Tuesday, January 27, 2009
By Jeffrey Kaczmarczyk
*The Grand Rapids Press*

GRAND RAPIDS -- Most lectures at The January Series of Calvin College 
end with thoughtful questions from the audience.

Monday's program at the nationally known speaker series all but began 
with its presenter asking a random member of the audience what he had 
had for breakfast.

Pop-Tarts, it turned out. Brown sugar-flavored, to be precise. At about 
10 a.m., which was good for chuckles from early risers in the audience 
in Calvin College's Fine Arts Center.

"That was an improvised conversation -- about breakfast," explained jazz 
pianist Xavier Davis.

Jazz, at its core, is an improvised conversation between musicians, 
Davis said.

"What we're doing up here is talking. We're just using a different 
language," he said.

The Grand Rapids-born pianist and composer, now living in New York City, 
was the featured lecturer and entertainer for The January Series.

The one-hour talk, "The Language of Jazz," was part of Calvin College's 
three-week series of free lectures and discussions. The award-winning 
series of 15 weekday programs concludes its 22nd season today.

Just as English and other spoken languages have nuanced meaning, overt 
as well as subversive, jazz carries its own meaning on several levels.

"It comes out of the African experience, but anyone can play it," said 
Davis, 37, who grew up near Ottawa Hills High School but graduated from 
Interlochen Arts Academy and Western Michigan University.

Familiarity with the language of jazz helps musicians meeting together 
for the first time on the bandstand, said Davis, who has worked with 
such jazz artists as vocalist Betty Carter, trumpeter Tom Harrell, 
vibraphonist Stefon Harris and the late, great trumpeter Freddie Hubbard.

"If they play certain things, I can relax because I know they've 
listened to the same recordings I know," he said.

Davis was joined by the Xavier Davis Trio for the program. The trio 
includes his brother, Quincy Davis, on drums and Ugonna Okegwo on double 

The trio played four pieces, two by Xavier Davis, one composed by Quincy 
Davis and a fourth tune by Thelonious Monk.

"I don't like to talk as much as I like to play," he said early in his 
talk, "but I am going to talk a bit."

*Send e-mail to the author: jkaczmarczyk at grpress.com*

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