Sound It Out: “20 Questions” #6 — Jeff Davis

Another installment of the recurring “Sound It Out: 20 Questions” feature on, with an artist answering a survey inspired by the famous Proust Questionnaire…

(Jeff Davis, performing at Greenwich House. Photo: Bart Babinksi.)

Drummer-composer Jeff Davis was born in 1976, “a bicentennial baby,” in Greeley, Colorado. (He notes that the bicentennial quarters had a drummer on the back, which “I’ve always thought was cool,” he says.) Jeff’s parents were both music teachers, with his dad serving as his high-school band director. Since moving to New York City in 1999, he has remained close with several kindred-spirit musicians – pianist Russ Lossing, bassist Eivind Opsvik, saxophonist Tony Malaby, guitarist Jonathan Goldberger, cornetist Kirk Knuffke, pianist Jesse Stacken – collaborating with them consistently over nearly two decades. Jeff’s leader album Leaf House, from 2012, is an exceptional piano-trio recording, showcasing his ever-surprising yet tune-rich compositions and a rare interplay between the drummer, Lossing and Opsvik. Jeff has also released the live-wire quartet set Dragon Father (2014), the hook-laced electro-acoustic sextet disc We Sleep Outside (2010) and, with Malaby and Opsvik, the live trio album Tone Collector (2005). Jeff first performed for Sound It Out as one of six featured drummers in the “Motian in Motion” event in last June’s festival for the fifth anniversary of the series. He makes his series debut as a leader on September 28, 2017, fronting a quartet with Malaby, Lossing and Opsvik. About his longstanding musical relationships, Jeff says the key is trust: “Trust in the music. Trust in each other, musically and otherwise. I know that whatever I present to these guys, these incredible improvisers, that the music will be realized way beyond its initial intent. The compositions are merely the springboard – the band brings the magic.” — BB

  1. What was the first jazz album you fell in love with and stayed in love with?

 Four & More/My Funny Valentine by Miles Davis.

  1. What do you think is one of the most overrated jazz albums ever?

I tend to not think in terms of overrated/underrated. Under known, maybe. There are a lot of under-known records out there, and I bet there is some great music on them yet to be discovered. 

  1. What’s one of your all-time favorite non-jazz albums?

Wish You Were Here by Pink Floyd.         

  1. What’s the last album you listened to from beginning to end – and did you like it?

Two recently: Emphasis, Stuttgart 1961 by the Jimmy Giuffre 3 and Bitches Brew by Miles Davis, always great. 

  1. What’s your favorite film score?

The Good, the Bad & the Ugly, by Ennio Morricone. Perhaps an obvious choice, but it’s one of my all-time favorites.    

  1. What was the most recent concert – of any genre – that made you fall in love with music all over again?

Every time that I go to hear music, I feel re-energized – cheesy, but true. As far as life-changing goes, whenever I would go hear Paul Motian, especially at the Village Vanguard, I was always completely blown away.  

  1. Which are your very favorite and least favorite venues for live music?

Favorite: Other than Greenwich House Music School, I love the Village Vanguard – history, vibe, magic. Least favorite: Any place that does not have the artist’s needs at the forefront – like coffee…

  1. What’s your favorite quote about music?

I have two. Aldous Huxley: “After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music.” And Igor Stravinsky: “Lesser artists borrow, great artists steal.”

  1. If you could have a drink with any late visual artist of the past, who would it be?

Salvador Dalí – pretty sure it would be a good hang.  

  1. What are the top three tools of your trade?

Piano, Moleskine music notebook, drum sticks. 

  1. What’s your most indispensable piece of technology that isn’t music-oriented?

My ceramic pour-over coffee dripper. Coffee!

  1. What are your top media sources of writing/opinion/news about music?

The New York Times, NPR, WNYC, WKCR, JazzTimes, DownBeat, Wire, Tape Op, New York City Jazz Record, Time Out New York, the Village Voice (at one time), various blogs…

  1. What non-musical/non-technological quality is most important to being an enduringly creative musician?

Be respectful and listen. Really listen.  

  1. What living person do you most admire – and what’s one quality he or she has that you most admire?

My Grandma Johnny (Edith Ulmann) – complete and unwavering love. 

  1. What living person do you most despise – and what’s one quality he or she has that you most despise?

Right now, Trump. His vision of this country and his world view are harmful, at best.  

  1. What’s your favorite place in the world?

Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado. Peaceful, beautiful, my happy place.  

  1. If you could live in another time period, when would that be?

I have thought about this one a lot. Short answer: the late ’60s, for the vibe, the music, etc. Long answer: We are here now, the music is so killing now – let’s live in the now.  

  1. What book would you most like to read again?

Dubliners by James Joyce.

  1. What film haven’t you seen that you feel like you should?

Modern Times, by Charlie Chaplin.

  1. What aspect of the past do you miss most – and what’s one thing you look forward to about the future that doesn’t yet exist?

I miss the feeling of innocence, perceived or otherwise. And I look forward to a new age of discovery. I am a big Star Trek fan, and I feel that the Star Trek ideal would be a pretty cool future.