Dave Davis from the Sun Ra Arkestra and I have often discussed the message Sun Ra was putting out. There is no doubt in anybody's mind that Sun Ra was a great man and just recently the band passed through Birmingham Alabama and went to Sun Ra's burial site. At his gravestone they were perplexed as to why the memorial was surrounded by a circle of pine cones. As soon as Dave told me this I said it was a symbol of the 'third eye' or pineal gland. The eye of god.
Researching Sun Ra and the 'sacred knowledge' he included in his work will lead you to many subjects considered taboo. Where it gets interesting is who are they taboo to?
Sun Ra wore 'Mephisto' shoes-he released an Album called 'A Fireside Chat With Lucifer' and his total immersion in Egyptian Symbolism made me question his intentions very seriously.
Speaking with various members of the Arkestra has rescued me from any question of Sun Ra having an evil intent-quite the opposite. All reports are of his giving people belief in themselves and I am grateful the discussions are ongoing.
Here are the lyrics to Sun Ra's 'Angels & Demons'
Angels Demons play
Angels Demons sing
And you'll find them all at play in secret delight.
On a lighter note below is an interview I conducted with Dave Davis in 2010
So Dave.. I don’t know it’s a difficult one to start isn’t it? I thought it’d be good to talk about what inspired you to become a trombonist and play jazz?
I played in the high school band as a kid..I started off on French Horn and then I transferred to another school and they didn’t have any French Horns..so they gave me a Trombone. I played all the way up through High School and then I joined the Marines for Four years.
Wow? Where did you go?
I didn’t go any place. I was in a place near Arizona. Yeah I stayed near Arizona..and then when I got out of the Marine Corp..I went to school but I was in a depressed state..I had some serious family problems back home in Kansas City. I was really depressed..so depressed I just put all my things in storage..cut off my phone and I moved into a little room..then I bought a Trombone and started practicing..then I met a friend..an older..yeah I went to a Jam session..I thought I was ready..I thought I was practicing and I did really bad and the drummer saw me and he said that he thought I had potential..and he could put me in contact with a big band in Philadelphia..’The Frank Jackson Orchestra’. And he helped me start reading charts..get a little bit more discipline..and then so through that I saw this band..’The Sun Ra Arkestra’..No No..ah ahhh (clicks fingers) Yeah after that I was playing in this band..( ’The Frank Jackson Orchestra’ ) and I went to see another Trombone player..who also played in this band..Tyrone Hill..yeah Tyrone Hill..he played in ‘The Frank Jackson Orchestra’ with me and he had a gig at this festival with this other band he told me about ‘The Sun Ra Arkestra’ and then I went to see them..hey man I think I messed up..because the question was how did you start playing..
Well yeah sure but with the military experience..were you playing music in the military?
No No.. No? Okay..because that’s what Marshall was Yeah yeah..he was.
He was a saxophonist in the Army..were a lot of the guys in the Arkestra playing in the army? Is it relevant..your military experiences..is it something you talk about?
No it’s not relevant at all..it’s just coincidence..I quit..after High School I stopped playing music..you know I wanted to go into the military..so it was like a four year break.
Can we discuss your touring and the response you get when you come to places like Europe compared to when you’re performing in America. I know you say there’s less enthusiasm at home..what do people think of Jazz in America?
The thing about America is it’s like a certain crowd who listen to Jazz..whereas when we come to Europe I’ve noticed even though it’s still a certain crowd..the crowd has everybody..all types. It’s a little bit more accepted here in Europe by everybody as opposed to just older people over there in America.
I’ve seen a film that Hotep recommended called ‘The Cry of Jazz’..would you agree that Jazz was born from African Americans wanting to celebrate the ‘now’..the present..To clarify the main point of the film..they state in regard to ‘the black condition’ the past is shrouded in mystery..the future is bleak so lets just make the most beautiful music and celebrate the present..live in the present full of optimism.
Well I haven’t seen the film but I can identify with it..but would you term the Sun Ra Arkestra a Jazz band?
I don’t know..Sun Ra is in the film but what are you ‘Free Jazz’? ‘AvantGarde’? or ‘New Music’?
Hmm..I was discussing this with Marshall and the term ‘Free Jazz’..he told me No..Sun Ra never used the term ‘Free’..he told me never use the term ‘Freedom’.. Wow..I got to ask him why he told me that..But Sun Ra specifically said not ‘Freedom’.
Strangely I was listening to the BBC Radio 3 last night and it was a show on Jazz and specifically this topic came up about the Arkestra and they were interviewing this guy called Bill Dickson and he said the same thing..Free Jazz..Never! AvantGarde..question mark..but New Music..Yes ..so he’d like to think of it as New Music..
I feel like this..with the band..I feel this is a band that plays different types of Music. I don’t think I could categorise the band..I’ve seen some articles where they’ve called us an alternative band..I like that.
I would describe it as Counter Culture..proper under the shelf.. I don’t like to call it a Jazz Band. What about ‘Swing’ though..because you guys are playing quite a bit of ‘Swing’
I think we play ‘Swing’ music and I’d actually prefer to be called a ‘Swing’ band Because everything we do has to ‘Swing’..except the ‘space..is the..well even that has some swinging rhythms sometimes.
Can I ask you about your time with the Band..are there any significant moments you’d like to point out?
Only that everything has been positive..even though there’s been some very bad things..the bands had some problems..it’s all been positive for me..my whole attitude has been great..so it’s only positive.
How many years? You joined in 1997..so 13 years? (now 19 years!)
Yeah wow..I live for this band..it’s my whole life.
That first band you were in..’The Frank Jackson Orchestra’ are they still performing?
Yeah..yeah..well it’s a little band..but a big band in Philadelphia that’s helping..they do a few professional gigs.
How many Jazz bands are in Philadelphia?
There’s a lot of bands..not a lot of working bands because there’s not that many places in Philadelphia to work..there’s probably like three venues..if that..I don’t even think there’s more than four..there’s probably like ‘Spots’ that have live music..but as far as Jazz clubs.
What about New York and Chicago?
I don’t really know a lot about those places. So there’s not a lot of interconnection between those places and the Jazz scene? I don’t even know if there is a Jazz scene in America. That’s quite shocking. What would you call a Jazz scene?
I guess from a distance we’ve all got Miles Davis and Charlie Parker records..there’s Yusef Lateef and Thelonious Monk and it creates a hallucination of a scene..perhaps that’s ever continual..even though of course I’m talking about the mid century of another time.
Well yeah maybe at one time there was a scene..I think in the 1930’s..Fletcher Henderson still being a huge inspiration.
Of course when it was popular culture.
In the 1940’s the Be Bop would be a scene.
Can we talk on a more esoteric level..do you have a strong belief system?
Not really aside from the band..I have a really strong belief in this band..it might be going on a downward slope right now but I think we have a lot of potential to rise.
Describe your daily life..are you on the street a lot or are you in your cocoon.
Most of my free time I try to spend in the Sun Ra house..even if nothing’s going on I try to keep Marshall motivated.
What do you mean by keeping Marshall motivated.?
Just show him that I’m here..there’s somebody here to play..he’ll be writing I’ll be playing something..just show him the tradition is still being practiced..everything you do..I’m there.
Yeah I’ve got to say..every time I see Marshall he looks younger.
I don’t know what’s going on either..but yeah..it’s a recent thing but for some reason he’s really got stronger. Enjoying..we did a gig in Switzerland and he wouldn’t stop.. For two hours straight and what is he..86 years old (now 92)..we were tired..everyone was tired..but he wasn’t tired. The band was tired..the band was tired.
And he wasn’t..?
No no. But you see I’m grateful.
How do you feel after a gig..because I’ve noticed with Musicians who blow tunes..specifically Marshall and Yhaya..they seem to have a lot of big energy to get out after. You know it’s such a different way of making music with your breath. I’ve spoken with them after shows and they not only play Jazz..they speak in it..punctuating words and speaking phrases that peak and dip.
Oh yeah..but if the crowd’s still excited after a show..we’re still excited..after a show we’re excited..even a two hour show and that response..As far as speaking in Jazz..that’s funny..Yhaya speaks so fast..always.
Shall we stop (the interview)
Solid..solid..sorry I couldn’t give you more..but I’m satisfied..the only thing I’m not satisfied with is my playing but that’s a personal thing..to me everything is going great..things might look bad..but that’s just being unfair..you only get what you put into something and everything is good..the stuff that’s bad we owe it to ourselves to change.