In the kaleidoscope of jazz history, certain recordings emerge as timeless gems, capturing not just music but the essence of an era. “Steve Davis Meets Hank Jones, Volume 1,” recorded in June 2008 by trombonist Steve Davis, pianist Hank Jones, and bassist Peter Washington, is precisely one such masterpiece. This poetic, interactive, and impeccably executed recital was released today via Smoke Sessions Records.
Hank Jones, a revered stalwart of jazz, was nearing 90 years old at the time, having triumphed over quadruple bypass heart surgery in 2006. Yet, this album stands not just as one of Jones’ final sessions but as a testament to the finest moments of his extraordinary career. The collaboration showcases the chemistry between the artists, inscribing their voices coequally upon the proceedings. The trio embarks on an enchanting journey through choice selections from the jazz and American Songbooks, engaging in erudite, swinging three-way conversations. The album also features three duos—“But Beautiful,” “Polka Dots and Moonbeams,” and “We’ll Be Together Again”—where Davis and grandmaster Jones exhibit their musical camaraderie.
Reflecting on this musical venture, Steve Davis shared, “It was one of the greatest musical experiences of my life.” He emphasized the essence of jazz—the spontaneous choices and moments that define the art form. Hank Jones, despite being 89 years old at the time, infused the music with a sense of joy and spontaneity, a true embodiment of the jazz spirit.
The genesis of this exceptional collaboration can be traced back to Davis’s earlier recording with Jones, titled “Eloquence,” released in fall 2007. The sheer enjoyment they experienced during that session sparked the desire for a sequel, envisioning Hank and Peter playing in an intimate duo setting at Bradley’s, with Davis joining in to complete the ensemble.
Steve Davis and Peter Washington are no strangers to the grand stage of jazz. Having apprenticed with Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers during the ’80s, their musical journey has been interwoven with the tapestry of jazz history. Davis’s extensive discography and Washington’s collaborative ventures are a testament to their invaluable contributions to the world of jazz.
Hank Jones, often dubbed a living jazz encyclopedia, has significantly shaped the evolution of jazz vocabulary. Famously the older brother of iconic trumpeter-composer-arranger Thad Jones and world historical drummer Elvin Jones, Hank Jones was himself a key signpost in the evolution of jazz vocabulary, admired by his peer group since he arrived in New York in 1944 for a gig with trumpeter-blues singer Hot Lips Page at the Onyx Club on 52nd Street. There he applied himself to absorbing bop avatars Bud Powell, Al Haig, and Thelonious Monk, who once invited Jones to his apartment after closing time and played for him, as Jones transcribed the notes, a new composition called “Monk’s Mood.” He was a first-caller on 52nd Street by 1946, when he began a long association with Coleman Hawkins, as well as jobs with Billy Eckstine, Andy Kirk, and John Kirby. Jones began touring with Jazz at the Philharmonic the following year, sharing piano duties with Oscar Peterson, who credits him as a seminal influence. He accompanied Ella Fitzgerald from 1948 to 1953, and spent the remainder of the ’50s freelancing, making definitive trio and solo albums for Savoy, and recording as a sideman with artists as diverse as Hawkins, Charlie Parker, Lester Young, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Artie Shaw, Sonny Stitt, Cannonball Adderley, Benny Goodman, and his younger brothers.
From 1959 to 1975, Jones was a staff pianist at CBS, playing on Captain Kangaroo, The Ed Sullivan Show, The Jackie Gleason Show, and any other entity that required his services. He retired in 1975, and launched the final efflorescent phase of his career as a solo artist, which he conducted with unabated energy until the aforementioned involuntary hiatus.
“Hank embodied the history of jazz, and distilled it into his concept,” Davis says. “You hear him play stride piano, the blues, the American Songbook, swing, bebop. You hear the French Impressionists, Chopin. You hear what influenced pianists like Herbie Hancock or Bill Evans or McCoy Tyner, the pianists we regard as those who’ve led us into the future. Hank could go any way you want. He was so incredibly melodic and harmonically sophisticated, with a wonderful touch. He controlled everything he wanted to play. You can’t think of a time where Hank played something he didn’t mean.”
Having heard a pre-release version of the album, I can say without any reservations, that this is an album you should include on your playlists. Released today, 24 November 2023, the album is available on all streaming platforms as well as on CD and a limited LP pressing of only 500 units via Smoke Sessions Records .
Last modified: November 24, 2023