Orbert Davis
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Orbert Davis


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"CD Review: "Blue Notes", 2005"

Jazz trumpet-eer Orbert Davis is an obvious musical prodigy who has matured into the deeply emotional & precise jazz stylist that we hear on this disc. Davis offers his talents to us with a very distinctive Miles-esque phrasing, but it's still his own sound that we hear as it were. He chooses his notes with care, & leaves himself a lot of room to mold his music. Davis can create a virtual panoply of different moods with the deftness of a seasoned journeyman musician. - JAZZREVIEW.COM

"Orbert Davis: JazzMan, 2005"

Entertainment editor
CHICAGO -- It might be easier for Orbert Davis to name the famous musicians he hasn't yet recorded with than to go down the marathon list of those he has.

The man who Chicago Magazine crowned "Y2K's Best Trumpeter in Chicago" has made a nearly 20-year career of musical collaboration.

You name them, he's probably played with them: Stevie Wonder, Ramsey Lewis, Dionne Warwick, Duran Duran, Gladys Knight, The Temptations, Kurt Elling, TS Monk, Dr. John, Grover Washington Jr., Ernie Watts, Wynton Marsalis, and on and on.

His mile-long resume includes work on no less than 2,700 TV and radio commercials.

But not just commercials: soon we'll be hearing his musical arrangements in the new Tom Hanks-Paul Newman movie, "The Road to Perdition," as well as seeing Davis on-screen in a cameo role.

More immediately, Davis' collaborative instincts are headed Twin Cities-way: He'll be sitting in tonight with Bloomington-Normal's Heartland Jazz Orchestra for a 7 p.m. gig at The Coffeehouse in downtown Normal ($5 at the door).

This is Davis' second session with the HJO. And he has no qualms about bringing two of his own compositions -- "Double Blues" from his new CD ("Priority") featuring jazz vocalist Elling and a Miles Davis tribute called "Miles Ahead" -- for first-time inspection by the HJO.

No rehearsals. No preparation. Just a bunch of musicians sitting down together cold and instantly communicating through "the universal language."

"Though Heartland is a community jazz band, they are very professional," Davis says. "They're really good, and it's such a joy to play with them."

Which is why he's coming back for seconds.

Besides being called Chicago's best trumpet player for the new century by Chicago Magazine, Davis has received numerous other honors in recent years, including being singled out in 1995 by the Chicago Tribune as one of the newspaper's prestigious "Arts People of the Year," largely through his winning the 1995 Cognac Hennessy National Jazz Search, another major honor.

By 1996, Davis was the featured soloist at the Chicago Jazz Festival, a role he encored at last year's event.

This year, another major milestone was achieved when he got to collaborate with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra at a Christmas concert that featured the CSO performing the classical "Nutcracker" and a jazz orchestra, fronted by Davis on trumpet, playing Duke Ellington's jazz take on the same music.

"It was an unbelievable experience," he says of the meeting of musical sensibilities, as well as representing that rarity in Davis' musical life to date: someone (or thing), he hadn't collaborated with before.

The road to collaboration began in the late '70s at Momence High School in the Kankakee County town of Momence, where Davis cut his jazz teeth. Further schooling at Northwestern University solidified his musical standing.

Early on, Davis says, he made the decision that he wanted to be a studio musician, a goal he felt was a natural for him "because I can sight read and adapt to all styles of music." Furthering that goal, Davis linked up with Tom Washington, an arranger for Phil Collins and Earth, Wind & Fire "who really opened up my eyes."

As a result of that association, Davis began moving through different musical idioms, including Top 40 pop, while gaining a grasp of studio recording techniques and musical arranging.

"I wasn't really all that deep into jazz until the early '90s," he adds, which was around the time he began collaborating with Pat Metheny's former drummer Paul Wertico. A band was formed
"and we got a really favorable review from the (Chicago) Tribune on our first performance."

That review was pivotal in helping forge Davis' reputation on the Chicago music scene.

A decade later, he has evolved into one of the city's premier trumpeters. And when the big stars come to town, he's on the "short list" of musicians summoned to back up the likes of a wide range of stars, from Stevie Wonder to Mitzi Gaynor.

"One of the things I do is adapt to different styles," he says. "I don't just go down one path, like progressive or avant-garde. I'm very much into Louis Armstrong and Miles Davis, too. So I play a wider range of styles within the jazz idiom."

On top of his performing-arranging work, Davis has also become a major mover and shaker in the world of music education, via a program he founded called Music Alive, which targets "at risk" kids in the sixth- to eighth-grade levels and strives to "build life skills through music."

"I started to think about where I could do the most good as far as my education and desire to teach goes."

Music Alive, he says is the rewarding answer -- just the latest in a series of collaborations for Orbert Davis that will doubtless continue for many years to come.


"CD Review: "Priority", 2002"

Jazz Improv Issue:
Volume 4, Number 2

Priority; Ask Me Nicely; Relentless; Block Party; Miles Ahead; E.T. (Edwin’s Trombone); The Double Blues;Midnight in Bahia; Ain’t No Sunshine; Vice Versa; Scourin’; Weatherbird

Orbert Davis, trumpet, flugelhorn; Ari Brown, Steve Eisen, tenor sax; Tracy Kirk, Steve Berry, trombone; Ryan Cohan, piano; James Cammack, John Whitfield, bass; Ernie Adams, drums; Zachary Brock, violin; Kurt Elling, Bobbi Wilsyn, vocals

By Winthrop Bedford

“First rate all the way”

From the opening moments of Priority, backed only by drum set for the first several measures, Orbert Davis gives us a clear picture of his multi-tiered musicianship—impressive technical facility, a beautiful and powerful sound on trumpet, playing soulfully from the heart, and with a compelling sense of rhythm and syncopation. Priroity is Davis’ latest independently produced CD. Davis along with his bandmates are native Chicagoans. He has even recruited vocalist Kurt Elling, himself a native of Chicago who has made an impact beyond there with his albums on the Blue Note label.

From the opening notes, there is no doubt that Davis has listened closely to Woody Shaw, Freddie Hubbard and others in the lineage of influential voices on trumpet who have shaped this music. Priority, one of the seven compositions by Davis on this CD, incorporates elements of the harmonies found in Coltrane’s “Giant Steps” (“Coltrane chord changes”), as it shifts between straight ahead medium swing and a two four measure phrases over a Latin groove on the bridge.

Pianist Ryan Cohan penned “Ask Me Nicely”, the second tune on this album. This is a more laid back swing groove, with interesting rhythmic breaks, syncopated hits, and changes in dynamics on the minor bluesy kind of melody—that are magnificently, cleanly expressed by the rhythm section and Davis, who is on flugelhorn here. Cohan turns in a heartfelt solo on piano incorporating a palette of swinging eighth note phrases, trills, and down-home locked in groove playing.

“Relentless” is reminiscent of the kind of post bop acoustic straight-ahead modal playing on the Blue Note, Contemporary and Milestone labels in the mid 1960s and 1970s. The melody is a challenging eighth note line, offset by the simplicity of the chord changes. Another original by Davis is “Block Party” featuring a Latin groove and a thoughtful, well-constructed melody. Davis turns in an impressive solo, exploring the colors and range of the trumpet, with flawless technique and intonation.

Among the five tunes by other composers on this set, is Miles Davis’ Miles Ahead, which was originally recorded on the classic album of the same name. Once again Davis on flugelhorn and Ryan Cohan on piano offer absolutely stunning and apropos solos.

Vocalist Kurt Elling appears as a guest on “The Double Blues” a medium F blues, with a bridge. He also appears on the slow and pensive original by Davis, “Midnight In Bahia,” where he is joined by female vocalist Bobbi Wilsyn, whose impeccable intonation and warm sound in the upper register, are fine foils for Elling.

One of the other originals by Davis that is worth noting here is “Vice Versa” which shifts from Also, among the straight-ahead highlights on this album is Davis’ interpretation of the Wayne Shorter hard bop composition “Scourin’” which was originally recorded in 1959 on the album Wayne Short on the GNP Crescendo label.

While Chicago may be called the “Second City”, Orbert Davis’ CD Priority is first rate all the way. - JAZZ IMPROV MAGAZINE


Orbert Davis' "Unfinished Memories", Copia Records, 1994
Orbert Davis' "Priority", 316 Records, 2002
Orbert Davis' "Blue Notes", 316 Records, 2004



Trumpeter, composer Orbert Davis is Associate Professor/Director of Jazz programming at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Orbert is also the co-founder, conductor and artistic director of the critically acclaimed Chicago Jazz Philharmonic, a 55+ piece jazz-symphonic orchestra dedicated to multi-genre projects.

His 2004 CD release Blue Notes peaked at number seven on the JazzWeek national radio charts, while his 2002 CD release, Priority, reached number eleven and received a ‘four-star’ review from the Los Angeles Times.

He was named one of the "Chicagoans of the Year" for 2002 by Chicago Magazine. Winner of the 1995 Cognac Hennessy National Jazz Search, Orbert was chosen as one of the Chicago Tribune's 1995 Arts People of the Year and in 2000 Chicago Magazine named him Y2k Best Trumpeter in Chicago.

Orbert has performed with Wynton Marsalis, TS Monk, Stevie Wonder, Dr. John, Kurt Elling, Ernie Watts, Ramsey Lewis, Grover Washington Jr., Smithsonian Masterworks Jazz Orchestra and Bill Russo’s Chicago Jazz Ensemble.

Along with his business partner/manager Mark Ingram, Orbert owns and operates ORBARK PRODUCTIONS. Their credits include projects for Atlantic, Capitol, CBS, Epic, MCA and the Warner Brothers record labels. Other projects include arrangements and on-camera performance for feature films such as “A League of Their Own”, starring Tom Hanks, Madonna and Rosie O'Donnell for Columbia Pictures and “The Babe,” starring John Goodman. He was the jazz consultant for Academy Award winning director, Sam Mendes, for the DreamWorks Pictures feature film "Road to Perdition", starring Tom Hanks and Paul Newman, where he also had a cameo appearance.

Recent projects includes the critically acclaimed documentary “Beauty Rises: Four Lives in the Arts”, produced by WTTW and the Illinois Arts Council and “Concierto for Generation I”, a work commissioned by Nissan/Infiniti, inspired by the 2007 Infiniti G35 Sedan.

Mr. Davis has a bachelor’s degree in trumpet performance from DePaul University and a master’s degree in Jazz Pedagogy from Northwestern University. Orbert and his wife Lisa live in Chicago with their three children, Zoe, Sydney and Donovan.