For Roger Davidson, music is a world without boundaries. Though commonly termed a classical artist, Roger had developed a fearlessly eclectic reach, both as a composer and pianist. “Music is for the world,” says Roger, whose acclaimed catalog ranges from chamber, symphonic, and choral pieces to jazz, tango, Klezmer, children’s music, and a wide span of Latin and Brazilian projects. As a jazz pianist, Roger was mentored by Helen Keane, Bill Evans’ longtime manager; Keane produced his first jazz album. JazzTimes has since called him an “impeccable player”; Michael G. Nastos of All Music Guide termed him an “extraordinary” pianist devoted to “reaching for the inner soul.”
His remarkable flair for melody helps him cross stylistic lines with ease. In 2008, Roger made his Carnegie Hall debut as pianist in the debut of his Prayer for Peace (for Jazz Trio and Orchestra). On his CD Rodgers in Rio, Roger joined with his frequent collaborators, bassist David Finck and the titan of Brazilian drummers, Paulo Braga, to reinterpret Richard Rodgers classics in a bossa nova vein.
Cross-cultural celebration is the theme of Soundbrush Records, the celebrated company that Roger founded. He has developed an impressive roster of hand-picked musicians from around the world and a rich, diverse catalogue. “The most important thing for me is: does the music we pick have passion, energy, or is it too cerebral? A lot of jazz is completely in the head and does not come from the heart. All the music at Soundbrush Records has to have a feeling, come from somewhere. The music has to connect emotionally.”
Soundbrush’s artists include tango master Raúl Jaurena, whose 2007 Soundbrush release, Te Amo Tango, won a Latin Grammy. Soundbrush is also the home of many of Roger’s eighteen albums. His latest, Journey to Rio, is a double-CD of his Brazilian compositions, recorded in Rio with a band of top-flight Brazilian players and produced by Pablo Aslan, the gifted Argentine bassist and bandleader.
International co-mingling is in Roger’s blood. He was born in Paris in 1952 to a French mother and an American father; when he was one year old, the family moved to New York. He started playing piano at four, and taking violin lessons at eight.
“We didn’t have a TV,” he reminisces. “Two things I did as a kid for entertainment: I climbed up the piano bench and played, and I read about cars, a hobby I still have.” While still a child he taught himself to read and write music. Davidson learned to play through improvising, a practice that has served him well as a jazz pianist. From there he became a voracious student who traveled the world on a mission to learn about all styles.
Roger attended Boston University, where he studied with David Del Tredici and Theodore Antoniou, among others, and earned a master’s degree in composition in 1980. After graduating, he studied with early baroque music scholar Sidney Beck. At his suggestion, Davidson enrolled at Westminster Choir College in Princeton, New Jersey. “I wasn’t intending to pursue choral conducting, “ says Davidson. “ I was already an orchestral conductor. I had started a community orchestra in Boston while I was a student. But they didn’t have a composition program at Westminster at the time.”
At Westminster, Roger began writing choral music. He went on to found the Society for Universal Sacred Music, devoted to works that “have a message of unity and aspiration that included all humanity.” The Society is now a worldwide collective, devoted to commissioning new works and presenting performances all over the world.
In the mid-‘80s, Roger took his first steps toward a professional jazz career when he attended the Stanford Jazz Workshop at Stanford University in California. He went twice, studying under visiting teachers Stan Getz and Dizzy Gillespie. Upon returning to New York, Roger reconnected with Helen Keane, whose son had been a childhood schoolmate of his. In 1987, Keane attended one of Roger’s concerts. “She came up and said, ‘Nice to see you again. You played really well. How about jazz?’
“Actually, I’d been listening to jazz since I was a child,” says Roger. “I loved improvisation and rhythm. I just didn’t think I knew enough.” Keane introduced him to bassist David Finck and drummer Dave Ratajczak, “and it was like awakening a part of myself that hadn’t been fully awake.” In 1991, Keane produced an album that was eventually released on Soundbrush Records as Ten to Twelve.
Roger’s musical curiosity has never stopped growing. He recorded his first tango compositions on Mango Tango (1995), a CD that adds many stylistic flavors to that distinctly Argentine genre. He keeps revisiting the tango, notably on the albums Amor por el Tango (2002) and Pasión por la Vida (2008), a duo session with Raúl Jaurena. In 2011, Roger and David Finck recorded Umbrellas and Sunshine, an homage to the extravagantly lush music of Michel Legrand. With Finck and drummer Lewis Nash, Roger saluted Helen Keane, the woman who launched him as a jazz player, in the CD We Remember Helen (2012). Roger’s long-standing love affair with Brazilian music has resulted in several albums, including Bom Dia (2007) and Brazilian Love Song (2009).
“It’s been a great blessing that I’ve been able to do so many things well, and that they feel natural, as part of the global musical vocabulary I’ve developed,” he says. “I feel a lot of empathy for all kinds of good music – music that really comes from the heart and that seeks to communicate passion and positive feelings.”
Posted on May 4, 2011
Copyright © 2014 Roger Davidson