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Wild Bill Davison: Pretty Wild and With Strings Attached

For these 1956 and 1957 recordings with strings, Wild Bill Davison did not lower the intensity of what The New Yorker once called his “Admiral Farragut or ‘damn-the-torpedoes’ trumpet style.” So much more delicious, then, is the contrast between the take-no-prisoners bluster of his cornet and the refinement of his orchestral accompaniment.

After issuing it on LPs that vanished almost at once, Columbia inexplicably allowed this splendid music to remain hidden in its vaults for more than four decades. Nor did the Sony giant revive it, beyond giving the little Arbors label permission to put it on CD. Pretty Wild, which comprises the first 12 tracks, is one of the peaks of the six decades of Davison’s recording career. Aside from a solo by violinist Mac Ceppos on “Just a Gigolo,” Davison, with his spacious tone, growls, shakes and lyricism, dominates the session. Yes, lyricism. For all of his bluster, melodic invention and interpretation were at the heart of Davison’s style. “Mandy, Mandy, Make Up Your Mind,” which he first recorded in the ’20s, is a case in point, his poignant treatment of Duke Ellington’s “Black Butterfly” another.

With Strings Attached puts Davison in a traditional frontline, with Cutty Cutshall’s trombone and the clarinet of Bob Wilber, who has a stunning bop-inflected solo on “Limehouse Blues.” The writing for strings is occasionally lush. More often, the arranger manages to make a section of violins sound like one instrument. Not to worry: Wild Bill fills out the sound-and then some.

Originally Published