Milwaukee is a city that has long had a traditional of talented jazz performers – whether or not they’ve ever really gotten their due. Now, thanks to Milwaukee-based Hal Leonard Corporation, the world’s largest music book publisher, the talent is sharing its skills with the world.
Hal Leonard has tapped a number of Milwaukee musicians for new music skills books, including the new "Jazz Piano Method," by pianist Mark Davis, who has been performing in Milwaukee – playing with the likes of Frank Morgan, Phil Woods, Jimmy Heath, Brian Lynch, Slide Hampton, Eric Alexander and others – and teaching piano at the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music for decades.
Davis’ book covers everything from comping to voicings to soloing in an easy to use format that has something to offer aspiring jazz pianists at a range of skill levels.
We caught up with Mark to ask him about the book and Hal Leonard’s relationship with local musicians.
OnMilwaukee: Can you tell me a bit about how the relationship came to be with Hal Leonard?
Mark Davis: Many people who live here in Milwaukee don’t realize that we are home to the world’s largest music print publisher – Hal Leonard Corporation. In 2008, I began doing some recording for them. I played piano on accompaniment tracks for a number of their books such as "The Real Book" and the "Charlie Parker Omnibook."
In October of this year, they released a book I authored, "The Hal Leonard Jazz Piano Method."
OnMilwaukee: Did they approach you or vice versa?
Davis: They first approached me three years ago about authoring a book. At that time, I was just too busy to take on the project, but about six months later they approached me again and by that time I had been thinking more about it and decided it was something I really wanted to do. Through my experience teaching jazz piano at the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music for over 20 years, I had developed an instructional method that I wanted to put into book form.
OnMilwaukee: I see they have some books by other Milwaukee musicians, too, like John Calarco, for example.
Davis: Yes, Hal Leonard has really tapped into the wealth of talent in our area. Paul Silbergleit and Mike Standal are two Milwaukee-based jazz guitarists who have just released books through Hal Leonard and there are a number of other musicians from here who have authored books on a variety of genres.
OnMilwaukee: Tell me a bit about who the book is aimed at, in terms of level, etc.
Davis: My goal was to create a book that someone with little or no jazz background will understand and be able to learn from. Anyone with at least basic piano skills who is interested in learning to play jazz will really enjoy this book. It starts out with basic scales and chords, but eventually shows the reader how to play jazz repertoire and improvise authentic-sounding jazz solos.
Although it starts with basics, the book systematically progresses into topics that will provide even more advanced players with lots of great ideas. A number of musicians have told me that they think it will be beneficial to not only pianists, but to players of any instrument who want to learn jazz techniques in a step-by-step manner.
OnMilwaukee: Are you working with them (Hal Leonard) on other projects, as well?
Davis: Yes, I’m starting to work on a jazz piano book that will focus on several classic tunes from the standard jazz repertoire. Eventually, I’d like to do a second volume of the "Jazz Piano Method," but we’ll have to see how this one sells first!
OnMilwaukee: What's this sort of opportunity mean to a Milwaukee-based musician?
Davis: Milwaukee has a really vibrant jazz scene and a rich musical past. Growing up here, I was fortunate to learn from some incredible jazz musicians – David Hazeltine, Berkeley Fudge and Manty Ellis, to name a few. I’ve tried to keep this tradition alive by passing on what I’ve learned to up-and-coming musicians.
Through my work at the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music, I’ve had the opportunity to help cultivate a new generation of jazz musicians and jazz listeners in the Milwaukee area, but I’m excited about the potential of my new book to reach people all over the world. I hope it inspires lots of people to play jazz who otherwise might not have known how to go about it.
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.
He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.
With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.
He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.
In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area.
He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.