Reuben Davis Interview [Sarah Shen]



Toggle Index/Transcript View Switch.
Search this Index
00:00:00 - Introduction and Musical Background

Play segment

Partial Transcript: S: So, introduce yourself?
R: My name is Reuben Davis, I am a biology major and music minor. I play piano and cello.
S: Where are you from?
R: I’m from Washington, D.C.
S: How did you get into jazz piano?
R: Uh in high school, I went to Duke Ellington School of the Arts, where, um, I played piano and cello there. I studied classically but I also like, that’s where I first got introduced to jazz. Um, I didn’t have really any introduction to jazz before that, but there are a lot of jazz professors there. Uh, Davey Yarborough was my jazz instructor - my first jazz instructor. He was the one that pulled me in and made me play jazz.
S: That’s really cool. I had a high school teacher who actually went on to Duke Ellington to teach english. Uhm, so how long have you been playing piano?
R: Uhhh, pretty much my whole life. [laughter] But I didn’t start training until, uhm, my freshman year of high school. Like the summer before is when I first got classical training from my piano teacher.
S: So what was it before?
R: Uhm, it was a lot of playing by ear. Like people showing me things on the piano like million church(?), the pianist was showing me stuff and I played church sometimes. But mostly learning by ear.
S: That’s really cool. So what does playing jazz mean to you?
R: [laughter] Uhm, playing jazz is just like free expression and collaboration. Uhm, unless if you’re playing solos obviously but like, me personally when I play jazz I like to play with other people. And playing with other people who like, understand what jazz is and just what music is in general; because, it can be a very powerful instrument, uhm, when it’s done correctly and when you have the right group of people around you.
S: So, uhm, from what I can tell, you didn’t spend as long of a time playing classical as you do jazz, but when you did play classical did you ever, uhm, like participate in any groups like chamber ensembles?
R: Uhm, well, for piano I didn’t play any chamber music, but for cello I played a lot of chamber music. Uhm, so, I only play a lot of solo piano for classical piano. Uhm, only solo piano stuff I have to play some Liszt, some Debussy, like Mozart, Bach, Beethoven, Bach - like basic stuff. Uhm, but mostly jazz. Like in high school, I had to take classical training. Like, all four years I had to take it. But, when I came here, I can focus on jazz, I don’t have to take the classical piece even though Esleck made me do some classical stuff. [laughter] Like I don’t know why, but he did. Uhm, but, uhm as far as classical music goes, I did my biggest, uh, piece, uh, classical music is through cello. Playing in quartets, playing in chamber groups, I played in orchestra.

Segment Synopsis: Reuben introduces himself and describes his musical background and career so far.

Keywords: Cello; Chamber music; Classical; Duke Ellington School of the Arts; Jazz; Music; Piano

Subjects: Introduction to jazz; Musical background; Musical group participation

00:03:11 - Classical vs. Jazz Group Interactions

Play segment

Partial Transcript: S: So how do you feel like the interactions between group members in the classical music groups compare to your - I mean I don’t know which current ensembles you’re in? Other than the jazz ensemble - but how do you feel like those interactions compare to those you have in the jazz ensembles.
R: Uhm, I feel like they’re similar as far as like you can still feed off of each other. Like, in classical music I definitely when I played - I still play cello but I don’t play as much anymore - but, when I played in my quartet group, it was like we always fed off of each other like the energy you know, building up, we talked about how we wanted to shape the music and things like that. Uhm, but, difference? The biggest difference would probably be the improvisation piece. Because, with playing a classical piece you have a script, and there’s like very little, very little variation within that script that you can take that, like is uncharted like you know if you all didn’t really talk about it beforehand, you can’t necessarily like do it on the fly like you can? You can try back in rehearsal, you don’t really want to do that in a concert, you know. You want to stick with what you practiced; but whereas in jazz, you can do almost anything, like your options are limitless. Like just because you all didn’t practice something, doesn’t mean that you can’t do it on the stage. Like if you feel something on stage, like, you all can just sort of take it there. But that’s also, like, depends on who you’re playing with because you might be playing with people who can’t necessarily do that. But when you have the right group of people around you who can just go where you’re going - like, you all both, like you start going somewhere, they follow you, they start going somewhere, you follow them - then, then you can have those really great improvisation moments.

Segment Synopsis: Reuben describes the differences in interactions he has experienced in his classical music groups compared to his jazz music groups.

Keywords: Classical music; Collaboration; Ensembles; Improvisation; Interactions; Jazz

Subjects: Interactions in classical music groups; Interactions in jazz music groups; Role of improvisation

00:05:00 - Experience with Jazz Band

Play segment

Partial Transcript: S: So when did you join this particular jazz ensemble that I was observing?
R: Freshman year.
S: Freshman year?
R: Yeah.
S: Uhm, what do you feel like is your role as the piano player in the ensemble?
R: Well you came to Jazz Band, and for me and like for as a pianist in Jazz Band you just uh, like, the role isn’t that important. Like, for me, I feel like piano isn’t necessarily needed in a Jazz Band. Depending, especially depending on the music. But for most music, you’re not really needed.
S: Is it just like part of the rhythm, and that’s it? Or like -
R: I mean like, it’s mainly in the rhythm section. Like sometimes, like for solos - I’m more important for solos - uhm, like laying down a little color, a little foundation, maybe sprinkle in some things here while the horns are doing their thing. But for the most part, I just kind of lay low, because, it’s more so about the horns and what they got going on. So I don’t really feel like the piano is that important. And literally like the band leader is like the piano player like, in like a lot of big bands - like Duke Ellington, Count Basie - like they were the piano players and they didn’t really do much. They just..they direct more so than play. Duke will like, do an intro and then he will just start doing whatever, y’know?

Segment Synopsis: Reuben talks about his role in the Jazz Band as the pianist.

Keywords: Jazz Band; Leaders; Pianist; Rhythm; Roles; Sections

Subjects: Importance of role; Role in the Jazz Band

00:06:18 - Other Ensembles and Jazz Band interactions

Play segment

Partial Transcript: S: What other, like, ensembles are you involved in on campus? Related to jazz?
R: Uhhhh just Little Big Band right now. And I was in Esleck’s combo before that, uhm, just Big Band and combos, that’s about it.
S: How do you feel like, uhm, the Jazz Band I observed, how do you feel like the members of that group interact with each other? Do you think the group meshes well? I mean, are there some things that could be improved?
R: Well I always think there are some things that could be improved. Uhm, but the meshing I think could be a little more. A lot of the people in band have, like, just gotten introduced to jazz. Uhm, they haven’t really been playing jazz for as long as I have for with the intensity that I have been playing with. So, like, there are a lot of little nuances that they need,like, most of them can’t like improvise? So like, I see that as a little bit of a hinderance especially in something like this because the same two people soloing every time. But, uhm, a lot of them are pretty tense when it comes to like soloing. You know, it’s pretty scary like the first couple of times, I understand, but like, you kind of got to take that risk and some of them don’t really take that risk, they don’t want to take that risk. Hey, if you like, “Hey, solo?” “No.” Where it was like, I mean for me, I didn’t really have an option when I started jazz. But I didn’t really care because I wanted to learn how to solo and solo well. Uhm, and also just like little musicality things I feel like could be good and just like listening in general. Listening to each other, like listening and reading the music and interpreting it in a way that would, uhm, bode well.
S: So what do you think about Dr. Davison’s conducting in the Jazz Band. Do you think it helps them feel the music better? Or do you think sometimes the message gets lost or do you think they receive it well.
R: Well, I mean, Davison’s an interesting dude. Uhm, his conducting style is kind of…passive most of the time. Like in rehearsal, he’s a little more involved especially with the cow bell, you know, trying to keep tempo. And like, he’s very vocal in rehearsal. But when it comes to like performing and like in concerts, he’s pretty passive. Like, he’ll count off, then he’ll not even pay attention to the band almost like he’ll start messing with the crowd essentially. Uhm, so, but like during rehearsal I think it’s very helpful; for the horns especially, to like how active he is, it’s like giving cues like, hey this is when you come in, you know, letting them be an active listener, letting them know what they can do better, what’s not right. Uhm, so I mean, I think it’s helpful.

Segment Synopsis: Reuben talks about other ensembles he's involved in on campus. He also discusses his perspective on the interactions between members in Jazz Band.

Keywords: Conducting; Improvisation; Jazz; Little Big Band; Rehearsal; Risks

Subjects: Director ineractions; Interactions among student members; Involvement in music groups; Rehearsal tips

00:09:15 - More Interactions and Jazz's Influence on Campus

Play segment

Partial Transcript: S: So what would you say is the influence of jazz is on campus in general?
R: Influence of jazz on campus?
S: Or what kind of an influence, how much of an influence?
R: I would say pretty like, like zero almost. Uhh, because even the people that play jazz here aren’t really like, jazz musicians. So like, yeah, it’s not as much of an influence on campus as I’d like for it to be a little bit bigger. I think the Cuban Spectacular is pretty big, uhm, but jazz as just a topic or as just like a musical choice for most people, I don’t think it has that big of an impact on this campus.
S: So would you say most of the people in the Jazz Band or any of the jazz combos really are music major or minors? Or, I know there aren’t a lot on campus in general anyways, but uhm would you say it helps bring different sorts of majors together? Or does it kind of, uhm, promote more communication between the two sides of campus.
R: In ways, in ways, I guess. Uhm, because you do have people of different interests, majors, everything in one group. So, I think it does have that ability to like, you know, cross bridges, and like, bring people together. Have that inclusive sort of uh, influence. But, uh, I don’t know how far it extends outside of class. Because, I still don’t really see them outside of class. I mostly just, I see them in class, and then that’s pretty much it. And to be honest with you, I don’t even know half of their names. [laughter] They’re probably named like..the rhythm section.
S: So, do you think people with similar, like outside of Jazz Band, interests hang out with each other a lot within the Jazz Band? Or how do you put this…do you think they communicate with each other better than other people that aren’t in their “in-group” almost?
R: Uhmmm, I think - I don’t think that matters as much, I think more so what instrument you play. Like cause if you play trumpet, you’re going to be in the trumpet section around all the other trumpet players and kind of keep in the trumpet section as you kind of saw. Six, seven trumpet players and, like, they are around each other mostly and the saxes are around each other mostly cause they have sectional together, they play in combo together. They sit next to each other every class, so those people are going to talk to more so. Uhm, and me, I’m in the rhythm section, so I’m kind of with the drums and the bass more so, the guitar player, like we’re more so in our like - it’s like different communities in one that come together to make music. But sometimes, you can kind of notice that it’s like different communities which shouldn’t be the case.
S: So you mentioned how the level of popularity in jazz is sort of low on campus and it’s influence is sort of low on campus and the talk about jazz in general is low on campus. Uhm, do you ever wish like your friends would participate in jazz more. Or, not participate if they don’t know any music stuff, but sort of, have more interest in jazz.
R: I mean yeah of course, jazz is a beautiful thing. Uh, I do know, I mean I do have a few friends who like to listen to jazz. I know, I have a few friends that go to the VMFA every Thursday for their little jazz night thing they have. Uhm, I haven’t been yet, I hope to go. But uh, I do wish there was a larger, just music community in general on campus. Like not just people who are interested in music, but like actual musicians. People who can play these sorts of things. Cause then, I have more opportunity for myself to play different kinds of music, uhm, that I would like to play, that other people want to play and not just, what my teacher dictates us play.

Segment Synopsis: Reuben talks about jazz's influence on campus at the University of Richmond and also discusses the ways in which different jazz sections self-segregate. He also wishes for a larger jazz community at the school.

Keywords: Communication; Influence; Interactions; Musical choice; Partticipation

Subjects: Different interests in the same space; Influence of jazz on campus; Jazz community on campus

00:13:40 - The Campus Music Community and Closing Thoughts

Play segment

Partial Transcript: S: So, uhm, you mentioned about having a larger music community and I know in rep the department tries to get the music community together, to listen to all sorts of music. But also a large composition of the class is heavily involved in the classical side of music. How do you feel like that impacts your feelings about, you know, the music community in general?
R: Uhm, that impacts it a fair deal. Like if I was, like, a cellist. Like if I was continuing my cello with more, like it would probably be better. Cause, I would have more outlets for that. Cause there are a lot more string players, like chamber groups going on that jazz, or RnB, or hip hop groups, you know, like, there are like two or three people who are interested in like jazz, hip hop, RnB, and like everybody else is like classical, being classically trained. So, it does create like a hinderance for me. But also like I’m not in any of the ensembles that they’re in. Like I’m not in any chorale group, I’m not in any orchestra or chamber group. So that, also creates a divide because also like, Jazz Band I don’t know none of their names. [laughter] I don’t know who any of them are. Like I know who you are. But that’s through like, Mikaela and stuff. And uhm, so, it’s still sort of creates a divide. Like yeah, we do get together but like we don’t really know each other that well.
S: Do you think there are any, like, possible future improvements that can be made to mesh the different communities - sub-communities - within the music department together?
R: Uhhhmm, I mean, I feel like things would be better once the department grows as a whole. Like, the larger the department gets, the more people tend to interact with each other, I feel like. Because, people would actually be focusing on music more. Uhm, like you have more music majors who are just doing it all the time. So then they’ll be interested in doing more collaborations with string groups, be more interesting in doing collaborations with uh, you know, jazz groups or whatever. So, as the department grows, I think that the community divides will begin to go away.
S: So, in closing, if anyone on campus were to listen to a jazz group to get the feel of jazz on campus, like the jazz groups in general on campus, which group would you recommend watching or hearing?
R: I guess, if you really wanted to get the feel of jazz, I would just listen to jazz. [laughter] Like just go on Spotify and just listen to some like Miles Davis. But if you want to hear like a live, some live jazz, then I would like, I guess - if I had to pick a group on campus, I would pick probably..probably - ugh it’s hard. It’s between Little Big Band and Jazz ensemble, which the one you sat in on. Uhm, because, probably jazz ensemble because that’s like the Big Band feel. That’s sort of like jazz, but like, I mean it depends. Either one, any of them, it doesn’t really matter. Because you’ll get a sense of jazz from all of them. The combos are more intimate, so that might be good. But if you just want to sit back and watch, like, the Jazz Band is good too. But if you want to learn jazz, the best way to do it is just to listen to it. And like, listen to the greats like Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, you know all types of people like that. So many names.
S: Thank you!
R: Of course, no problem.

Segment Synopsis: Reuben discusses the division between the classical side of the music department and the other genres. He notes that it is not just a problem with the division, but also with the small size of the department as a whole. In closing, he recommends listening to jazz and also sitting in on Little Big Band or/and the Jazz Band to get a feel for jazz on campus.

Keywords: Classical; Community; Composition; Groups; Jazz; Music

Subjects: Department growth; Feel of jazz on campus; Interactions among the music community members; The music community on campus