New Jersey Stage
New Jersey Stage on social media


Did you know NJ Stage offers FREE Event Listings? Nearly 100,000 listings were viewed in January. Be sure to add your events to our calendar and get your shows noticed!

Mike Davis and The New Wonders

By Brent Johnson, JerseyArts.com

originally published: 01/03/2019

Mike Davis and The New WondersMike Davis traces his love for the trumpet back to a Disney movie.

He grew up in a musical family, with both his parents playing strings in the Seattle Symphony. But Davis wanted an instrument of his own.

Then, at age 9, he saw “The Aristocats,” the animated film about a bunch of French felines — including a group of jazz-playing alley cats.

“There’s a black cat who wears a bowtie and a derby hat who plays trumpet,” Davis recalls. “He’s clearly supposed to be Louis Armstrong. And I had just seen that, so I thought: That looks like fun.”

Nearly two decades later, Davis is a 26-year-old who makes his fun — and his living — as a top trumpeter in New York City, playing jazz in a variety of bands and jam sessions.

But despite his age, Davis prefers music that’s more 1929 than 2019.

He fronts a seven-piece band, The New Wonders, that treads in traditional jazz from nearly a century ago. The kind Armstrong helped make famous during the Roaring Twenties and then the Great Depression, when brass instruments and crooning singers were common in speakeasies and on 78 rpm records. Or, if you’re a film snob, the kind that often plays over the credits of a Woody Allen movie.

The New Wonders even dress the part, decked in dapper suits reminiscent of Jimmy Cagney. Davis sports a pencil mustache, to boot.

You can see the anachronistic splendor at two upcoming dates in New Jersey. Davis and his band will appear Saturday, Jan. 6 at Haddonfield United Methodist Church, and the following Saturday, Jan. 12, at Centenary Stage Company’s January Thaw Music Festival, held at The Sitnik Theatre of the Lackland Performing Arts Center in Hackettstown.

Mike Davis and The New Wonders

Davis says you’ll even hear some old-time four-part harmony mixed in.

To Davis, the jazz of the 1920s and ’30s simply has more variety and surprise than ’40s swing (“everybody’s swing band sounds the same,” he says) or hip bebop with long solos (“I’m just bored by the lack of texture,” he explains).

Plus, Davis says, there’s vivid songwriting and the sound of real instruments — nothing processed with reverb through a giant sound system.

“Just hearing real analog instruments that don’t plug into anything, played by sensational musicians,” he says. “It’s like: They’re all good enough already. They were good enough 100 years ago. They already sound great together indoors.”

“People used to play instruments and sing together at home for fun,” Davis adds with a laugh. “That was fun in the 1920s — to get Little Johnny on piano and Susie on the cornet or whatever. We’ve sort of lost that — making music for our own enjoyment at an indoor volume. Not everything has to be giant stadiums.”

So how in the world did a kid born in the birthplace of grunge at the height of Nirvana’s popularity get here?

Davis initially thought about following his parents into classical music. But that, he explains, brought too much pressure.

Mike Davis and The New Wonders

“It might be nice to have a contract and a salary and health insurance and that kind of thing,” Davis says. “But you also have to sit next to the same person for 40 years. And I get to play in different bands every night.”

After that viewing of “The Aristocats” led him to fall for the trumpet, Davis began studying the instrument locally. But the Big Apple beckoned.

“I was just determined to move to New York,” Davis recalls. “I visited and was like, ‘I have to live here.’”

He became a jazz major at the Manhattan School of Music, a private conservatory. But his professors pushed what he calls a “a very contemporary flavor of jazz as what we all needed to do.”

Then, about halfway through his studies, Davis saw a band from Philadelphia, Drew Nugent & The Midnight Society, that played 1920s jazz.

“No gimmicks and no extra stuff and the right instruments,” Davis remembers. “And that was an epiphany for me.”

His professors tried to stop him.

“They’re all pretty much retired now at this point, so it’s not a reflection on the Manhattan School of Music today,” Davis says. “But they were pretty active about it. ‘You can’t make a living doing that. No one wants to hear that old stuff. It’s old and irrelevant. And why are you into this anyway?’”

Mike Davis and The New Wonders

Soon, Davis discovered he wasn’t alone. There’s a thriving traditional jazz scene in New York, with jam sessions — like a famed one at Mona’s — where people meet and network. Bands frequently shuffle members and musicians sit in on two or three gigs a day.

“Everybody has everybody’s number,” Davis says, noting he’s worked with 15 bands over the last month alone.

The New Wonders play only a few shows a month. But this is where Davis is in charge — even if that doesn’t come naturally.

“I’m the leader because there’s music I want to play that I wouldn’t get to play otherwise,” he explains. “So I’d say fairly little of my time is the New Wonders because I want to keep it my fun, artistic project where I get to express myself somewhere.”

The band’s name comes from the cornet model that Davis’ hero, 1920s jazz musician Bix Beiderbecke, played: the Conn New Wonder model cornet. Davis has one of his own, from 1917.

Mike Davis and The New Wonders

“They made so many, and they’re not popular for today’s music styles, so they’re all over eBay,” he says. “My mom, the violinist, is angry-slash-finds it hilarious that I make my living on these horns that I buy for $300 on eBay.”

“I think old photos of Louis Armstrong are so cool,” Davis explains. “Band shots from that era — that’s the way I want to look. I like to watch old movies and stuff, too.”As for the band’s vintage attire? Davis says he used to shop at H&M and tried to fit in with the more modern jazz players at school. But the suits and slick-backed hair, he says, “went hand in hand with admitting that I want to sound this way.”

It’s a challenge, though. Davis has some vintage clothing, but it’s fragile and musty. He wears that only for specific shows. The rest of the time, he gets his suits specially made.

“Because you can’t walk into a store and buy those styles today,” Davis says.

Yes, he meets a lot of people who can’t believe someone his age looks and plays like this.

“But musicians I work with who are 50 and 60 say that when they were my age, they were already getting that,” Davis says.

Mike Davis and The New Wonders

Plus, he has a goal: to encourage musicians who are younger than him who show up to jam sessions.

“It really feels like a community of people who are into this stuff,” Davis says. “So I want to be a positive presence there. Before I know it, I’m going to be the one who’s 50.”

Davis says he doesn’t ever see himself playing a different style of music. He doesn’t think he’s suited for it.

“I get calls for stuff, and I recommend somebody that’s a better fit usually,” he says. “It could be fun. But I don’t have any plans to try to branch out.”

“Once in a while,” Davis adds, “a gig will go a little more modern than I was expecting, and I can play later styles of jazz. I’m just not really excited about it.”





About the author: Brent Johnson is a pop-culture-obsessed writer from East Brunswick, N.J. He's currently a reporter for The Star-Ledger of Newark. Before that, he was a longtime entertainment and music columnist for The Trenton Times. His work has also been published by Rolling Stone, Sports Illustrated On Campus and Night & Day Magazine. His favorite musical artists: Elvis Costello, Billy Joel, The Smiths, Roxy Music, Dave Matthews Band, The Beatles, Blur, Squeeze, The Kinks. When he's not writing, Brent is the lead singer in alt-rock band The Clydes

Content provided by Discover Jersey Arts, a project of the ArtPride New Jersey Foundation and New Jersey State Council on the Arts.




 


The Church To Perform At White Eagle Hall
(JERSEY CITY, NJ) --  The Church return to the U.S. this spring for the second leg of the Starfish 30th Anniversary Tour. The band will be celebrating their breakout album Starfish, playing the album in its entirety along with a selection of tracks from their 26 album catalogue. The Starfish Anniversary tour has taken the band across the globe,  to the UK, their native Australia and the first American leg this past fall. On April 16, the tour comes to White Eagle Hall in Jersey City.
Kean Stage Presents Jazz Saxophonist David Sanborn
(UNION, NJ) -- Jazz saxophonist David Sanborn will perform with his new quintet at Kean Stage’s Enlow Recital Hall on Sunday, February 10 at 3:00pm. Tickets range from $55-$75.
The Newton Theatre Presents Corey Smith
(NEWTON, NJ) -- The Newton Theatre presents Corey Smith on Saturday, March 2 at 8:00pm. Smith, the fan-made man, has sold over 1 million concert tickets, 1.5 million digital singles, and over 220,000 albums. Smith has amassed an unfailingly devout fan base, not only in his native Southeast region but all around the nation, simply by telling it the way it is.
Hanover Wind Symphony to perform 
in Morristown
(MORRISTOWN, NJ) —The Hanover Wind Symphony will perform a special concert entitled And the Trumpets Shall Sound at the Morris Museum on Sunday, February 10 at 2:00pm.  The concert will feature the Hanover Wind Symphony’s trumpet section, and guest soloist, Michael R. Baker.  The concert is being held in conjunction with the museum’s exhibition, Trumpets, Weird and Wonderful: Treasures from the National Music Museum, which is on view through Sunday, March 17, 2019.
Mungion To Perform At The Stone Pony
 (ASBURY PARK, NJ) -- Since their inception in the Spring of 2015, Mungion (pronounced mung-yin) has quickly made a name for themselves as one of the rising stars of the jam scene. The band will open a pair of shows for Pigeons Playing Ping Pong at The Stone Pony in Asbury Park on January 24-25.


"He's Withstood the Test of Time" Aaron Neville LIVE! at SOPAC
We’re with a sold-out crowd of music lovers in the lobby of NJ’s South Orange Performing Arts Center this Saturday, Jan. 12, 2019, waiting for a live concert appearance by soul and R&B singer, Aaron Neville.
Featured Music Video: "Kiss The Bottle" by The Vansaders
Our featured music video of the month is by The Vansaders.
Bongo Boy TV - Issue 55
Each issue of NJ Stage Magazine contains the latest episode of Bongo Boy TV.
Makin Waves Record Roundup with Rachel Ana Dobken, Jackson Pines and Bulletproof Belv
Bob Makin takes a look at recent releases by Rachel Ana Dobken, Jackson Pines and Bulletproof Belv.
The Empire Strikes Back in Concert with the NJSO LIVE! at the State Theatre
Some of our favorite childhood memories growing up at the Jersey Shore involved going to our town’s grand old movie palace, The Community Theater, in Toms River. Built with colonial architecture and featuring large white columns in the front, paned glass windows in the lobby, a circular brick walk from the sidewalk to the box office, and a white picket fence which enclosed a lawn and a flower bed, this local gem presented the latest Hollywood films. For kids like us back in the 1960’s, that meant pictures like Mary Poppins, Cinderella, The Love Bug, and Flipper.










Event calendar
Thursday, Jan 24, 2019


THEATRE
"Apple Season" by E.M. Lewis @ New Jersey Repertory Company, Long Branch - 8:00pm

American Theater Group: Tell Them I’m Still Young @ South Orange Performing Arts Center (SOPAC), South Orange - 7:30pm


Some Girl(s) @ Studio Playhouse Upper Montclair, Upper Montclair - 8:00pm


MISC

Josh Gates Live! @ Mayo Performing Arts Center (MPAC), Morristown - 7:30pm

View all events










 






















For more on our awards, click here








New Jersey Stage © 2019 by Wine Time Media, LLC | PO Box 140, Spring Lake, NJ 07762 (732) 280-7625 | info@newjerseystage.com

Images used on this site have been sent to us from publicists, artists, and PR firms.
If there is a problem with the rights to any image, please contact us and we will look into the matter.