Ghostband's Jon Davis forges his own experimental path

Ghostband's Jon Davis paves the way for a new era of improvisational performances
Tony Nelson

Little did Fat Kid Wednesdays and friends know that the amazing celebration that was their pre-New Year's Jazz Implosion would be the end of their 12-year Monday-night residency in the Turf Club's Clown Lounge. That night they hosted several jazz artists from the Twin Cities, California, and New York. Such collaborations with numerous top-notch local and global jazz musicians are part of what make Fat Kid Wednesdays wholly extraordinary—this and their mad improvisational jazz skills, developed over the 18 years they've been friends and performed together.

Without the Clown Lounge basement "home," FKW are now taking a breath and freely exploring performing in other spaces. One such is the7th St. Entry this Wednesday for Ghostband's Verdical cassette-release celebration, will sit in for saxophonist Michael Lewis for FKW's set. Metzger is a frequent FKW guest, and one of the innumerable musicians they hosted and collaborated with over 12 years in the Clown Lounge.

All three exemplary and versatile musicians, Fat Kid Wednesdays consider the people they work with more important than the genres they bounce between. Lewis and drummer JT Bates play in rock band Alpha Consumer (who just released a new CD, Kick Drugs Out of America), and Bates is a percussionist for several bands, including Marijuana Deathsquads, James Buckley Trio, Brian Nichol's quintet, and reggae band New Primitives.

"This city is the most beautiful thing," says Bates. "The scene is not giant. I find people who strive for honesty in music. The cool thing here is finding the kind of humans I connect with, from hip hop to folk."

Lewis also seeks and finds sincerity in music locally. "There's an honesty and earnest intent in this community," agrees Lewis, who also performs with Dosh, Andrew Bird, and Fog. "I feel fortunate to get to tour, and play in town. When I come home, I know why it feels like home. It has the accoutrement of a big city and the feel of a small town."

Ultimately, Fat Kid Wednesdays cultivated and grew their music together since they were, well, kids. Lewis and bass player Adam Linz met in jazz camp when they were 15. Bates met and joined them when he was 17. "It's grown in a really organic way, as it does with people who care about it," says Bates. "Being close friends and in a band together for 18 years—the amount of trust and openness we developed grew. There's a feeling of coming home when we get together and play."

Recently departed Turf Club manager Dave Weigardt was instrumental in Fat Kid Wednesdays' growth over the years of the Monday Jazz Implosions. Weigardt enthusiastically accepted Bates's request 12 years ago to play the Clown Lounge, and the first record they made was live at the club.

"The Clown Lounge thing was an unmatched opportunity," says Bates. "It was a community that worked. Several people would attend their shows every week. It was not only us—it was the local and out-of-town musicians, and hundreds of people, who came every week, even in blizzards and rainstorms."

For now, FKW are going to take some time and play more shows in different places. "We want to do it right and find a place that feels like home," says Bates. "We were able to grow at the Clown Lounge. Finding a place to grow more would be good. That's important to us all. Dave [Weigardt] was very open to that."

"Having a room like that, playing our favorite music and working out new compositions...something that expansive, and how much growing up I did there as a person and musician, was an incredible gift," says Lewis.

FKW's community-minded influence has spread to others over the years, including Jon Davis, who performs as Ghostband. Davis says his music as Ghostband really began six years ago, when Bates gave him a Dr. Sample/SP-202 sampler. He began sampling himself and beats that he made, and then started Ghostband—a reference to jazz bands that continue playing after a member has died—"at a time when I was healing, myself," he explains. "I sort of did feel like a ghost."

Davis's music is improvisational, with a focus on a "real performance." He limits his instrumentation to a drum machine and looping and delay pedals, and doesn't include prerecorded material. "It was sound collages," he says. "Now I've moved on, by experimenting, to a path. Now it's a process, like a game with rules and limitations; those lead toward creativity."

Davis grew up in upstate New York and has a degree in philosophy. He notes that "philosophically, my music is a culture referencing and re-appropriating culture with improv and free jazz. Minimalism is more important to me now." There are elements of African and trance music, with repetition and subtle variations of repetitions.

In addition to a wide variety of musical influences, from Dosh to Run DMC and Dr. Dre to various dub artists, Davis notes, "I also liked Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd; they had trippy and weird music." He uses a circuit-bending pedal, which adds to the element of chance in his music. "I'm using a minimal amount of equipment to make a maximum amount of sounds," he explains.

Davis's music is minimalist but expressive. For him, the music is "a valuing of the creative act over the creative product. The process is grounded in being alive, in Minneapolis, Minnesota. I'm part of the world and an expression of the world. There's a magic to our lives. The ultimate value of our lives is never far from us."

Meeting kindred spirits, such as local artists Dosh and FKW, has been highly inspiring to Davis, who attended FKW's Jazz Implosions regularly over the past 12 years. He says the decision to invite FKW to play his cassette-release show was easy. "You want your friends to be a part," he says. "There's a lot of overlap in the Twin Cities between the electronic scene and the jazz improvisers.... When you release something like this, you see people grow and develop."

GHOSTBAND play a cassette-release show with Fat Kid Wednesdays and Brett Bullion on WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 26, at the 7th ST. ENTRY; 612.332.1775

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7th St. Entry

701 1st Ave. N.
Minneapolis, MN 55403-1327


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