Tim Davies chats to Jazz Australia about his big band recording which spans two Continents

“The centrepiece of the album is the double big band piece (The Expensive Train Set). One of the highlights of the trip was when I brought in what I call the ‘LA stunt double big band’ at the end of our rehearsal, so I could hear the double big band piece and make sure it worked. It was tight in the room, but hearing two big bands playing at the same time was awesome.”

JK: You mention that this album is recorded with both your Melbourne and LA bands.  Can you tell us about the band’s, players in each?
TD: I formed my first band in 1996 in Melbourne. We only played 3 shows before I moved to the states. After I decided to stay in Los Angeles, I formed a band here in 2000. In both cases, I started with one or two names and numbers and just started calling them and then their friends. It has been quite a while since those calls were made and I feel really lucky that in both bands a good number of those first people are still playing with me. When I was in Melbourne I was studying and working as a tutor at Melbourne Uni, and one of the students there was Ben Northey. He has since gone on to become one of Australia’s best conductors, but at the time he was a sax player, and he suggested I call Greg Spence and Greg Clarkson. I did not know them at all, but they have since become close friends and have played every show with my Melbourne band. Then on one of my trips back I did a workshop at Blackburn High and met Andy O’Connell. He has played in the band band since then and has been a great help putting things together. One thing I find really cool is when I return now and put the band together, or sit in with Daryl McKenzie’s band, there are always a bunch of Blackburn grads that I gave workshops to or who grew up playing my music. It is due to connections with Melbourne like these that I really wanted to record there. So I came up with the idea of doing half of my new album in Melbourne and half in Los Angeles.

JK: Tell us about the logistics of recording with two different bands?
TD: As I play drums in the band, it is really hard to play and run the recording at the same time, so I actually played my drums here in LA before first. Then with all the drums done and edited, I came to Melbourne and we recorded at Oaklands Productions. The centrepiece of the album is the double big band piece (The Expensive Train Set). One of the highlights of the trip was when I brought in what I call the ‘LA stunt double big band’ at the end of our rehearsal, so I could hear the double big band piece and make sure it worked. It was tight in the room, but hearing two big bands playing at the same time was awesome. I then came back to LA and organized the sessions for the band here,  and then finally we edited and mixed. While it would have been amazing to have both bands in the same studio, that was just not possible. But thanks to technology I was able to record them in separate studios, and countries, and put it together later. My day job is spent working with bands and orchestras in the studio, so that experience helped me look out for and avoid any of the pitfalls of merging recordings made at different times, as we often record film scores like that.

The whole project took a little longer than I had hoped, about three and a half years! This was mainly due to my schedule working on movies and TV shows. My original thought when I started working here was that I would orchestrate a few movies a year, make some money and spend the rest of the time writing and playing with the big bands. Instead, I just kept getting busier and I figure I am better off doing the work now when it is offered, and I can always concentrate more on the bands later.

JK: What are the qualities of the different bands that differentiate them?
TD: Because big bands are all one player to a part, the personality of each player does come through in the playing. But the common thread that holds it together is my writing and playing. The style of the drummer has a big say in how a band sounds, so me being the drummer, leader and composer has a unifying effect on the bands. The main difference then is in the solos. One can’t say they are better in one city or the other, it is just that each band has different personalities. When I was planning the soloists, I did think a lot about whose voices I wanted to feature, and they all did an amazing job. From the Melbourne band, there are great solos from Greg Clarkson, Tony Hicks, Stuart Byrne, Andy O’Connell, Tim Wilson, Jordan Murray, Kim May and Marty Hicks.

JK: You currently live in LA, how do you find the music scene in Melbourne? And in LA?
TD: LA has a great commercial recording scene; that is almost all I do here. But for a town this size, I find the more jazz and artistic music scene to be lacking.

Melbourne is the opposite. There is not a huge amount of commercial recording, compared to LA, but the jazz and artistic scene is amazing. I love going back and going out to see great bands, and running into friends out doing the same. LA is such a huge place that it is hard to have that experience.

One thing that stands out about Melbourne is the big band scene. There are so many of them, and all types, bands that are led by writers, bands that just read for fun and bands that do a bit of everything. And the players are amazing at encouraging young composers. There are plenty of bands you can take a chart to and they will happily read it down for you and it seems like every year a new young writer comes along and forms their own band and the top guys will all show up and play it in. There is no other place like that!

I think the standard of playing in Melbourne, and Australia as a whole, is just as good as it is here. I do think the big band tradition in Australia is a little different to the one in the US. Particularly when I look at my influences in Australia, and I know they were similar to many others, they were more the bands like Daly Wilson that played in a more on top style, as opposed to the laid back style of the American bands like Basie. I certainly learnt a lot when I got my first job here working with John Clayton and the Clayton Hamilton Jazz Orchestra, which is a band in the Basie tradition. Both those bands and that style have a huge influence on my writing and playing.

JK:Do you have some touring planned in Australia?
TD: I am stuck here writing a TV show score for another few months, but I hope to get back either late in the year or early next. I also hope to play in Brisbane as well; that is my home town, but I have never done a big band gig there!

JK: Would you like to tell us about your other projects?
TD: My day job, as I like to call it, is orchestrating and conducting orchestras for movies, TV, and video games. Some of the projects I have recently worked on include Frozen, Ant-Man, Minions, Independance Day, The Peanuts Movie, Trolls and La La Land. I also arrange for albums and concerts, and somehow have become the go-to guy for hip hop, having recently arranged orchestral concerts for Nas and Kendrick Lamar. I was recently asked by Guillermo Del Toro to  score his now TV show called Trollhunters, which comes out on Netflix in December. That has become my night job!

Melbourne band:
Saxophones: Greg Clarkson, Tim Wilson, Tony Hicks, Andrew O’Connell, Stuart Byrne
Trumpets: Greg Spence, Michael Fraser, Eugene Ball, Paul Williamson, Thomas Jovanovic
Trombones: Dave Palmer, Jordan Murray, Daryl McKenzie, Matt Amy
Guitar: Jack Pantazis
Keyboards: Marty Hicks
Bass: Kim May
Drums: Tim Davies

Los Angeles band:
Saxophones: Alex Budman, Ann Paterson, Mike Nelson, Lee Secard, Ken Fisher
Trumpets: Jon Papenbrook, Rich Hofmann, Walt Simonsen, Ken Bausano, Brian Owen
Trombones: Jacques Voyemant, Kerry Loeschen, Martha Catlin, Steve Hughes
Guitar: Mark Cally
Keyboards: Alan Steinberger