Freedom and expression. These are the things that matter most to Billie Davies, who has used the drums as a means to express herself freely for more than 40 years now.
For Davies, seeking freedom is a purpose, a way of life. It stems from her days among bohemian communities in southern France, living in a DIY RV and playing music in the streets, where she shaped her chops early on, playing by herself or along manouche and blues musicians.
There is no formal schooling in Davies’ playing—her technique she built playing around different places and different people. She moved from the heavy, fast swing of the gypsy music she practiced in France, to the more modern struts of the cool bop scene in the U.S., managing to crunch in a transitional phase in Greece, where she played what she amusingly refers to as “their sexy music.”
The freedom she sought in life, she found in black American music and the jazz tradition. Davies’ great interest in the ECM record label led her to discover the freedom in American improvised music, which she tracked all the way to the U.S. West Coast. Her fresh, intuitive and unrestricted approach to the drums earned her the sympathy of free jazz musicians playing weekly jams in little hole-in-the-walls in run-down areas of San Francisco. These experiences are what she considers to be her school. They are just as valuable to her expressivity as the learning experiences of playing with heavy cats like Leroy Vinegar in Portland or John Handy in San Francisco.
Today, Davies feels she has come full circle. She likes to compare the bohemian communities of New Orleans with what she encountered in Montpellier in the 1980s, and she’s back living in an RV and playing her own music. A regular guest at the New Orleans Jazz Museum at the U.S. Mint, the drummer keeps building new projects, always bringing in new elements while keeping a tight base of loyal nonconformist musicians and a fixed objective. The form and texture of the music are always malleable, but the music itself has to be natural, organic, or as Davies calls it, “edible.”
After releasing a record that featured vocals as well as synthesizers and electronic elements—a new one for the drummers’ previous acoustic tendencies—Billie Davies’ latest venture in expression combined her regular trio with Evan Oberla on piano and Oliver Watkinson on bass, with the sound of reedman Ari Kohn and Allie Porter’s spoken word. The project, entitled Perspectives, was revived for a second chapter at the Art Klub, this time with the addition of two vocalists, as well as two dancers. An opportunity for more ways of expression—more perspectives if you will—to meet and be used to communicate organically, rhythmically, freely.