Caroline DavisFirst the Chicago scene, then New York, Caroline Davis keeps busy. From free improv to r&b, taking in any number of jazz permutations along the way, Davis is not only versatile but thoughtful, considered, spiritual even, and pleasingly unpredictable in her playing and composition.

1. What’s your ‘guilty’ listening pleasure? (i.e. something you listen to in secret?)
I don’t know if I would consider this a secret, but someone who I’ve been listening to lately that was very much a part of my childhood years is Steve Winwood. I loved Higher Love and Back in the High Life when I was a little girl – I was 5 when that album came out! And currently digging back to listen to as much of his oeuvre as I can find – Traffic, Blind Faith, even earlier stuff with The Spencer Davis Group, Eric Clapton and the Powerhouse, and Muddy Waters. He was a great organ player in addition to his soulful voice, which was what attracted me in the first place.

PH-247, Clyfford Still (1951) © City and County of Denver

2. What are your non-musical influences:
Recently I’ve been thinking more specifically about the relationship between art and jazz – I know many people have considered this before (Kandinsky comes to mind), but it’s getting personal now! My biggest influence is Clyfford Still, and in 2011 I visited the museum in Denver, Colorado, while I was on a short tour there with a guitar player from Chicago (Andrew Trim). I went by myself, which I absolutely love to do, because it allows me to really be with each painting without worrying about much else. There’s a striking print there titled “PH-247,” and I must’ve sat and looked at that painting for almost 30 minutes. While I was there I heard a melody that eventually became a song that I used to close out my sets with my band in Chicago. I’m hoping to expand that into an album of songs inspired by his works.

3. How do you bridge the gap between composition and performance?
I was literally just talking to Oscar Noriega about this last night. He’s a great musician who I first met in Chicago, but since I moved to New York, I’ve been seeing him a lot more around town. We were saying that you have to consciously set aside writing time for writing – it’s like having a plant – you have to nurture it, water it, give it sunlight. It takes a few days for that process to settle in, it’s like you put up a fight at first, but then the ideas come so fast! I’m working on that conscious part of writing now, so that it becomes a bit of a ritual for me.

4. What superstitions or rituals do you have? (around performance, recording, everyday life?)
Recently a trio I’m in (Whirlpool) performed a couple times with Ron Miles, and I saw him hold his cornet close and say something to himself. I looked away because it seemed like an intimate moment, but it made me seriously think about saying something to myself every time I play. So I’ve been doing it – I don’t say the same thing every time, but I have been giving thanks that I can do this for a living. I think it’s important to bring myself back to the source every time I play – it will ground me, make me feel grateful even if I’m not always satisfied with my playing.

5. What’s the one quality you think every musician must have?
I think, relating to the previous question, that we should all be humble in the face of music. It’s stronger than us in the best of ways, it will always tell us what it needs if we listen, and at the end of the day, we are honoring that through our talents.

6. Where do you stand on the streaming/downloading/file-sharing/musicians-not-getting-paid-for-their-music debate?
I strongly believe that artists should get paid for their music, so if I can help it, I would like to take my music off of those streaming services. I think the climate is changing now, and companies might change their tune if enough people pull their music. It seems to be a top-down process right now, but the smaller, DIY artists have more power than they think (myself included), especially if we stand our ground.

7. What’s next? (musically, geographically, recording, tours, ensembles, anything…)
Whirlpool just released our 2nd album, called Dancing on the Inside, and we’ve been doing lots of great shows to celebrate that release. My own quartet album will be released on November 6th, and I have some shows in the works to honor that. In the near future, I have some exciting performances coming up – 3 in New York and 3 in Chicago. I’ll be playing with my R&B band, Maitri, at a new venue in Bedstuy, C’mon Everybody on August 10th, with my own quartet on August 15th at Why Not Jazz Cafe, premiering some new music; and then again with Maitri at Rockwood Music Hall on Sept 7th, Labor Day. In Chicago, I’ll be at the Made in Chicago series in Millennium Park (August 27th) with a group that is re-imagining Max Roach and Oscar Brown Jr.’s We Insist! album with current political undertones; then at the Chicago Jazz Festival headlining with the Chicago Jazz Orchestra (September 4th); and finally with our own collaborative trio + Ron Miles at the Hyde Park Jazz Festival (September 26th). Lots of things happening, and I’m grateful for it all.

Whirlpool’s Dancing on the Inside is available from Bandcamp.