The artist Steinway International native of Davenport returns to Quebec for his first concert in six years
The next Polyrhythms Third Sunday Jazz Series concert at Davenport’s Redstone Room will be a true United Nations of peace, love, music, art and harmony.
Internationally acclaimed pianist, singer and songwriter Byron “BK” Davis will perform from 5 pm to 7 pm on Sunday, October 17 at the Redstone (129 Main St., Davenport), with guitarist Rick Kislia, saxophonist David Sharp, bassist Brent- Anthony Johnson, keyboardist Kellen Myers, percussionist Wes Julian and guest singer Natalja Sticco.
The jovial, kind-hearted, 62-year-old Davenport native (and international artist from Steinway), Davis is delighted to be returning to the Redstone Room, where he hasn’t performed for six years. “I’m really looking forward to it,” he said. “We have a variety of styles – international styles. When I did concerts in Egypt, Japan and Canada, I had the opportunity to see performances of different styles, and it’s really interesting to see how the international community appreciates art.
Davis incorporated many of his travels around the world in music into his songs, reflecting this variety of cultures and languages. A song is done half in Spanish and half in English. Another, on dance, is very Middle Eastern and has a verse in Arabic.
Sunday’s program will feature 14 compositions from its catalog, many with an Afro-Hispanic flavor, and some songs reflect rumbas and bossa nova. Davis will perform a duet with Natalja Sticco on her “Let Me Comfort You”, with verses in English and Russian. Connected through her fellow guitarist Greg Smith, she first did the duet during an April “JAM Session” Joy Avenue Media aired online.
Davis did the first verse in her language and she did the same in her language, and they got together at the end to sing in English.
“I really like the international touch,” said Davis (who also lived in the Central American country of Belize) recently. “I think it’s just fascinating, because you see this young opera singer. She is well known in the field of opera and she sings one of my compositions – no one expects to hear Russian. She just did a superb job.
“It has its own appeal,” he said. “I have an eclectic taste for music, but also linguistics, because when you hear her sing, it sounds like Russian and she’s so expressive in everything – her singing and her performance.”
Sticco – a Latvian-born soprano who has lived with her husband in Boston, Massachusetts, since 2018 – has performed for seven seasons (2009-2017), with the Latvian National Opera and Ballet Choir and has appeared in operas across Europe.
“I guess the idea of an opera singer performing a jazz song in Russian is about as unique as it gets,” Sticco said via email Monday. “I had been working on another jazz track with Greg, a cover of ‘Cry Me a River’, and I was interested in exploring jazz as a vocal genre, so this collaboration was a great experience. learning for me.
“From our first chat on the phone, I could just feel BK’s warmth and kindness; and the power of his authenticity as a person and an artist comes through even more in person, ”she said. “He sent me the song, which I recorded in Russian in my home studio, sent it back and he loved the result. Then it was just the vocal duet arrangement when we got together just before performing it for the first time.
“BK and all the musicians he had on this performance were so generous and welcoming,” Sticco said. “It was an absolute pleasure working with them and a personally enriching experience in terms of what I learned about jazz. The worlds of opera and classical music in general are much more regulated and strict in terms of the latitude you have as an individual artist to perform with lyrics.
“The art of opera lies in your ability, as a singer, to maintain the legacy and intention of the composer or librettist,” she said. “It’s truly the only art form where audiences experience a piece of musical history as it would have been originally performed 100 or more years ago.
“With BK, I learn the fluidity of jazz performance as you bring in what you feel about the piece today, or even in the moment, and take the audience on this journey with you,” a added Sticco.
“I am delighted to be returning to Davenport and delighted to be playing with BK again,” she said. “Overall, I’m grateful for the encouragement, the mentorship from BK and these opportunities to explore music that I probably wouldn’t have had the same way otherwise.”
Attracted by music, art and Burlington
Davis – who has been a Steinway International Artist since 2012, the first African-American artist of his kind in Iowa – lives in Burlington, Iowa (after many years in Gulfport Beach, Florida). He has spent much of the past 18 months writing new music, which he performs in what he calls an “Invisible Secret Concert Series,” which debuted in November 2020 and included the JAM session of the April 10, 2021.
“The pandemic has given me a wonderful opportunity to write music, to compose, to arrange,” Davis said last spring. “I have a ton of music that I wrote.”
“For all of us who are living with coronavirus around the world, we need something to hold onto, to give us direction in a time without direction,” he said. “We need reassurance – we all need it. We need to know that it’s going to be okay. We need inspiration. This is the object of the series of invisible secret concerts: positivity, a positive message.
“It’s a question of concentration. When the world spins around us so fast we just can’t seem to find our balance, ”said Davis. “We need to focus and we need something fixed that will anchor us.”
Davis had given concerts in Burlington and fell in love with the waterfront community.
“I’m drawn to Burlington – it’s like something attracted me there, like a magnet,” he said. “This area really touches me. I was born and educated here in Davenport… I love Burlington. It is a good basis.
Another international artist has made Burlington home – Cecile Houel, who met Davis a few years ago and recently painted her portrait, which will be featured at the Redstone concert. It will be available for sale and Davis would like to see it finish in an African-American museum.
“We have a lot of musical surprises coming up,” he said of the varied program. “The message I’m trying to get across in this concert is that we can enjoy an international assortment of music, melody and language – right here in Iowa. Also exciting for me is this beautiful portrait that Cécile made. I’m tickled with red.
“Art is something that is universal – it’s something that can bring us together,” Houel said recently. “There is nothing that makes me happier than seeing people come together. “
“Coming together for one purpose which is positive,” she said. “The purpose of my collection is not the art itself, but what it represents. It allows me to bring people together, to talk and to reflect on what peace is for us. What can we do on a daily basis to create a better world? I don’t have a television; I refuse to watch the news. I refuse to be caught; in the daily drama.
Convinced that art can contribute to peace in the world, the 57-year-old Frenchwoman launched in 2014 the “Nobel Peace Prize Collection: Peace Begins Inside” to celebrate all the Nobel Prize winners of the peace of the prestigious Nobel Foundation since 1901.
Dividing his time between Iowa and France, Houel paints large personalized portraits of famous laureates to honor their will and dedication to creating a better world with strength, courage and creativity.
Each character, of international renown or subject to controversy, has brought his light and contributed to the evolution of humanity. Last year, Houel exhibited six Nobel Peace Prize laureates at the Quad City Arts gallery and the Quad Cities International Airport.
10 other paintings from the “Nobel Peace Prize Collection: Peace Begins Inside” were on display at the Beréskin Gallery in Bettendorf from August 28 to October 28, 2020. Houel showed some of the portraits in his Fort Madison studio and Burlington Art. Center (she lives in Burlington).
She met her ex-husband, an artist from Burlington, who came to Giverny, France for a big pastel show, and they got married in France. Houel moved to Iowa in 2008 and spends three months a year in Paris, where his three children and a grandchild live.
Houel is working on other portrait commissions and has so far completed 21 of his Nobel portraits. “It’s a lifelong project,” she said, noting that she is also working with writers on a book on the Nobel Peace Prize, and potentially a documentary. “It’s exciting.”
First live concert in over two years
The last time Davis performed in person for the people was last April for the “Piano Celebration” at the NorthPark Mall in Davenport, for the Ronald McDonald House. His last official concert in person was with the Southeast Iowa Symphony Orchestra in Ottumwa in September 2019.
BK plays over a dozen instruments, including piano, guitar, organ and drums in idioms spanning jazz, R&B, gospel, soul and pop. He wrote musical themes and jingles for the Boy Scouts of America and an Indianapolis 500 race, and has conducted choirs throughout the Midwest and West Coast.
Davis has performed or toured with BB King, Billy Preston and the late soul legend Johnnie Taylor. He co-wrote original music with rock and roll legend Little Richard, as well as McFadden and Whitehead.
To be an international Steinway artist – among the likes of Billy Joel, Elton John, Diana Krall and Lang Lang – is a true honor, which means more than just playing on the preeminent brand of Steinway pianos, Davis said.
“You must have played and / or recorded on Steinways worldwide. Another is that you have to have a lot of works, ”he said of the original compositions. “You are controlled all over the world. “
“Before 2012, honestly, I had a lot of bookings, I was booked all the time and I was actively going out and looking for bookings or signing with a production company,” Davis said. “Once I became a Steinway International Artist, Iowa’s first African-American artist – which it did for me, I never really had to look for a job. This is honest truth to God. I have performed in Steinway concert halls all over the country.
After Sunday’s Redstone Room show at 8 p.m. there will be a workshop / jam session at The Spot, 1611 2nd Ave, Rock Island. Admission to the Redstone concert is $ 15, and more information and reservations are available by calling 309-373-0790 or visiting www.polyrhythms.org.