In addition to performing traditional recitals, concertos with orchestra, and chamber music, John tours with five unique, theatrically-driven, programs: Will the Real Thomas Wiggins Please Stand Up!; The John Davis Caravan: Standing At the Crossroads; Halley’s Comet: Around the Piano with Mark Twain & John Davis; Just Before Jazz: African American-Influenced Piano Music of the Gilded Age; and Bamboula! Black Music Before the Blues, all outgrowths of his lifelong immersion in African American culture of the Deep South.
WILL THE REAL THOMAS WIGGINS PLEASE STAND UP!
Conceived, written, and performed by John, Will the Real Thomas Wiggins Please Stand Up! is a one-man, multi-media, theatrical concert featuring the charming and historically-evocative music of the Georgia slave pianist/composer, Thomas Wiggins, more popularly known as “Blind Tom.” Blending live performances by John of Tom’s piano works with a host of theatrical elements — projected video images, pre-recorded firsthand accounts by those who crossed paths with Blind Tom, stage lighting, supplementary music, and John’s own verbal commentary, Will the Real Thomas Wiggins Please Stand Up! retraces John’s personal quest to unlock the mysteries of Wiggins’ controversial life and career.
THE JOHN DAVIS CARAVAN: STANDING AT THE CROSSROADS
Another outgrowth of John’s career on the cusp between classical music and the blues has been The John Davis Caravan: Standing At the Crossroads, John’s nightclub show of “roots” American piano works influenced by Deep Southern Black culture. In a nod to Ray Charles, James Brown, Bobby “Blue” Bland, Little Milton, Z.Z. Hill, Denise LaSalle, Marvin Sease, and Bobby Rush, just some of the legendary performers John has seen firsthand in the series of predominantly-Black nightclubs and theaters that still flourish in the Deep South, Standing At the Crossroads adopts many of the flamboyant, evocative performance rituals common to all Chitlin’ Circuit revues. Be ready to be confronted by piped-in pre- and post-show historic soul-blues recordings by many of the Circuit’s major figures; a loud-mouthed, fast-talking emcee; and hilarious interchanges between John, the emcee, and the audience, all serving as a cultural backdrop to the blues-inflected piano music that is being performed. By set’s conclusion, Standing At the Crossroads has achieved an effect typically associated with all Chitlin’ Circuit shows: a musical experience that, despite its artifice, is both evocative and entertaining, and, at its core, deeply moving.
AROUND THE PIANO WITH MARK TWAIN & JOHN DAVIS
An extension of John’s Newport Classic CD of the same name, Halley’s Comet: Around the Piano with Mark Twain & John Davis pays musical tribute to 19th-century America’s most famous author, Mark Twain, and the writer’s love of African American music and musicians of his era. On the program, John will perform pieces from the CD with connections to Twain — by Beethoven, Schubert, Felix Kraemer, Ossip Gabrilowitsch, Blind Boone, and Blind Tom, interspersed with the pianist’s own readings of often hilarious, sometimes appalling, and always fascinating quotations from Twain and his contemporaries.
JUST BEFORE JAZZ:
AFRICAN-AMERICAN PARLOR MUSIC OF THE GILDED AGE
In a program premiered in 2016 at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York in connection
with the hallowed institution’s critically-acclaimed exhibit, “Artistic Furniture of the Gilded Age,” John will perform 19th-century parlor music by some of the Gilded Age’s busiest and most celebrated African-American-inspired pianist/composers. Largely forgotten today, these American roots music pioneers greatly influenced the development of jazz, rhythm & blues, and rock ‘n roll to come. Expect to hear works by, among others, Louis Moreau Gottschalk, Blind Tom, Blind Boone, and Jelly Roll Morton.
BAMBOULA! BLACK MUSIC BEFORE THE BLUES
EXHIBITION OF EARLY PRINTED MUSICAL AFRICAN AMERICANA, CONCEIVED AND CURATED BY JOHN DAVIS
First mounted in 2017 at Brown University’s esteemed John Hay Library, Bamboula! Black Music Before the Blues comes at a particularly fraught moment in American history. With the “Black Lives Matter” movement still simmering after Barack Obama’s two terms in office and during one of the most racially-charged presidencies in history, this exhibition is an in-depth and authoritative survey of the African American roots of popular music and show business in the United States. On display are seminal and visually arresting printed artifacts, all drawn from John’s personal archive, of the shared African- and European-based musical tradition established in colonial America, a cultural synthesis that continues to shape our nation’s identity. These first flowerings of the trans-oceanic dynamic triggered by the African slave trade, often referred to as the “Black Atlantic,” played a foundational role in the development of jazz, rhythm & blues, and rock ‘n roll, and initiated a set of structural parameters and comedic archetypes that have become hallmarks of the American performing arts in theater, film, radio and television. Accompanying the exhibition are related concerts and symposia.