Sep 04, 2014 - Keyboard Extravaganza






            How many piano players does it take to create a Keyboard Extravaganza?

            When you've got the kind of talent that's gracing the Jazz Depot stage Sunday, the answer is three.

            While Scott McQuade is a familiar presence at the Depot, not only as a soloist but also with vocalists and groups (including, most recently, his all-star band Left Side Right, Right Side Left), and Willie Davis and David Smith are making their Jazz Depot debuts with this show, all three are veteran pianists with tons of touring and performing experience.

            McQuade is a Canadian who moved to Tulsa in 2008, almost immediately becoming a fixture on the local jazz scene. In between, he lived in Florida for more than a decade, where his performing experience included a number of stints on cruise ships. His debut solo CD, Life Couldn't be Better, came out in 2005; five years later, the Random House book The New Face of Jazz included him in its group of outstanding contemporary jazz players.

            For Sunday, he says, he'll do a lot of the “American songbook-type stuff” Jazz Depot patrons enjoy. He's also thinking strongly about giving the audience a one-of-a-kind, never-to-be-duplicated experience.

            “You know how [jazz pianist] Keith Jarrett does a whole improvised thing in his concerts?” he asks. “I think that's what I'm going to try. I don't think I've ever done that before, but I've always wanted to.”

            Of course, improvisation is a part of jazz, but this is a whole different ballgame. It'll be complete improvisation, he explains, without any chord patterns or melodic structure as a launching point.

            “No, when it's time to do that particular number, I'll just kind of start and see where it goes. I don't know if that's how Keith Jarrett does it, or other people do it, but I'm not going to go out there with any sort of form or progression. I'm just going to try to make it as off-the-cuff as possible.

            “I've done this in group situations,” he adds. “I used to host a jam session in Florida on Monday nights, and every second or third one we'd end the night with a free-jazz kind of piece. Mind you, this was like at one-thirty in the morning after who knows how many drinks.” He laughs. “Most of the time it just didn't work, but when it did – oh, man, it was really magical.”

            Willie Davis came to Tulsa from his native Detroit in the '80s with the intention of attending Oral Roberts University. But before he could start classes, he was discovered by well-known Tulsa preacher and musician Carlton Pearson, who made Davis a worship pastor at his Higher Dimensions Evangelistic Center.

            “A lot of people will remember me from my time playing the keyboards there,” he says. “Then, I went on the road with [contemporary-Christian vocalist and evangelist] Carman. From that, people all over the world got to know me as Wild Willie on the keys.”

            After traveling a while with his own ministry, he became worship pastor at St. James Methodist Church in Tulsa. He also began teaching a piano course he designed called The Art of Accompaniment,  which helps classically trained musicians learn improvisational techniques. That's how he met the producer of Sunday's program, Amy Cottingham.

            “So she knows how I play and trusts me to play,” Davis says with a chuckle.

            For his portion of the program, he adds, “I'm going to do all gospel. I've been known to jazz it up pretty good – I'm a jazz pianist in church, so to speak – and when I was growing up I used to get into trouble, because, for the most part, they wanted you to play it straight. I was young, and I didn't know how to harness it or to be tasteful with it.

            “So the music that I'll be doing Sunday,” he adds, “will be from a creative person who plays from the perspective of hymns, but always puts a unique twist on them.” 

            David Smith is an incredible musician, and will plan to perform in the jazz and gospel styles Sunday.  David loves improvising and just seeing what comes in the moment, and will include Inspiration in the Moment, a completely improvised selection.  He is the Children’s Choir director, associate director of worship, and director of the gospel choir at All Souls Unitarian Church in Tulsa, Ok.  He has produced several projects for Carlton Pearson, playing piano for him and many other preachers throughout the US.   David has a bachelors degree in compositions and a masters degree in church music.  David and Willie knew each other and played together back in Detroit and are looking forward to playing together Sunday for the first time in many years.

                The Keyboard Extravaganza with Willie Davis, Scott McQuade and David Smith, produced by Amy Cottingham, is set to begin at 5 p.m. Sunday, September 7, at the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame, located in downtown Tulsa’s Jazz Depot, 111 E. First St.

            Tickets can be purchased at the Depot, from, or by calling Bettie Downing at 918-281-8609. General admission is $15, reserved table seating $20. Seniors and Jazz Hall members are admitted for $10, and high school and junior high students for $5.  Refreshments will be available for purchase.

            The show is the first in the Jazz Hall’s 2014 Autumn Concert Series.

            The Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame is a 501(c)(3) non-profit cultural and educational organization, with a mission to inspire creativity and improve the quality of life for all Oklahomans through preservation, education, and performance of jazz, our uniquely American art form.