“My inspiration growing up was Billy Eckstine and Nat King Cole,” says jazz singer Jesse Davis, whose first solo gig in Las Vegas came courtesy of a recommendation from Frank Sinatra.
“I’ve been compared to them all, including Al Jarreau and Johnny Mathis. My voice is different from all of those terrific artists — when people make a comparison, I think they’re referring to the musical style.”
Davis moved from L.A. to San Diego in 1970 and began performing at Shifty’s and the Hotel del Coronado, with later residencies at the Atlantis, the Town and Country Hotel, Villani’s Restaurant, the Mission Valley Inn, Anthony’s Harborside, and the La Costa Country Club.
“My wife teases that I’ve never had a real job, except for two weeks at a Cheesecake Factory. I only work four hours or less at a time, I get to take breaks and have cocktails, and I socialize on the job.”
In 2008, the San Diego African American Musician Heritage Foundation inducted Davis into its Hall of Fame, placing him among other lauded locals such as Charles McPherson, Fro Brigham, Hollis Gentry III, and Carl Evans Jr., whose first public singing performance came at the urging of Davis.
Davis is currently based in Mission Valley and fronts Jesse Davis & the Soul of Jazz (named after his 2003 album on Showtime Records). He hosts an internet radio show at groovinu.com that airs Saturday mornings, and his duets album It’s About Love, with frequent singing partner Darci Daniels, debuts with a performance at Anthology on October 28.
WHAT’S IN YOUR MUSIC PLAYER?
“I still have a tendency to listen to the artists that inspired me, such as Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald, and Carmen McRae, but I also like many of the current artists like Christina Aguilera, who has a great voice.”
BEST CONCERT YOU’VE SEEN?
“The concert that cemented my resolve to become a professional singer was Billy Eckstine. He was so well dressed and smooth as silk. I remember asking a girl to dance, and she turned to me with an incredulous look and said, ‘Are you crazy? Billy is singing!’ Other girls were in tears, listening to him sing a romantic ballad. Right then and there I thought, This is what I want to do.”
1) “Betty Ford came to see me perform in Palm Springs and said she would bring the president back another time. I didn’t think that would happen, but she did. On a break, I was taken to their table to chat with them. When they got up to leave — prearranged with the Secret Service — Mrs. Ford announced she would not leave until she had a dance with me. Now, that made me nervous, wondering how the president was going to react. But he was great.”
2) “I got to attend a recording session of Ella Fitzgerald with Duke Ellington and went to the Duke’s hotel afterwards for an informal get-together. He was one of the most impressive men I’ve ever met.”
3) “I performed in England last year for the first time. They’re very passionate about their music and are very loyal fans.”
SONGS THAT BEST DESCRIBE YOUR LIFE?
1) “‘What the World Needs Now Is Love,’ made famous by Jackie DeShannon. I knew Jackie, and that song is even more meaningful now than it was then.”
2) “The song that would represent my career would be ‘I Am a Singer,’ made famous by Frankie Laine and Jack Jones. The line at the end says it all: ‘I do this for a living, but more important yet, the fun is in the giving, and you’re lucky if you get to be a singer.’”
3) “One that relates to my personal life with my wife Diane is ‘I’m Glad There Is You,’ written by Jimmy Dorsey and Paul Madeira: ‘In this world of overrated pleasures, of underrated treasures, I’m so glad there is you.’”
SINATRA OR BENNETT?
“In the early stages of their careers, I would say Bennett. He had a pure voice, and he was more controlled. But after a few years, I think Sinatra’s voice matured and got richer, so that they were then on an equal, but different, plane.”
OLD SONGS TOO EMBARRASSING TO SING NOW?
“When I was working in Acapulco, which I did three months a year in the mid-1970s, I used to sing ‘Candy Man’ by Sammy Davis Jr., because it was a big crowd-pleaser at the time.”
WHO SHOULD PLAY YOU IN A MOVIE?
“I wish that I could’ve played Sammy Davis Jr. in a movie. If I could choose someone to play me, maybe Jamie Foxx or Ne-Yo.”■