Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music
DAVIES, John R.T.
(b John Ross Twiston Davies, 20 March '27, Wivelsfield Sussex; b 25 May 2004) Jazz multi-instrumentalist, discographer, engineer. He played drums in school, fumbled with a guitar during army service late '40s, worked with George Melly, Mick Mulligan and others, taking up trombone '49, alto sax '54. He played trombone with Cy Laurie, Sandy Brown, Acker Bilk and others. Then he was asked to write arrangements for a group of Chelsea College students who were multi-instrumentalists but could not read music very well. He devised a style for The Temperance Seven '59-68 which was polite and very English, not as raucous as the other 'trad' bands then popular in Britain. Davies wrote himself into the arrangements, calling himself Sheik Wadi El Yadounir and wearing a fez. Their records were produced by George Martin at EMI, soon to become famous with the Beatles, who was suspicious of 'You're Driving Me Crazy' because it was over four minutes long, while most pop singles were not much over two, but it was their biggest hit, a UK no. 1 '61. They appeared in films including It's Trad Dad! (Richard Lester's first feature). Davies also played with the Anglo-American Alliance '67-72 and the New Paul Whiteman Orchestra '74-5 (see Dick Sudhalter) and others; he led his own band in the '90s called John R. T.'s Gentle Jazz. His Rhythmic Five (with Keith Nichols on piano) backed Jimmy Noone Jr on Jimmy Remembers Jimmie '85 on Stomp Off; he played elegant and gently swinging alto sax on four tracks on Dick Sudhalter And His London Friends '94 on Challenge.
Davies had started his own label '49, called Ristic, which was his own nickname as a youngster, and his name became familiar to jazz fans as that of one of the leading transfer engineers. His work restoring old 78s for CD reissues is still the best there is, on various small labels all over the world. On Collector's Classics: Jimmie Noone, Luis Russell, Earl Hines piano solos complete to 1940, four volumes of Henry Allen, etc. On Frog: Johnny Dodds, Dixieland Jug Blowers, Clarence Williams, others. On Hep: six volumess of Teddy Wilson, Henry Allen and Coleman Hawkins '33, Chick Webb, Teddy Hill, Woody Herman's V-Discs, three volumes each of Larry Clinton and early Artie Shaw, much more. Releases on Forte and Jazz Oracle included a three-CD set of all 65 Fletcher Henderson tracks with Louis Armstrong. On Retrieval, the complete 1923 King Oliver Creole Jazz Band on a two-CD set and 24 early Jelly Roll Morton piano solos are examples of Davies's work with acoustic recordings which has to be heard to be believed; also the Spike Hughes and Benny Carter 1933 New York sessions, others. On Timeless there is the complete Willie 'The Lion' Smith and his Cubs, Red McKenzie, Eddie Condon, Tiny Parham, many more. Too much work to list here included over 20 compilations of New York, Chicago and regional jazz including rare territory bands, mostly on Frog and Timeless. His work was featured in the Marshall Cavendish part-work magazine series Jazz Giants in the mid-'90s, each issue with a 'free' CD; new work '97 on Masters of Jazz included 'complete' series of Sidney Bechet and Duke Ellington.
In poor health, he was said to have played a gig as late as 9 May 2004, which he described as a wake for himself. He is gone but not forgotten.