This is a story about passion, joy and enthusiasm. It is a story of war and rebirth. This is a story of uplifting and empowering through music. It is a story about philosophy and mission statements. This is a story about bowties and astrophysics. It is a story of coloring books and getting fit. This is a story of a man and his guitar. But primarily, it is a story of exploration and self-discovery. This is the story of Drew Davidsen and his fifth album, “TRUE DREW.”
Spend a few minutes talking to Davidsen and before you know it, a few hours have gone by. The man exudes joie de vie and his excitement is invigorating. In less than five years, he has completely changed and remade his life. He lopped off his hippy hair and scruffy beard, dropped a lot of weight and has gotten into the best shape of his life. Over the course of his first four albums, he has meticulously developed his technical proficiency, carefully honing his guitar voice and cultivating a fan base via radio favorites like “Astro” and dynamic concert performances. With “TRUE DREW,” his most vividly-realized album to date, he has recorded the collection that promises to propel him in his mission to join the galaxy of contemporary jazz guitar greats.
Telescopes, Baptism and Going Solo
Dr. Arthur F. Davidsen was an astrophysicist at Johns Hopkins University who examined life using the NASA-funded Hopkins Ultraviolet Telescope (HUT) that he designed and built. His son, Drew, examines life through his guitar. A passionate jazz fan, the late scientist pushed and encouraged his son to study the jazz masters. While the senior Davidsen imbibed straight-ahead jazz, his scion uses improvisation as the foundation on which he constructs a modern mélange of contemporary jazz sheen, funky R&B grooves, soulful blues-rock riffs and gospel inflections.
“My dad loved great music. He used to take me down to (Baltimore’s) Pier 6 to see jazz legends perform,” Drew recollected. “He didn’t take no for an answer. He was a great influence.”
Sporadically playing the guitar as a child, Drew initially focused on the cello, but in 8th grade “I turned my cello sideways and became a bass player.” After playing in a rock band (Aces) while in high school, he took a break from music before joining the Navy. While at boot camp, he bought a cheap guitar and taught himself to play by emulating blues legends such as Buddy Guy and John Lee Hooker. He worked on torpedoes while deployed in Iraq during Operation Desert Storm. Davidsen decided to get baptized.
“I got dunked in the Jordan River and when I came out, I immediately started hearing melodies differently. I discovered George Benson’s ‘Breezin’’ album and it proved to become a seminal influence,” Davidsen recalled.
After his military service, he returned to Maryland where he was born, raised and still resides. He taught music to preschoolers and joined the Richard Walton Group with which he played for a decade. They played a mix of originals and covers, and performed regularly in Baltimore and DC-area clubs. “Playing with RWG taught me how to play with other musicians. Most importantly, it taught me how to listen to other guitarists and bassists,” said Davidsen. “Leaving (the band) proved to be a tough decision, but creatively I wanted to go in a different direction. I wanted to play contemporary jazz and R&B grooves. After catching a show by Marcus Miller and with encouragement from (guitarist) Nick Colionne, I finally made the move to become a solo artist.”
Davidsen’s solo debut, “This Journey,” was released in 2008. Teaming with Eric Copeland of Creative Soul Jazz in Nashville in 2009, his sophomore set, “Around (Again),” spawned the radio hit inspired by his father, “Astro,” which garnered the guitarist a Best New Artist nomination from the American Smooth Jazz Awards. Prolific and productive, Davidsen returned the following year with a Christmas project entitled “We 3 Stringz” that features fellow contemporary jazz guitar gunslingers Chuck Loeb and Paul Jackson Jr. Album number four, “Spin Cycle,” followed in 2011.
In the past, Davidsen primarily wrote his material on piano, but he penned or co-penned seven songs for “TRUE DREW” on guitar. Equipped with four Carvin guitars – electric, nylon, acoustic and a 24-fret instrument – he entered recording studios in Los Angeles, New York and Nashville with producers Preston Glass, Norman Connors and long-time collaborator Copeland. “I felt a liberating sense of freedom to write and create,” said Davidsen, who for the first time used a guitar tech during the recording process. “Using a guitar tech made me free to explore tones. I’m a fan of the guitar and I want to give it the appropriate voice if it has something to say. There is so much that I wanted to say on this album.”
Davidsen was thrilled to work with veteran producers and accomplished musicians. “I was so excited about co-writing with Preston (Glass) and having so many talented people involved,” Davidsen enthused. “When I’m surrounded by so many great musicians, I’ve learned to play less, which elevates my own level of play.”
The album launches with the rocketing guitar and soaring vocal hook on “My Guitar,” a joyous love song between man and guitar. “This one was originally written for ‘Spin Cycle’ and was called ‘One For Pat Metheny.’ It’s very contemporary. I wanted to have a track with a vocal, but just a short statement. I refuse to set limits for myself creatively. The 24-fret Carvin sounded so different that I decided to step up and put that unique sound right up front.”
Davidsen shines on electric and nylon-stringed guitars on the driving “95 South,” but the fire blazes brightest from the nylon vehicle. “I used a wooden pick to play the melody, which was inspired by Michael Franks and Wes Montgomery.”
Radio’s intro to “TRUE DREW” comes in the form of “Hi5,” a cool-toned electric guitar joint textured with Latin piano and clubby electronic swatches of synth. “’Hi5’ was the genesis of the entire album. I wrote and recorded it using a simple nylon guitar riff that evolved into a hip, Bolero-type number with some Latin piano from Pat Coil.”
“Preston (Glass) sent ‘Double or Nothin’ and we added twin harmonies and heavier guitar, which is like ‘natural mud,’” Davidsen explained. Adding keyboardist Bob Baldwin to the proceedings makes the sunny number a sure thing.
Alvin Fisher’s delightful flute flourishes contribute quixotic qualities to Davidsen’s elegant electric guitar exploration, “All Night and Forever.” “The flute was added right before mastering,” said Davidsen, who played using a clean hollow-body guitar sound.
“Sweet Spot” revels in a 1980s retro-styled setting from which Eric Marienthal blows a sweltering sax solo to which Davidsen replies by ripping a blistering electric guitar response. “This was another one that Preston (Glass) sent and I got really excited when I heard the urban possibilities. We tracked it in L.A. and then sat with the tune for a while. Gary Lunn’s funky bass brought so much and Eric (Marienthal) added an upbeat rocker-type vibe on sax,” described Davidsen.
On another Glass production, The Temptations’ Ron Tyson unfurls soulful vocalizations on “I’m Into You” although it’s Davidsen’s nimble nylon guitar that pleas eloquently. “Preston (Glass) brought urban elements to the project and turned out to be a great encourager. He brought all the musicians together on this urban number.”
The guitarist scats on the frenetically-paced “Do Right,” which was authored by Copeland. Davidsen’s electric guitar moonwalks head over heels in love on “I Can’t Help It,” a cut made famous by Michael Jackson. “Preston suggested that I record this one, which was originally tracked using an acoustic guitar. When we listened back, we knew it had to have upright bass. After Larry Antonino laid the bass groove, we redid my guitar parts using electric. This one shines because it’s all about live musicians really making music, which is how I’ve always chosen to record.”
Doing Eric Clapton’s “Change the World” is more of an acknowledgement of Davidsen’s commitment to making a difference rather than saluting the guitar god although both are accomplished with a noteworthy assist from bassist Gerald Veasley. “I took a lot of liberties putting my own spin on interpreting this song. I saw it in a bluesy vein, kind of raw. We recorded it with Norman (Connors) at Log Cabin Studios in New York City, which has this great Steinway piano that we just had to use on it. Norman brought a lot of wisdom to the recording process,” Davidsen stated.
Alternately strumming and picking an acoustic guitar, a reflective Davidsen sorts through his thoughts and feelings on the hymn “All Creatures.” “I’ve always been fascinated by hymns. I like to break things down and do things differently. I played the lead while Jonathan Crone, my guitar tech and engineer, played the rhythm on acoustic guitar. It was fun to strip this one down to acoustic,” Davidsen said.
Keyboardist Bobby Lyle helps put a romantic ribbon on the collection with the urban-jazz overture “Give Me Your Heart.” The song originally appeared on an album as a duet between Lyle and Grammy-winning guitarist Norman Brown. Davidsen said, “Norman (Connors) selected it and we gave it a totally different vibe and a different sound. We let Bobby (Lyle) stretch on the piano solo. Closing with this track summed up the recording process in that it was about forming friendships and having fun.”
Concerts and Bowties
In his formative years, Davidsen used to hang out nightly in Baltimore and DC-area clubs studying crowds to see what made them groove, often sitting in to jam with the night’s headliners. “I like to get on the level of the crowd and relate to them to be able to give them what they want,” he explained. His diligent study habits have paid dividends as he is regarded as being a captivating, high-energy performer. “People who come to my shows can expect to be entertained. I love going out into the crowd to take the show to the fans. It’s infectious energy in a live setting and I give my best each time I walk onto the stage in pursuit of technical excellence.”
His stage attire includes natty bowties, which has become one of his trademarks. “I’ve got quite a collection of bowties and yes, I tie my own. I don’t wear clip-ons,” he said with a laugh. “Bowties have character. I think they speak to people and about people.”
Missions and Philosophies
Davidsen’s zest for living and music involves giving back. He’s adopted a mission statement to maintain focus professionally: “Inspiring and empowering others to excellence through the joy of music.” To keep his life on track, he’s implemented a creed consisting of five daily prescriptives:
- Read scripture.
- Exercise daily.
- Be of service to someone.
- Hone my skills and craft.
- Do what I say that I’m going to do.
He shared, “I heard the saying ‘Dying to self while promoting self.’ I don’t think most artists know this. You must constantly ask ‘How can your music be more than you?’ It’s about surrendering control as an artist. I remember that I’ve got to be humble yet confident while promoting myself. I am grateful and that keeps me humble.”
In recent years, Davidsen selected the international organization Ghanaian Mother’s Hope (www.GMHope.org) as his charity and donates a portion of his profits to help the children of Ghana. In preparation for visiting Ghana last year, Davidsen wrote and recorded a song and video, “The Secret To Being Strong,” which was part of an effort to distribute coloring books to teach children how to avoid germs, worms and parasites. “Without this info, the kids could have as many as 36 infestations of worms even before they reach the age of 10,” Davidsen explained.
Through regular exercise and entirely revamping his eating habits, Davidsen added muscle and sculpted and chiseled his physique to less than 15% body fat. Because of his place in the spotlight, he has rather unexpectedly found himself becoming a role model through his social media platform “Fitness For Musicians.”
Six String King
Guitar Player magazine named Davidsen one of the 10 Hottest New Guitarists while fans have dubbed him the “Six String King.” He speaks with equal parts grace and grit through the notes and licks emoted from his electric, acoustic and nylon-stringed guitars, but his faithful perspective consistently remains brimful of gratitude and silver linings. He constantly raises the bar on himself in pursuit of greatness with his guitar technique utilizing technological innovations to become a better communicator and musician.
“I think of the guitar as a human voice. I always want to be a student of the game and learn. It’s about good music and mine is bluesy with some wha wha, vocal scats and pop based upon the chord structure and melodies. I’ve gotten friendlier with my melodies, but however you describe it, I just see it as good music. I like playing guitar and love making music of all kinds, and I hope people see that I play with authentic soul. But I’ll let people decide how to label me,” said Davidsen, who remains open to the world of possibilities that show up via his journey to self-discovery that is unfolding before him in ways that he never imagined. He sees life through his guitar and sets what he sees and experiences to music. “TRUE DREW” is autobiographical, an introspective glimpse inside the man. Davidsen’s compelling story shall continue to entertain with each musical statement uttered using the voice of his guitar.