By Rob Lester ~
What will be musically “NEXT” for Scott Evan Davis? Maybe a better question could be what ISN’T? He seems to be doing everything every moment, more each year, but would blush at being pegged as a “Renaissance Man.” He’s been invited to present his songs in London. Again. He’s teaming up with a veteran of New York cabaret to have his material incorporated in a theatrical piece on 42nd Street in the fall. The second CD of his output is selling steadily. But that’s not all composer/ lyricist/ pianist/ singer/ teacher/ “former actor” Scott Evan Davis, our NiteLife Person of the Week, is grateful for a whirlwind of positive attention. Heartfelt musical portraits about the challenges of living with autism (he’s worked in special education and knows whereof he writes) and Alzheimer’s are creating a stir through performances captured on Youtube and are quickly becoming anthems for those dealing with those conditions. A steady stream of income is coming from show choir versions of a couple of his stirring pieces that are being sung around the country, with requests for specially tailored vocal arrangements. And new licensed productions of young people’s musicals he’s written music and lyrics for are just one more example of his work getting performed far and wide. Not bad for a man who never even THOUGHT of writing songs at all until several years ago.
His first melody came to him in a highly emotional and eerie but vivid dream. And the rest is mystery. Music and lyrics started flowing and complex songs — rich in articulate character detail and surprising architectures — arrived that resembled the work of a craftsman with years of song-sculpting experience.
He’s gearing up for his September 18 concert in London, with his newer and early creations, where he’ll be at the piano and will be joined by British stars of cabaret and theatre at The Pheasantry.
In our interview on a hot Manhattan afternoon, Scott Evan Davis consistently shrugs off his own singing talents, something he takes for granted after his earlier career on the path of one more musical theatre actor-singer working in shows, such as the national tour of Will Roger’s Follies. Although his singing is impressive and proves him to be a thoughtful and impactful presenter of his own work, he’s more fulfilled hearing others apply their voices and acting acumen to his artful character portraits. And while his own playing is skillful and graceful, he turns the keyboard duties on his recordings over to his gifted arranger, David Snyder, who charts the works for small ensemble on the first disc, Cautiously Optimistic, and a larger group from the Indiana Philharmonic on the follow-up, appropriately dubbed Next. “He understands me and my musical sensibility. We became family from Day One.”
“People keep telling me I should sing more,” he casually comments, referring to both his concerts and the albums (he’s on one track on each of them), “but why should I sing them myself when I have all these great voices?” And certainly having Broadway and cabaret names like Liz Callaway, Robert Cuccioli, Faith Prince, Karen Mason, and Jason Graae is a blessing, an attraction, and an indication that veterans respect his work and they sure do bring it glory with their talent as actors AND vocalists.
Joshua Lance Dixon
Appearing on both albums are Lisa Howard, Tony nominee for It Shoulda Been You, and the gifted singer Joshua Lance Dixon, who entered his life soon after he wrote that first dream-generated tune and soon it was Davis and Dixon, musician and muse. Naked emotion, hearts on sleeves, their mutual appreciation and natural inclinations for honesty and what you might call elegant gutsiness seemed meant to complement each other. In short order, J.L.D. was featured in S.E.D.’s show at The Duplex in Greenwich Village and breaking out in his own much-acclaimed solo cabaret show, winning the hearts of audiences and also winning major cabaret awards right off the bat. The mega-talented Mr. Dixon is currently competing in the singing contest at Don’t Tell Mama on Tuesdays, called Mama’s Next Big Act, where perhaps he’ll do “Next” next. (His liquid lightning-like version of that title song is certainly spectacular on the new disc, a crowning finale, similar to his vocal solo as the grand finale, “Let There Be Peace on Earth (And Let It Begin with Me)” on of Miranda Music’s A New York Holiday cabaret vocalist-stuffed CD of this past December.)
Scott is awaiting a confirmed date for his autumn project at the Laurie Beechman Theatre, a collaboration with Phil Geoffrey Bond, who’d been the booking manager at the venue (and, before that, at the aforementioned Duplex, where the songwriter premiered his Picture Perfect show). Bonding with Bond after admiring his stylish sensibility in past work, they are planning a piece called Echoes which will combine Davis songs and Bond’s witty monologues. The multi-faceted project will have a narrator and will include brand new numbers and will spotlight “Before I Forget,” his attention-grabbing creation about Alzheimer’s from the point of view of one stricken and those in his or her circle. Davis is a songwriter in this new era when “hits” doesn’t so much refer to the once all-mighty factor of mainstream radio play, but rather “hits” meaning the many people all over the world finding and playing the Youtube video of a number. And “Before I Forget” with vocal by Willy Falk is becoming a phenomenon.
Likewise, there are 90,000 plays and counting for “If the World Only Knew.” Joshua Colley, a young actor just barely entering his teens, who’s just starred at the York Theatre in the title role of You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown and is the kid in the musical version of A Bronx Tale, is magnetic on the disc and video.
A group of 200 children sang it at Broadway’s Gershwin Theatre a couple of weeks ago (where Wicked is still defying gravity) as the finale of the Autism Speaks benefit hosted by Kelli O’Hara. Cover versions are now popping up of these selections that put a face and a story on the troubling conditions. “I am getting emails every day from people who find them, want to sing them, want the sheet music, want to just thank me,” the justly proud and moved writer tells me. One student contacts him to say she’s writing a thesis based on his song, a 14-year-old named Ilan Galkoff takes it on with dignity and gratitude.
Another named Gianna Hitsos from Boston sings it proudly. He gets an email saying, “I’m so excited to be singing this song and changing people’s perspectives the way you changed mine. Thank you for writing this.” A student who noticed a child being bullied asked to sing the number in a school assembly and raised the consciousness of the student body.
A teacher from the school took the time to write him to make sure the songwriter knew the impact of what he has created. Another school latched onto it for their big concert in the city he’s off to in several weeks: “I’m very grateful to be returning to London for a solo concert,” he enthuses. (His prior work there found him sharing the bill with two other writers, he clarified, but September 18’s Pheasantry night won’t be a solo performance as he’ll be joined by several notable British singers.) The evening is being produced by radio hosts Paul Branch and Maureen Ward Rejalt of the program “Sunday Show Tunes.” And while he’s there, he’s been asked to teach a master class and is working with ballet choreographer Jamie Neale on a danced/sung film project.
Meanwhile, the talented Mr. Davis has his pre-London duties closer to home, as resident composer/teacher at the Brooklyn Children’s Theatre, where he reports daily now to their summer program. Instructed teens in recording studio technique and helping other enrollees create song ideas, he composes and polishes the way a baker would whip up desserts of seemingly endless meringue, flour, and juicy fruit filling. The icing on the kids’ cakes is his generous professional uber-tweaking and his original melodies. In just a few years, he’s written scores of musicals, with their Artistic Director Chris Heller providing the script for the varied shows performed by the company and later produced by other theatres. A major grant has come through and he’s embarking on a new project whose mission is to engender understanding between the Muslim community and the local kids, using such seed material as Muslim folklore. The title is to be Muslim Voices. Always at work on something— such as his gestating full-length musical named Indigo – the man must have many voices spinning in his head, Muslim and otherwise. “I’m very proud of the work I do in Brooklyn,” he says of this long-time job where he began just as a music director before his late-blossoming entry into writing his own songs. The kids range in age from 6 to 18 and he speaks of the Brooklyn immersion with fondness. “I don’t know what I’ll write next year or for Christmas or….” At one point his thought process speeds up. His eyes light up, and he writes up the germ of an idea inspired by a seemingly unrelated discussion about the lyric to one of his album’s tracks about daring and doing.
The work and the wide appreciation and increasing recognition bring him something that can be summed up in one word: Joy, to invoke the name of the last show he did as an Equity actor, directed by Ben Rimalower, another New Yorker who’s straddled the theatre and cabaret worlds, memorably winning praise for his solo performance called Patti Issues, centered on his obsession/ relationship with Miss LuPone. Davis’s favorite diva growing up was, instead, Barbra Streisand, whose singing really spoke to him. Although he never intended to be a songwriter, he was nevertheless affected by the melodic strokes of Maury Yeston (“His melodies touched a chord in me that others didn’t”) and the lyrics of the masterful Mr. Sondheim who has influenced scores of writers creating their own scores. But the thoughtful Scott Evan Davis realizes he is increasingly finding his own voice. “My new songs sound more like me,” is how he simply describes his not-always-simple creations.
Reflecting on these past few years, he pauses and says intently, “What I’ve learned is that it’s about having both talent and persistence. You have to keep putting yourself out there. And I’ve had tremendous support the whole time.” The applause, the tears, the emails, and the many fans’ financial contributions to fund an expensive, expansive album with a sizeable orchestra are all evidence. What’s NEXT? Well, he might still think of himself as CAUTIOUSLY OPTIMISTIC, but that adverb “cautiously” is less and less necessary. “I feel like now I’m hitting my stride.” And, making strides, and making music, Scott Evan Davis is making waves.