Chicago Trumpeter Orbert Davis On Stevie Wonder, Millennium Park, And Singing Karaoke
Emmy Award-winning trumpeter Orbert Davis believes that “all the things that are pertinent to musical success” can be found right here in Chicago.
Davis, the co-founder and artistic director of the Chicago Jazz Philharmonic, is now telling telling Chicago’s immigrant stories through song in a new series.
Davis answered five questions about his Chicago history, favorite place to play, and hide.
What’s your favorite venue to play?
Orbert Davis: Millennium Park. That’s it. Every time — and I’ve been there quite a few times now — but especially with the Chicago Jazz Philharmonic. I start out every show just looking out at the audience, looking above the audience at the skyline, being proud of my city. And then seeing the mass of people there, it’s just phenomenal.
What’s your karaoke song?
Davis: First of all, I don’t like it, but my whole family loves it. We were celebrating Martin Luther King Day — we ate ourselves into a coma — then my niece pulled out her karaoke machine. After about 30 minutes, I’m totally into it. Last summer, we were at a church picnic, and the same thing happened. I kind of sat at a distance, then pretty soon, I was one of the Temptations. Then I sang to my wife “You’re The Best Thing That Ever Happened To Me.”
Where’s your favorite place to hide in Chicago?
Davis: My house. I say that because I have a home office that’s sort of my practicing studio. My family knows, “Leave him alone, he’ll come out eventually.”
What song do you listen to when you need motivation?
Davis: There’s a piece by pianist Joe Sample called “It Happens Every Day.” It’s a simple jazz piece where you can see the intertwinings of his soul.
I’m such a Stevie Wonder fan — anything from Songs in the Key of Life. That was my soundtrack when I was 14, 15, 16. It’s so ingrained. Today, I listen to it with my kids. They love it, but it has a different meaning for them.
Could your story have happened anywhere besides Chicago?
Davis: Never. All the things that are pertinent to musical success are right here. There has to be an environment where a musician can see himself or herself in the future. Especially in jazz. There has to be mentoring — and I’ve had so many mentors. Not just my teachers, but other musicians and trumpet players who have taken me under their wing.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
Press play above to hear Jenn White’s interview with Davis from WBEZ’s The Morning Shift.