Discovering beauty in simplicity: Joe Davidian brings his jazz home to Vermont

By TOM HUNTINGTON
THE ARTS

Now based in New York City, Vermont-born jazz pianist and composer Joe Davidian has performed all over the world and played with a litany of noteworthy jazz musicians. But it doesn’t get much better than performing in his home state, he says, an occasion that is all too rare these days for the accomplished musician and educator, who grew up in a musical family in East Montpelier.

“There’s just something special about playing for your friends and family,” Davidian said in a recent phone interview from his new digs in Astoria, where he’s lived for just over a year. “That’s the thing I’m most excited about.”

Davidian, 36, celebrates the 15th anniversary of his tight-knit trio and a new album with two shows in Vermont: Friday at the Immanuel Episcopal Church in Bellows Falls, and Saturday at Spruce Peak Performing Arts Center in Stowe.

The album, “Live from the Jazz Cave, Volume Two,” was released in July and is a follow-up to 2013’s “Live from the Jazz Cave, Volume One.” Both were recorded at the Jazz Cave, a performance facility that’s part of the Nashville Jazz Workshop in Nashville, Tenn. Davidian lived in “Music City” for nine years before moving to New York to focus more on performing, teaching at the Nashville Jazz Workshop in addition to Belmont University and Middle Tennessee State University.

He also became “a valued member of the Nashville jazz community,” known for his “formidable ability as a soloist and accompanist,” according to the Nashville Scene.

“I never dreamed that Nashville would be the place, but it ended up being a really great experience,” Davidian said. “It was a good balance of, like, sort of what I was used to growing up in Vermont, which was obviously very rural and spacious, and some more vibrancy in the city vibe. It was a good match, and I made a lot of friends and met a lot of musicians and played a lot and taught a lot. And I’m really grateful for the nine years that I was there.”

“Volume Two,” which “documents the best of the trio’s 2013 and 2014 live performances” at the venue, according to a press release, is a stellar recording of classic-sounding jazz that’s beautifully delivered by a tight-knit trio that has taken their remarkable chemistry to another level. The album includes three Davidian originals, pretty and upbeat tunes that are right at home alongside tasty covers by the likes of McCoy Tyner, Jimmy Smith and Tom Harrell.

“I’m really trying to refine my composing to make them sound honest and not sound forced,” Davidian said of his original tunes. “I think a lot of young jazz musicians have this concept that everything they compose has to be super advanced, harmonically and rhythmically in some weird time signature.

“In thinking about other people’s tunes that I love to play and always have, they’re pretty simple harmonically, and they just allow room for the improviser to create and to expand upon,” he added. “And, I’m trying to compose songs that are more in that vein, and not trying so hard to impress. They’re just simple and pretty, not overly complex, so that we can … move it into more complex territory when we improvise on it.”

Davidian met his trio mates — bassist Jamie Ousley and drummer Austin McMahon — at the highly regarded University of Miami School of Music in Florida, where he received a master’s degree in jazz piano performance. Ousley, who was voted “Best South Florida Jazz Musician” in 2011, lives in Florida and teaches at Florida International University in Miami. McMahon, who has released two albums as a leader, teaches jazz and improvisation at Harvard University and at New England Conservatory in Boston, where he lives.

“A few times a year and as often as we can, we get together and reconvene and do what we know how to do, and fall back into it pretty naturally,” Davidian said of the trio. “Just playing the music we love. Playing standards and some originals. And it’s fresh, because we don’t get to play together all the time. It’s always exciting. We always look forward to it. And we tend to just fall right back into our groove pretty easily.”

Davidian is especially excited to bring his trio back to his home state.

“It’s always a joy, just because people that I love and care about and know are in the audience a lot of times,” he said. “And sharing what I love most in life, and what I’ve worked the hardest at with people that I care a lot about. That’s what it’s all about, really, for me.”

Joe Davidian Trio

– Friday, Oct. 20: Bellows Falls – $25, $20 advance ($5 discount for seniors), $45 reserved, Immanuel Episcopal Church, 20 Church St., 7:30 p.m., 802-460-0110, www.stonechurcharts.org.

– Saturday, Oct. 21: Stowe – $25, $20 in advance, Spruce Peak Performing Arts Center, Stowe, 8 p.m., 802-760-4634, www.sprucepeakarts.org.