Fox Restaurant and Jazz Club

fox clubBK Davis has traveled the world on his hands – the Oscar Peterson-inspired jazz singer/pianist has worked opulent cruise ships, dank European nightclubs and rabid Japanese jazz spots, but when he took his stand at the Fox Restaurant and Jazz Club in Tampa, Florida he found a home.

“Downbeat magazine rated the Fox one of the 212 best jazz clubs in the country,” Davis said. “And, man, it’s a great gig.”

The popular nightspot features two rooms. The larger main room is dedicated to Top 40 music, while the second room jumps to jazz. It is on those nights that the BK Davis band speaks to the true believers and acolytes.

“I’ve known BK for nearly 25 years,” says trumpeter John Hunt, leader of the esteemed Jackson, TN area group, the John Hunt Jazz All Stars. “He’s a heck of a vocalist and piano player and I think his jazz vocals are some of his best work, even though he sings soul, r&b and gospel.”

Davis took over headliner duties in the jazz room when pianist Kym Purling was picked up by Engelbert Humperdinck to serve as his musical director. Davis, who had gained a following in the Sarasota, FL area, heard about the vacancy and contacted the Fox.

“I got this call from Sarasota,” Fox manager recalls. “Anyone that plays at the Fox, I go out and watch them play so I can see what they can and can’t do. I told him, ‘I can’t go down there. Come up to Tampa and perform.’”

And, for one of the few times in his life, Davis’ hands let him down. Before the audition, Davis broke his right hand and was unable to play for several weeks. But, when the manager finally saw Davis perform, he knew he’d found his new headliner.

“What BK has, intellectually, is the capacity to know what the audience wants and when,” a Fox representative said. “He can take you on that magical trip; when it’s smooth, he takes you up a hill – then he sets you on fire. It’s like a little trip.”

The son of a Pentecostal Administrative Bishop, Davis honed his technique in the C.O.G.I.C. church. By the age of 14, he had a 150 voice choir singing his original compositions. In his mid-teens, he was the musical director for his father’s church and his music was featured on a national gospel program.

“Working with sacred music over the years, performing – sometimes three times a day – in front of so many people gets your skills perfected,” Davis said.

The peripatetic Davis has played or toured with some of music’s greatest artists – B.B. King, Billy Preston, Gerald Albright, Michael “Patches” Stewart and the late soul legend, Johnnie Taylor. Taylor, in particular, was a proving ground for his talent.

“When I was hired to tour with Johnnie,” Davis said, “it was like musical boot camp. We practiced almost six months to get ready. Johnnie was known for only recruiting the best musicians. And, I was recommended to him by a mentor of mine named Marvin. We rehearsed 12 hours a day.

Taylor, who died in 2000, was known by the music-buying public for his 1976 R&B hit ‘Disco Lady,’ and among musicians for his affinity for jazz musicians. Jazz musicians, Taylor was credited with saying, are able to handle changes more easily and add subtle new colors to familiar songs.

Despite touring and rehearsing for the exacting star, Davis found time to write original music for his self-published CDs, several of which have been regional hits – selling tens of thousands of copies.

“My original compositions are all created depending on what I think will work,” Davis said. “For instance, with my song, ‘What Goes Around,’ I could hear a pentatonic scale.’”

Davis animatedly warbles a measure from that song.

“That part right there?” he said. “That’s based on a pentatonic scale and it has some kinship not just with spirituals, but also Oriental music.”

Davis remains a student of several genres of music, but always extols the challenges presented by jazz. Peterson, one of his keyboard heroes, informs his composing and performing.

“I appreciated how he would cross-pollinate the music,” Davis said of Peterson. “On a cut like ‘Hymn to Freedom,’ he would adjust the harmonic and melodic lines and make them bluesy. That shows me you’ve got to challenge yourself, take chances for you and your audience.”

Though he finds time to perform elsewhere, Davis has settled in at the Fox. His auditions are locally legendary for their rigor. He recently hired a Julliard-trained drummer. His multicultural crew has gained such a following, management regularly moves them into the main room, where they play Top 40.

“BK Davis maintains a high level of interaction with crowd,” management said. “Sure, they are great at playing classic, straight up jazz, but the guys in his band are high caliber musicians and can switch it up.”

Davis doesn’t take too much credit for the band he’s created – he says he expects them to be professional and creative enough to take the music where it needs to go.

“But, at the end of the day, I am the band leader. My job is to pull in the audience and give them an experience they won’t soon forget. We are going to go,” he said, holding up his large hands, “where these hands take us.”