Trumpeter from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, who was doing the club circuit by the time he was twelve years old, and performing for the St. Louis Symphonette shortly after completing high school.
He went on to attend the Curtis Institute and Temple University and eventually wound up in New York, where he occupied the principal trumpet seat in Benny Goodman’s big band. One of his first recordings was Benny’s live album, Bangkok 1956. That same year, he released his first solo album, Trumpet with a Soul.
A couple of years later, he appeared on the Billy Holiday LP, Lady in Satin. In the 1960s, he hooked up with a pair of jazz guitarists, George Benson on The Other Side of Abbey Road and Wes Montgomery on Bumpin’ on Sunset, California Dreaming and Sundown, and both of their respective Verve Jazz Masters retrospectives. He also played Carnegie Hall with Tony Bennett and released Shoot the Trumpet Player in 1962, and performed with Carmen McRae on Alfie, Haven’t We Met? and 1964 Orchestra Recordings. In 1967, he recorded with Nina Simone on Silk & Soul and The Dukes of Dixieland on Come to the Cabaret.
Eventually, he wound up working in television on The Perry Como Show, Sesame Street, and The Tonight Show. It is no surprise, then, that he appeared on the Doc Severinsen album, Stereo and All That Jazz, Elmo’s Sing-Alongs, and the Perry Como releases, Blue Skies and Moon River. (Both albums contain the same Davis track, “Swingin’ down the Lane”.) Mel even did his bit for the overall fitness of his listeners: He recorded Music for Weight Watchers: Dance It off with Mel Davis & the Ricky Ticky Brass. He was also very involved with an annual cerebral palsy telethon, where he performed with Wayne Andre, Joe Bennett, Tony Cabot, and Johnny Frosk.
The 1970s were an eclectic decade: He recorded with Airto, Average White Band, Bill Evans, Enoch Light, The Manhattan Transfer , Arif Mardin, Van McCoy, Bette Midler, Bobby Shad & The Bad Men and Frank Sinatra , and appeared on the soundtrack of The Wiz. He became a little more involved in the movies in the late ’80s and early ’90s, performing on the soundtracks of The Glass Menagerie, Stormy Monday, and Alan and Naomi. In 1997, he composed music for his son-in-law Jon Moritsugu’s film, Fame Whore.
In addition to his massive discography, too long to list here in its entirety, Mel was a staple at the El Dorado Country Club in New Rochelle, along with his long-time friend, Eddie Tone. Late in his career, Mel opened his own jazz bar, Rampart Street, in Port Washington, Long Island, where he played piano and trumpet. Eventually, he retired to Florida. He passed away on 28thDecember 2004.
Van McCoy Recordings
That’s the Joint (Van McCoy)
Frank Sinatra recordings
That’s What God Looks Like To Me (Stan Irvin/Lan O’Kun)
Reprise RPS 49233 (XNY2101S) (US 45)
Theme from “New York, New York” (Fred Ebb/John Kander)
Reprise RPS49233 (XNY 2103 S) (US 45)
Here he is performing “Jeepers Creepers”….