John R. T. Davies

Restorer of jazz 78s and Temperance Seven saxophonist

John R.T. Davies was the world's leading specialist in the art of sound restoration. Classic jazz music from 1917 to 1940 was his overwhelming passion, leading him to become extremely competent on a variety of instruments including trombone and alto saxophone. In 1961 he had a surprise encounter with fame as a member of the velvet-jacketed Temperance Seven, when their hit "You're Driving Me Crazy" reached the top of the UK charts.



John Ross Twiston Davies, jazz musician, recording engineer and sound restorer: born Wivelsfield, Sussex 20 March 1927; married 1954 Susan Adey (one daughter, and one foster daughter); died Burnham, Buckinghamshire 25 May 2004.



John R.T. Davies was the world's leading specialist in the art of sound restoration. Classic jazz music from 1917 to 1940 was his overwhelming passion, leading him to become extremely competent on a variety of instruments including trombone and alto saxophone. In 1961 he had a surprise encounter with fame as a member of the velvet-jacketed Temperance Seven, when their hit "You're Driving Me Crazy" reached the top of the UK charts.

For Davies this merely improved his means of building his awesome collection of jazz 78s which fed his relentless probing and development of methods to achieve audio clarity. He lived just long enough to see the issue of his complete eight-CD set of all known recordings of the "Empress of the Blues", Bessie Smith, something CBS/Sony never achieved.

Known as "Ristic" to family and friends, Davies was a gentle and supremely English mixture of the intense and the absurd. Not one for light conversation, he would prefer to deliver an instructive lecture or play one of his complete set of Goon Shows, all recorded off-air. He was one of that rich trajectory of enthusiasts that included George Melly, Spike Milligan and Michael Bentine, launched into society after the Second World War with no one skill but determined to enjoy, challenge and play.

John Ross Twiston Davies was born in 1927, the son of a South Coast dermatologist, and attended Dartington Hall School in the 1940s, sandwiched between his older sister Liz and younger brother Julian. Even then he played with recording gadgets, fascinated by both sound and mechanism.

Guitar and banjo were his first instruments, and he played with the Mick Mulligan/George Melly band. Fluency on the trombone led to periods with the Crane River Jazz Band, Cy Laurie, Fairweather-Brown Allstars and Acker Bilk. The saxophone was discouraged by English jazz revivalists but Davies got one in 1954, courtesy of his fiancée, Sue. She thought she had married "a jazz trombone player", but they had to stop at many junk shops on the way to gigs in London in search of "important" recordings. Back home in Buckinghamshire, discs and children competed for space.

His melifluous saxophone playing, somewhat after the stars of 1930s big bands like Johnny Hodges with Duke Ellington and Charlie Holmes with Luis Russell, led him to join - and musically improve - that disparate bunch of Edwardian posers, the Temperance Seven which, at nine members, was "one over the eight". By now he was writing arrangements and transcribing pieces by 1920s organisations like the Fletcher Henderson Orchestra and the California Ramblers. And he was able to revive a schoolboy trait - wearing a fez.

His drive for disseminating recorded jazz music was accelerated around 1952 with his acquisition of a disc-cutting lathe and an early magnetic tape recorder. Due to an import problem, the Dave Brubeck album Jazz at Oberlin was unavailable in Britain. Davies made it available, illegally, with his cutting lathe. In a flurry of activity, he made contemporary recordings for Doug Dobell's 77 Records, started his own Ristic label and became the driving force behind Retrieval Records.

Jazz 78s are master-engravings containing not only the individual sound personalities of the musicians but the very "score" itself. There have been many atrocities committed on their re-mastering. Davies's avowed aim was to "keep the air around the music" while removing the unwanted aberrations. He called this process "decerealisation" - removal of the snap, crackle and pop.

In the 1950s he adapted the optical film soundtrack method of painting out unwanted clicks: applying this technique to magnetic tape, by scraping off tiny notches of oxide to an accuracy of a few thousandths of an inch, he was able to reduce the sharp transient. He made a grooved assembly to pull the tape through, hear the click and mark it.

Many years were spent hunched over this gadget, his cranially-couched spectacles deftly flicked down on his nose. De-clicking a particularly rough original took several days. He worked his way through the complete King Olivers, Jelly Roll Mortons, Louis Armstrongs and countless batches of Bix Beiderbecke, the great 1920s and 1930s big bands and blues singers. Mostly in defiance of the major record companies who possess good originals but often mangle the transfers, Davies's work appears on the small, dedicated labels like Frog, Retrieval, Timeless, Hep and Jazz Oracle.

In the last 15 years, he supplemented these analogue and mechanical methods with digital ones, speeding up the process. But it was the irrepressible inventiveness that powered it all: he would balance a pickup and jack up a record that had a piece missing so that the stylus was thrown smoothly across the space to land in the correct groove opposite; the missing sound was then filled in by inserting appropriate material on magnetic tape. He has his disciples globally who now continue his work, digitally.

Affection and care for his family, animals, trees, insects and local miscreants showed a Buddhist core in this gentle genius of restoration.

Ron Geesin

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