Guo and Davenport, the acclaimed jazz trumpeter and headlining namesake at The Davenport Lounge at The Ritz-Carlton, New Orleans, talk music and memories.
While classically trained cellist and composer Tina Guo and jazz trumpeter Jeremy Davenport play in wildly different music genres, they have more in common than one might imagine. Both were born into a family of musicians, each started their own musical journey at a young age and was mentored early on by iconic performers. During a rehearsal for their performance together at The Davenport Lounge, Guo and Davenport riffed about their early years, improvisation and how traveling informs their craft.
Jeremy Davenport: I know both of your parents are classically trained musicians. What was that like growing up? As a kid, were you immediately drawn to it?
Tina Guo: My parents basically forced me to do nothing but play the cello until I was 18, and then when I was a senior they said, “Oh, you should be a doctor or a lawyer.” My grades were OK, but not high enough to get a scholarship to a medical school. And all the scholarships I was offered, of course, were music scholarships, so I said, “OK! I’m going to be a musician.” I grew to love classical music once I was able to play it my own way. Looking back now, all that strict practice was just training. It’s like training to be a contortionist — you have to physically force your body into all these weird shapes for eight hours a day because that’s the only way your body can grow to become that. How about you?
Davenport: My dad played in the symphony orchestra in St. Louis, and my parents both are accomplished pianists. My mom’s kind of a hippie and also was always listening to what was on the radio, so I got this cross-exposure to a bunch of different kinds of music. I thought I wanted to be in a symphony orchestra, frankly, and then I got to my first semester of school at the Manhattan School of Music and I realized right out of the gate that it wasn’t for me. I had been playing at night in jazz clubs, and I knew that was going to be my thing. What has been a big influence for you?
Guo: I’ve been grateful, I’ve had such a wide range of experience and different genres of music, different types of people. Growing up, I wasn’t allowed to listen to anything but classical music. When I got to school and was able to go online and start exploring different kinds of music, I found myself drawn to darker, heavier types of music.
Davenport: Which I think is so interesting and probably a result of how you were raised.
Guo: It probably was. It’s one thing to be a musician and say, “I’m going to play my own music and I’m going to be an artist,” and there’s also being a technician and making a living from it. When I first started I was just trying to figure out how to make money from music. Almost every night on the Sunset Strip there’d be different singer-songwriters, bands, and I would do gigs with a lot of them. That’s how I learned to play different kinds of music.
Davenport: It’s interesting, I had that similar experience because one of my big mentors was Wynton Marsalis when I was 12. He’s brilliant, his vision is very specific, and I’ll always be grateful for his lessons. But what I morphed into was basically playing dance music. People dance. It’s much looser. I was always interested in the entertainer value
of music. Like a show.
Guo: I can definitely understand that.
Davenport: How did you get into the electric cello and playing rock music on it?
Guo: YouTube had just come out when I went to college and I started researching guitar players, and got really into fusion guitar. It’s classically based, but it’s all about shredding and playing really fast and being very “extra.” It was the opposite of the household I grew up in, so of course that really appealed to me. The first time I’d heard cello being played in metal was Apocalyptica [a symphonic metal band from Finland]. They had an album that was all Metallica covers and I thought it was so cool. I bought an electric cello and started experimenting with guitar pedals. It was 10 years before I figured out what I was doing. Switching gears a bit … we both traveled a lot growing up. How have travel and the memories of your travels influenced your path?
Davenport: I got hired to be in Connick Jr.’s band when I was 18, and we started traveling the world, and we’d always stay at Ritz-Carlton properties. Fast-forward to 2000, when they opened this hotel, I called my agent and said, “I want to be the entertainer at The Ritz-Carlton in New Orleans.” That’s just one way travels have influenced me. How about you?
Guo: Playing music is very technical, that’s your body being a machine. But I think our minds are like vessels, and whatever comes through are reflections of our experiences. Traveling and meeting different people from different cultures and hearing different music totally changes your perception on things. And that affects how you write, how you talk, how you play music.
Davenport: There’s so many different types of New Orleans music. For instance, I don’t really play traditional jazz, but we still improvise a lot. The traditional guys probably say, “Oh, Davenport plays too modern,” and the modern people say, “Oh, this guy plays too old-fashioned,” so there’s always going to be that interpretation of what they think is authentic. What sounds, sights and tastes have inspired the piece you’re making about this city?
Guo: I did a lot of research on New Orleans jazz and the city’s musical roots. When we first arrived here, there were a lot of street musicians playing all kinds of different music, which was amazing. And I’m sure the experience of playing with you will factor in as well. I hope to capture the city and its musical history and do it justice in my own way!