A 14-year-old Jeremy Davenport sat in the audience of The Sheldon Concert Hall in 1984 and watched the great jazz trumpeter Wynton Marsalis take the stage. Afterward, young Jeremy got a chance to meet Marsalis. It was a night that would change his life. “It was the first time I got a chance to hear Wynton play live,” Davenport recalls. “He’s such a phenomenal trumpet player—he’s probably been the biggest musical influence in my life.”
Twenty-nine years later, it is now Davenport’s chance to headline at The Sheldon. On Feb. 2, the University City native will return home to showcase his extensive vocal and trumpet-playing talent at a venue that was pivotal in the development of his acclaimed musical career. “It’s the first time I’ll play at The Sheldon with my own band, under my own name—it’s such an honor for me.”
Born into a family of musicians—his father, Roger, played with the St. Louis Symphony for more than 40 years; and his mother, Diane, taught music in the University City school system and at New City School—Davenport tested out his talent at an early age. By the time he was 3, he was attempting to play his father’s trombone (although his arms were too short to use the slide), and at the age of 6, he received his first trumpet. “Not only did I have music at home, but it was a big part of my school life, as well, which was a huge blessing.”
In eighth grade, Davenport began studying with Susan Slaughter, a trumpet player at the Symphony, playing both jazz and classical music. It was at that same age that the budding musician met Marsalis; and when Davenport graduated to the Manhattan School of Music after high school, he took advantage of the proximity to his mentor. “I’d just show up on Wynton’s doorstep with my trumpet—looking back, I can’t believe how gracious and welcoming he was,” he says.
Through Marsalis, Davenport met Harry Connick Jr., and the pair convinced him to move to New Orleans to study under Marsalis’ father, Ellis Marsalis, a music educator and jazz pianist. Shortly after moving, Davenport joined Connick’s band and went on tour with him for the next several years before undertaking his own recording career in 1995. “My time spent with Harry taught me that I needed to be in front of the band. All of those experiences inspired me to find my own footing and focus on my singing, writing and playing.”
With a broad taste in music and particular interest in the classic American Songbook, Davenport aims to create modern songs that echo that genre and pay homage to the jazz greats. However, he acknowledges that he still is shaping his style, referencing his favorite trumpet player (and fellow St. Louis-area native) Miles Davis’ evolving musical approach over the years. “I’m still working to develop my own voice—trying to paint that picture over and over again,” says Davenport, who is currently working on his next album, which he hopes to release this spring.
While Davenport’s musical talent is impressive, he also values the importance of the entertainment factor. He admired Louis Armstrong’s ability to combine beautiful music with a high level of entertainment, which is a difficult balance to achieve. “It’s hard not to sacrifice one for another. When people come see me, I want them to be moved musically, but also be entertained.”
Three nights a week, audiences can find Davenport working on that musical balance at The Davenport Lounge at the Ritz-Carlton, New Orleans. Having a venue named after him is an accomplishment that still is sometimes hard to fathom. “I never get used to seeing that awning with my name on it—it keeps me working hard,” he says.
Although Davenport returns to St. Louis every year, often playing shows over Thanksgiving at Jazz at the Bistro (and satisfying his Steak ‘n’ Shake fix), he especially is excited—and nervous—for his performance at The Sheldon. “No matter the hundreds of shows I’ve done, when your mom and dad are in the audience, it’s always a little more daunting, but I’m looking forward to it.”
As he gets ready for The Sheldon concert and the next stage of his career, Davenport is happy to put in the hours of practice and work it takes to improve his craft. Years after he first picked up a trumpet, he still has that same love for the music. “I feel like a little kid when it comes to music. It’s a life dedication, but the experiences and opportunities to learn something new every day never ends. It never gets old.”