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posted: 7/28/2012 10:25 AM

Our Stephanie Penick learns her neighbor has deep musical roots

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  • Naperville's Julio Davis fronts the J. Davis Trio and has performed with Poi Dog Pondering.

      Naperville's Julio Davis fronts the J. Davis Trio and has performed with Poi Dog Pondering.
    Courtesy Stephanie Penick

 

Long before we knew our neighbor was an accomplished percussionist, a devoted hip-hopper and the name behind The J. Davis Trio, we were well aware that our Papillon pup, Karl, had a special friend.

For the past eight years, whenever Karl goes outside, she's high-tailed it to the side fence where she sits peering through the slats, patiently waiting for Julio Davis to appear. Many times when Julio and his wife, Betsy, come outside with their dog, Lucky, Julio lifts Karl over the fence to play fetch. Other times her plumed tail wags frantically in anticipation of playing with her buddy, many times a no-show.

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Karl couldn't possibly consider the irony that sometimes her pal plays with Poi Dog Pondering, a group of American musicians that performed its cross-pollination of diverse sounds locally at the 2004 Ribfest celebration and last year at Last Fling.

A couple of weeks ago on the Main Stage at the Tex-Mex Music Fest in CityGate Centre, Poi Dog Pondering's leader, Frank Orrall, introduced Julio as "all the way from Naperville" before the vocalist performed with the acclaimed group.

And I thought I ought to write about one of our dog's best friends as well as Julio's passionate appreciation for intelligent, quality music.

Julio, 42, was born on the South Side of Chicago. After his parents divorced, he spent the school years of his childhood with his father in Homewood-Flossmoor to attend quality schools. On weekends and every summer, he lived with his mother in Chicago.

"It was a 50-50 split," Julio said. "My childhood was divided between rapping on the street corners of Chicago and playing tennis with the country set in the South suburbs."

Playing tennis, football and baseball in high school, Julio headed to DePaul to study pre-med with intentions of playing semipro baseball.

"I thought I'd be the first baseball player slash doctor," he said.

Things changed during his second year at DePaul when he discovered the music theory of jazz, his growing passion for the hip-hop culture and a deep desire to bring everyone together through "super rich expression unlike any other music genre."

By the mid-1990s, The J. Davis Trio was set with Julio on vocals and vibraphone, Dave Smith on bass and Tone Aimone on drums. When they realized that in order to play live, they needed another element onstage, Paula Pergl joined them on flute for a while. When she left, multi-instrumentalist Dave Winer followed.

Since 1999, The J. Davis Trio has produced four albums. And they've performed in Chicago at venues such as The Metro, The House of Blues and Double Door. They've also toured to many college campuses in the Midwest as well as music fests throughout the United States.

Following their musical heart, The J. Davis Trio continues to thrive and grow with musicians and new albums -- the most recent is titled "Vintage."

Always soft-spoken, I've learned from Julio's experiences and explanations about his connection to "real" hip-hop and jazz. I've listened carefully to the music and autobiographical lyrics he's written, as well as to his opinions about the dumbing down of mainstream music we're often force-fed today.

Still called a trio, his innovative hip-hop/jazz combo features as many as eight musicians mixing up their unique sound, utilizing many interesting types of instrumentation, rhythms and styles.

These days, the recordings are available for purchase and downloading on iTunes. I keep Julio's CD in our car.

Another coincidence is that Julio's father's name is Carl.

Julio still laughs when he recalls first meeting our girl dog, Karl, mindful of his dad's name -- and his older brother's name.

As an aside, during the golden years of the growth of pop and R&B music, Carl Davis Sr. was one of the hottest music producers and record executives in Chicago.

"I grew up with gold records all over our house," said Julio. "Ever hear of the 'Duke of Earl?'"

And Julio told me the story of how his dad had produced the Gene Chandler hit that climbed to No. 1 on the pop charts in the 1960s. He suggested a story about his father would be more interesting.

Instead, let me suggest that we all get to know our neighbors.

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