Photo: Contributed Photo / Trevor Davis Jr.
MIDDLETOWN — After professional keyboardist, photographer and videographer Tré Davis returned home from New Jersey after work dried up because of the pandemic, he discovered the ideal business partnership — one that is all in the family.
Davis, a studio manager and owner of T3PX | Tré Davis: Photo + Video, and his father, commercial real estate broker and pro drummer Trevor H. Davis Jr., soon began brainstorming creative ways of using an entire floor of the historic downtown building at 363 Main St., the ground floor of which houses Webster Bank.
The structure, built in 1915, originally was the Central National Bank & Trust.
The Library at The Central, accessed at the rear of the building, at 134 Broad St., is the former executive quarters, and features a large board room with a 20-foot, hand-carved table and fireplace, as well as a cherry wood library. Trevor Davis, an antique collector, has owned the building for the past eight years.
His finds, including old jazz books and antique music memorabilia, fill the space. “It’s classic stuff that’s been accumulating in there in a really nice way for a long time,” Tré Davis said.
The room’s design translates into superior acoustics, he said, something musicians checking it out recognize immediately. “It’s dead enough that all the jazz guys walk in, they’ll clap once or twice, look around, give it a nod. They’re always very happy with it.”
Under normal conditions, the cozy space fits about 40 people.
When COVID hit in March, the younger Davis, who was living in New Jersey, working there and in New York City, found jobs had mostly dried up, so he returned home. “That’s when I said we should devote this place to something Tré and me can enjoy,” his father said.
“We’ve never been able to work together in a capacity like that, which is awesome. It saved me” after weddings, parties and other events were canceled because of the coronavirus outbreak, Tré Davis said.
“I’ve come to be very thankful for that being one of the silver linings of COVID. Everybody in the world is dealing with this. You can’t really complain. You do have to look at some of the good things that have come out of it,” Trevor Davis said. “A lot of family have come closer together.”
Earlier this year, Hartford Jazz Society bassist Steven Bulmer, who plays with the elder Davis, was looking for a location to replace the Paul Brown Monday Night Jazz series formerly held in Bushnell Park — a location where music could be streamed online.
The band features Steve Turre, who has been a trombonist for the Saturday Night Live band since 1985.
The wide-open space perfectly aligned with pandemic safety measures, said Trevor Davis, who has been a musician since he was 14, and became a concert promoter at 18. “Every Monday night throughout the summer, the band came there, and we had techies — we probably had 12 people total, and everybody with masks on. It’s blossoming.”
“We really would like it to become a community creative space,” Tré Davis said. One of the most recent concerts involved a post-hardcore band. “They rocked the socks off that place like we’ve never seen.”
A host of state-of-the-art photography and video equipment is used to take head shots, shoot video, record audio sessions and more. “We realized it was starting to step up, so we invested a good chunk of money getting solid audio and video gear in there. We now built a broadcast desk, which rolls around, and can stream four cameras, 16 bits of audio and two monitors,” Tré Davis said.
“It’s fun. We like to make cool stuff. You could play all day in there,” he said.
The Hartford Jazz Society uses grants to pay the bands, and gives a small stipend to father and son for use of the space.
The industry is still figuring out how to help artists struggling during the pandemic.
“It’s more the question of the model, and how that model can be accessible. It’s tough to put on a show and pay a band, sound guy, video guy. The model right now to monetize the virtual show is emerging,” Tré Davis said. “It’s not nonexistent — it was before. It’s not all there.
“Artists and people like us are figuring out how to make this a feasible way to have a fun show that can sustain them in some kind of viable way,” he said.
Plans for the future include hosting live concerts which can be recorded for future use. “It’s a pretty intimate experience,” Trevor Davis said.
“It’s enough for a band to make it financially feasible to get people there, especially if it’s a Middletown group,” Tré Davis said. “It’s a fun enough vibe, and we have enough different spaces in there to serve food and drinks. All the stuff that COVID’s not allowing us to do yet — we’re waiting for it to be safe and for a good way for us to do that.
“We’re ready to do a super-fun night for a band, and big group of people, to have an awesome show, live recording and great video,” he said.
The fifth annual Manchester CT Jazz Festival will take place virtually this year Dec. 5 at 7:30 p.m., livestreamed from The Library Studio. This fundraiser for the Beth Sholom B’nai Israel synagogue of Manchester will feature The Max Dvorin Sofia Goodman Quintet (with Al Janelle, Thomas Altman and Dave Rogers), and the New York All-Stars (Eric Alexander, Dave Kikoski, Boris Hozlov and Jonathan Barber).
“Middletown is getting a Hartford event to come to Middletown. That’s great for Middletown,” said the elder Davis, who has been involved with First Church at 190 Court St. for years.
The facility performance area can fit up to 850, the largest such venue in the city, even surpassing Wesleyan’s Crowell Hall, Trevor Davis said. He brought aspects of the city’s first night-style Middnight on Main to the church in 2012 and 2013, and has sponsored notable acts there in the past.
He’s hoping to create a partnership with Wesleyan University, the city and Middlesex County Chamber of Commerce, “making Middletown known for its arts. This is one more piece of the puzzle to try to bring those things together,” Trevor Davis said.