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Saturday, March 28, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Gifted musician Bruce Davis dies

Player, bandleader appeared across country with stars of day

Bruce Davis leads his band Variety Pak in a rendition of a Johnny Cash song in 2011. Davis died Monday at age 91. (File)
Bruce Davis leads his band Variety Pak in a rendition of a Johnny Cash song in 2011. Davis died Monday at age 91. (File)

Bruce Davis, who grew up in Spokane and played with some of the country’s best-known musicians, died Monday. He was 91.

In the years before World War II, Davis played in clubs across the country, touring with many top-line swing bands including those of Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey.

After the war, Davis returned to Spokane and worked as a disc jockey with three stations. He continued playing trombone with a number of area bands, including Variety Pak and the Dixie Dandies.

In 1948, Bing Crosby convinced Davis to take a job with a band in Los Angeles. Davis stayed in Southern California, becoming a music director for three television shows.

There Davis met his future wife, Patti, and they settled in Fresno. During the decade that followed Davis also started an advertising company that produced commercials for television and radio.

And he continued playing with the Bruce Davis Quintet, performing at the Cocoanut Grove, the Palladium and the Stardust Supper Club. He also appeared as a bandleader or session man for performers including Nat King Cole and Kay Starr.

Davis also served as musical director for George Burns, Johnny Carson, Rosemary Clooney and Doris Day, among others. He appeared on “The Tonight Show,” “The Texaco Star Theater” with Milton Berle and a host of television music specials.

He moved back to Spokane for good in 1980.

His childhood revealed an amazing ability to learn instruments and play music with skill and passion. As a boy, Davis joined the Spokane Grade School Symphony and said he hoped to play the French horn.

The orchestra director gave him the sousaphone instead. “It was bigger than I was,” Davis told The Spokesman-Review in 2011.

He picked up the trumpet and trombone with ease. “I discovered once I heard a tune, I could play it,” Davis said.

KPBX Operations Manager Brian Flick had frequent opportunities to sit in with Davis on “Big Band Era Jazz,” the radio show he hosted for several years.

“His particular gifts included charming the socks off of everyone in the room by paying attention to them and honoring every request,” Flick said. “Even if only he and one other musician in the band knew the song, he’d play it and ‘sell’ it.  He was also quite clever at sneaking alternate lyrics into his performances.”

Davis was also humble about his talent, saying he hired great musicians and was always the worst one in the band. “There was truth in it no doubt, but he was making a joke,” Flick said.

“Leading the band with the degree of charm he always had was a rare thing,” Flick said.

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