Chip Davis is the son of third generation musicians, so maybe it shouldn’t be surprising that Mannheim Steamroller’s first album was entirely based on classical form.
Chip began his musical training at age 4; wrote his first piece of music at age 6 (a four part chorale about his dog, Stormy); joined the Vienna Boys’ Choir at age 11; played bassoon in the Toledo symphony at age 16; and sang tenor in the Norman Luboff Choir after graduating from the University of Michigan, where he majored in music education and played the bassoon in the university concert band and percussion in the marching band.
A Chip Off the Old Block
Chip comes from a musical family. His father was a saxophone player in a WWII era big band and later, orchestra director at Davis’ high school. His mother played trombone for the NBC Symphony, taught piano and was a poster girl for the Interlochen Art Academy. Chip’s given name is Louis Davis, Jr. but his gravitation toward music from such an early age garnered him the nickname that he has long gone by, precisely because he is a Chip off the musical block that birthed him.
Music Education Leads to Musical Revolution
After graduation from the University of Michigan, Chip found himself teaching kids to play and have an appreciation for music. He discovered, as Jeff Korbelik from the Lincoln Journal Star wrote, something parents have long known – that kids likes and interests change quickly and often. Korbelik writes, “So, in order to teach them about boring 20-minute sonatas, he compressed them to 2.5 minutes and jazzed them up. Thus was laid the foundation for the music that Mannheim Steamroller would make famous.”
So, after a brief stint as a jingle writer and wildly successful country music songwriter, Chip applied to the public ear what he had refined in the classroom – he composed Fresh Aire and in so doing coined a new genre of music that would become known as New Age.
In the early 1970s, Chip created Mannheim Steamroller’s unique sound and high-end audio equipment stores gobbled it up. They would blare it to demonstrate the quality of their equipment and its ability to deliver stunning sound. After each playing, customers would ask who the guys were making the music and where they could buy it. Unfortunately, none of the recording studios had the foresight to capitalize on that interest, which led Chip to found American Gramaphone – his own, independent recording label, and released Fresh Aire as its first offering. In this video clip below, Chip describes the meaning behind the name, Fresh Aire, what inspired it and the foundation for that first album that started Mannheim Steamroller’s success.
A Chip Interview on Aire
“Yes back in 1974 when I wanted to start off with the first album which was “Fresh Aire which means fresh song, A-I-R-E that spelling of air is Italian for song. So fresh song like Bach’s “Aire on the G String”, a famous piece that Bach wrote. When I started off on that I wanted to bring together these various elements of the classical like the aire and everything so that is what formed the first album. I, each song on that album are actually the name of the classical architecture that it’s based on so there’s a Sonata, Sonata is actually a form from that period, the Rondo is a form from that period, the Fugue is on there but I called it chocolate fudge. In some cases I made sort of little plays on the words which I like doing but that’s how that first album came about but they were all based on classical form.”