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Fill the Reif: Itasca Orchestra to honor Jesse Davis

A smiling man wearing headphones sits at a microphone.
Heidi Holtan
Jesse Davis at KAXE in 2019, hosting "On the House."

Itasca Orchestra Strings Program presents "Passion and Pulse," a concert with vibrant Latin American sounds. The performance will honor Jesse Davis, who played viola with the orchestra and was president of their board.

GRAND RAPIDS — “He introduced us to our local family,” said Pedro Oviedo, conductor and music director with Itasca Orchestra Strings Program, describing Jesse Davis as "the people’s glue."

Jesse Davis, 46, passed away unexpectedly Jan. 10, while traveling in South America with his husband, Warren Alto.

A friend to all, Jesse was an active volunteer with KAXE for over 15 years, first as a music programmer and then producing and creating programming on the KAXE Morning Show. From local food, the Itasca Orchestra, the Grand Rapids Farmers Market, festivals or his regular program “On the House,” Jesse created conversations that were brimming with passion and life.

“If, you know, you are aching, you just feel like you want to start moving and dancing, you feel free to do so. People might join and we might all just have more fun than we’re planning.”
Pedro Oviedo, describing the ISP performance to honor Jesse Davis.

Musical pulses

The ISP’s winter concert is diving deep into Latin American sounds, with the concert “Passion and Pulse.”

Originally from Paraguay, Pedro is also a violist and music director of ISP. He said the Latin American musical choice is a comment on the chilly winters in his new hometown.

“Like every February ever since I got here, it keeps getting cold,” he said.

“Passion and Pulse” will feature the music of composers Piazzolla, Marquez and Ginastera to bring a warm feel to the Reif Center in Grand Rapids and infuse a heartbeat and rhythms of Argentina, Mexico and Brazil.

“It’s a lot of fun to play this music," double bass player Tom Nelson said. "It’s a little different than what we’re used to, and I think the thing that’s most challenging is it’s so hot because it goes so fast.”

A night of music and fellowship

The ISP performance has special meaning to Pedro and the community.

“Even though we are not going to have him in this concert on Saturday, we are going to introduce the Jesse Davis legacy fund that is going to just serve more people and more people,” he said.

Pedro described how Jesse showed him and his wife around town, shared a meal and explained what a vibrant arts community they were joining.

“Thinking about this story and how I got here, we go back to Jesse,” he reflected. “The first time I visited Grand Rapids, guess who was welcoming me to the community?”

Along with the Latin rhythms, the ISP will also include a dedication at the beginning of the performance to Jesse, described as more meditative and slower.

“But Jesse wouldn’t have allowed that to be the end,” Pedro said.

After the dedication, the music will heat up, and as Jesse would have wanted, people may respond with movement and dancing.

“If, you know, you are aching, you just feel like you want to start moving and dancing, you feel free to do so," he said. "People might join and we might all just have more fun than we’re planning.”

Donations to the Jesse Davis Legacy Scholarship Fund will give students a tuition break on instruction and cover costs for instrument rentals. ISP serves students in Grand Rapids, Remer, Deer River, Coleraine and Bigfork.

Donations to the Jesse Davis Legacy Scholarship can be made with the Grand Rapids Area Community Foundation.

Have a remembrance of Jesse? Email us.

Listen to the full conversation from the KAXE Morning Show above.

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Heidi Holtan is KAXE's Director of Content and Public Affairs where she manages producers and is the local host of Morning Edition from NPR. Heidi is a regional correspondent for WDSE/WRPT's Duluth Public Television’s Almanac North.