Art Davis

Nat Hentoff described Art Davis as “beyond genre” because of his mastery over the double bass. His skills extended to multiple musical idioms. His long-running partnership with John Coltrane, jazz legend, was the creative peak of his career. This partnership spanned the entire life span of the iconic A Love Supreme to Coltrane’s death in 1967. Born December 5, 1933 in Harrisburg, PA. He began piano lessons at the age of five and then switched to the tuba when he was in middle school. He decided to pursue a career as a musician and moved to the double basse, believing it would open up a lot of opportunities. Although Davis had trained with the Philadelphia Orchestra musicians, he was harshly criticised and turned down during an audition for Harrisburg Symphony. Edwin MacArthur, the conductor, intuited that the decision of the Harrisburg Symphony selection committee was more based on Davis’ talent than his skin color. He charged the judges with racism, and threatened to resign if they didn’t change their decision. After high school, Davis joined the orchestra. He then studied classical music at the Manhattan School of Music on a scholarship. Then, he went to Juilliard, where he was taught by cellist Lazlo Varga, and New York Philharmonic bassist Anselme Fortier. After playing jazz in New York City nightclubs, Davis graduated from Hunter College with a triple degree in psychology, music and physics. In 1958, Davis recorded his first performance in a band called Max Roach’s quintet. This group included trumpeter Booker Little and George Coleman. Davis met Coltrane while supporting Roach at Harlem’s Small’s Paradise. He then began gigging with Miles Davis. Over the next year, they practiced together regularly and Coltrane wrote his iconic “Giant Steps” during this time. Davis was unable to join Coltrane due to professional conflicts, including a two-year tour around the world with Dizzy Gillespie. However, the bassist continued to be a crucial collaborator. He performed on the first unreleased recording Coltrane’s iconic “A Love Supreme” as well as appearing on sessions such Africa/Brass, Ascension, and later the pivotal Ascension. Davis was the second African-American member in 1961 of the NBC Staff Orchestra. He was a first-call session player and appeared on records featuring McCoy Tyner and Eric Dolphy. Elvin Jones and Freddie Hubbard also featured him. In August 1962, he even joined the studio with Bob Dylan, a young folk singer. Davis’ outspoken critique of the music industry’s racism was too much. He was blacklisted for more than a decade, but he resurfaced in 1980 with Reemergence. He earned his master’s degree in experimental psychology and supported himself teaching and playing in Broadway orchestras. B.A.S.S. was Davis’s main focus in his later years. Davis founded B.A.S.S. (Better Advantages for Students and Society) in 1993. On July 29, 2007, he died in Long Beach, CA from a heart attack.

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