Davis, Art(hur D.)

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Davis, Art(hur D.)

Davis, Art(hur D.) , jazz bassist; b. Harrisburg, Pa., Dec. 5, 1934. He initially studied piano and tuba, winning a national competition on the latter before starting on bass in 1951. A prodigious talent, he was rated the top bass and tuba player for two years at William Perm H.S. He led his own quintet that, by 1956, had been featured on radio, TV, and at major colleges and clubs throughout the Pa. area. At this time, he worked in the Harrisburg Symphony, studied at the Curtis Inst, and was offered scholarships to three of the leading music conservatories—the Eastman, Juilliard, and Manhattan schools. He selected the latter two and by 1958 was also working around N.Y. He studied with Anselme Fortier, and learned by watching and listening to Oscar Pettiford. He played with Max Roach in 1958–59. The group debuted at the Newport festival on July 6, 1958. Davis had to play with an injured plucking finger—another musician had accidentally shut the car door on it—and his bandage is clearly visible in the photographs on the resulting live album. He toured Europe with Dizzy Gillespie from 1959 through early 1961, then worked with Lena Home for a month in London. By the early 1960s had symphonic work in N.Y.C., and extensive employment in theatres, studios, and with singers and jazz groups. He played bass with Coltrane, usually in tandem with Reggie Workman, intermittently from May through about October 1961, and on some later occasions including the 1965 recordings the Quartet Plays and Ascension. (In interviews, Coltrane said that Davis was his first-choice for bass player with his quartet, but Davis was often unavailable when Coltrane offered him the position.) At various times Davis also performed or recorded with O. Coleman, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Clark Terry-Bob Brookmeyer Quintet, Gene Ammons, Lee Morgan, Aretha Franklin, Gigi Gryce, Booker Little, Quincy Jones, Roland Kirk, Oliver Nelson, Freddie Hubbard, Roach Presents Hassan Ibn Ali, Leo Wright, Abbey Lincoln, Al Grey-Billy Mitchell, and Art Blakey. He made appearances on albums by Bob Dylan, John Denver, Judy Garland, Bob Gibson, Peter, Paul & Mary, Nancy Ames, Buffy Ste. Marie, and others. He was a member of the NBC, CBS, and Westinghouse television orchestras from 1962 through 1970, breaking the race barrier, and was prominently featured on the Merv Griffin show in the late 1960s. In 1969, after having been turned down for the N.Y. Philharmonic four times, he (along with cellist Earl Madison) brought a historic lawsuit against the orchestra and its conductor Leonard Bernstein for racial discrimination. After 15 months the N.Y. Commission on Human Rights maintained that discrimination had not been proved for permanent jobs (which was challenged by Davis, who maintained that auditions should be held behind a screen), but that the orchestra had discriminated by avoiding black artists when short-term and substitute musicians were needed. From around 1970 he was primarily involved in teaching. He taught at Manhattan Community Coll. from 1971 to 1973. He earned a B.A. from Hunter Coll. in 1972, M.A. degrees from C.U.N.Y. and N.Y.U. in music and psychology in 1976, and a doctorate in psychology in 1981. Moving to the L.A. area in the early 1980s, Davis has since worked as a psychologist, while continuing with his first profession, doing studio sessions, playing in a duo with Hilton Ruiz (1985 and 1986), and recording as a leader (1984 and 1995). He performed in Brooklyn in July 1997 and was interviewed on WKCR radio prior to the concert.


Reemergence (1980); Live (1984); Life (1985); A Time Remembered (1995).MAX ROACH: Deeds, Not Words (1958); Live at Newport (1958); Award-Winning Drummer (1959); Many Sides of Max Roach (1959); Percussion Bitter Sweet (1961); It’s Time (1962).DIZZ Y GILLESPIE : Copenhagen Concert (1959); Live at Newport 1960; Gillespiana (1960); Carnegie Hall Concert (1961).ABBEY LINCOLN: Straight Ahead (1961).BOOKE R LITTLE: Out Front (1961).JOH N COLTRANE: Africa/Brass (1961); Ole Coltrane (1961); J.C. Quartet Plays (1965); Ascension (1965).

—Lewis Porter