Davis, Charles (A.)

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Davis, Charles (A.)

Davis, Charles (A.) , baritone saxophonist, soprano and tenor saxophonist; b. Goodman, Miss., May 20, 1933. Best known as a superb baritone saxophonist, he is a versatile artist who plays the other saxophones in a variety of musical settings. His father was Lindsey Davis, his mother Vernell Coleman Davis. He was raised in Chicago from 1936 and graduated from Du-Sable H.S.; he studied at the Chicago School of Music from 1948 to 1950, and was a private student of John Hauser. He had an extensive musical relationship with Sun Ra, first working with him in 1954. Pat Patrick, his Sun Ra band mate, sold him his first baritone. He was a full-time Arkestra member for two years, and would periodically perform, record, and tour with Sun Ra into the 1980s. He worked with Jack McDuff, Ben Webster, Billie Holiday, and Dinah Washington in the mid and late 1950s, before spending three years in Kenny Dorham’s group, a period that helped to establish his reputation and forged a musical association that would last for many years. Davis played with John Coltrane at the Cork ’n Bib, Westbury, Long Island, N.Y, probably in October 1962. He also played with Illinois Jacquet and Lionel Hampton in the early 1960s. In 1964 he won Down Beat magazine’s International Jazz Critics Poll for the baritone saxophone. He formed his own band in 1965 and 1966. In the 1960s he performed in the musical production of The Philosophy of the SpiritualA Masque of the Black under the direction of Willie Jones and the auspices of Nadi Qumar.

He taught at PS 179 in Brooklyn and was musical director of The Turntable, a nightclub owned by Lloyd Price. He performed for 10 years from the mid-1960s with the Jazz Composer’s Orch. He continued to freelance with Blue Mitchell, Erskine Hawkins, Clifford Jordan, and others. In the 1970s he was a member of the cooperative group “Artistry in Music” with Hank Mobley, Cedar Walton, Sam Jones, and Billy Higgins; was the co-leader and composer/arranger for the Baritone Saxophone Retinue, a group featuring six baritone Saxophones; made European tours of major jazz festivals and concerts with the Clark Terry Orch.; and toured the USA with Duke Ellington’s Orch. under the direction of Mercer Ellington, and in 1978 the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orch. He was musical director of the Home of the Id nightclub, presenting Gene Ammons, Randy Weston, and Max Roach; and was producer of Monday Night Boat Ride up the Hudson presenting Art Blakey, George Benson, and Etta Jones; and made TV appearances with Archie Shepp, Lucky Thompson, Ossie Davis, and Ruby Dee. In the 1980s he performed and recorded with the Philly Joe Jones Quartet and Jones’s Dameronia and with Abdullah Ibrahim’s Ekaya in the United States, Europe, and Africa; toured Europe with the Savoy Seven Plus 1: A Salute to Benny Goodman. With his own quartet, he performed in Rome, at the Bologna Jazz Festival, Jazz in Sardinia Festival, and the La Spezia Festival. He was the musical director of the Syncopation nightclub. He performed in the movie The Man with Perfect Timing with Abdullah Ibrahim. In 1984 he was named a “BMI Jazz Pioneer.”

In the 1990s he was musical librarian for Spike Lee’s Mo Better Blues’, performed at the Jamaica Jazz Festival with Dizzy Reece and returned to perform with Roy Burrowes; and was in the Apollo Hall of Fame Band accompanying Ray Charles, Joe Williams, Nancy Wilson, and others. He toured Holland saluting the music of Kenny Dorham; and was the guest artist at the 12th Annual N.C. Jazz Festival at Duke Univ. He was featured soloist of the Barry Harris Jazz Ensemble and performs in clubs with the Barry Harris/Charles Davis Quartet. He recorded and toured Europe and Japan with the Clifford Jordan Big Band. He is the tenor saxophonist and a major contributor of musical arrangements with Larry Ridley’s Jazz Legacy Ensemble, which appeared at the Senegal Jazz Festival, and performs concerts and conducts clinics, seminars, and master classes. This ensemble also appears in an ongoing concert series at the Schomberg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem. He was a featured artist at the Amman, Jordan Jazz Festival, arranged by the American Embassy; also the featured artist in clubs and concerts in Paris, Toulouse, and Hamburg. He appeared at the Williamstown Theatre Festival in an original production of Eduardo Machado’s Stevie Wants to Play the Blues, directed by Jim Simpson. He performs in the Three Baritone Saxophone Band with Ronnie Cuber and Gary Smulyan. His group appeared in 1998 at the New Orleans Jazz Festival, toured Italy, appeared at the JVC Jazz Image Festival at Villa Celimontana in Rome and in Oslo. Charles was also a featured soloist at the 1998 Chicago Jazz Festival. In June 1999, he performed with Aaron Bell and the Duke Ellington Tribute Orch. at the Jackie Robinson “Afternoon in Jazz Festival” in Nor-walk, Conn. He teaches private students through the New School, is a teacher at the Lucy Moses School, and for over 20 years has been an instructor at the Jazzmo-bile Workshops. He has made four albums as a leader and is featured on over 50 as a sideperson.


Dedicated to Tadd (1980); Super 80 (1982); Reflections (1990).DORHAM : Elvin Jones: Illuminations (1966).

—Lewis Porter