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Double bassist Art Davis, who played with jazz greats such as Coltrane, dies at 73
By Associated Press
Saturday, August 4, 2007 - Updated: 11:14 AM EST

LONG BEACH, Calif. - Art Davis, the renowned double bassist who played with John Coltrane and other jazz greats, has died. He was 73.

Davis died of a heart attack Sunday at his home in Long Beach, his son Kimaili Davis told the Los Angeles Times for a story in Saturday’s editions.

Davis was blacklisted in the 1970s for speaking up about racism in the music industry, then later earned a doctorate in clinical psychology and balanced performance dates with appointments to see patients.

"He was adventurous with his approach to playing music," said pianist Nate Morgan, who played with the elder Davis intermittently over the last 10 years. "It takes a certain amount of integrity to step outside the box and say, ’I like it here and I’m going to hang here for a while.’"

Known for his stunning and complete mastery of the instrument, Davis was able to jump between genres. He played classical music with the New York Philharmonic, was a member of the NBC, Westinghouse and CBS orchestras, and played for Broadway shows.

The most enriching experience of his career was collaborating with John Coltrane. Described by jazz critic Nat Hentoff as Coltrane’s favorite bassist, Davis performed on the saxophonist’s albums including "Ascension," Volumes 1 and 2 of "The Africa/Brass Sessions" and "Ole Coltrane."

The two musicians met one night in the late 1950s at Small’s Paradise, a jazz club in Harlem.

Davis viewed his instrument as "the backbone of the band," one that should "inspire the group by proposing harmonic information with a certain sound quality and rhythmic impulses," Davis said in an excerpt from So What magazine posted on his Web site.

By following his own advice, Davis’ career flourished. He played with a long and varied list of artists: Thelonious Monk, Duke Ellington, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Louis Armstrong, Judy Garland, John Denver, the trio Peter, Paul and Mary and Bob Dylan.

Davis began studying piano at age 5 in Harrisburg, Pa., where he was born in 1933. By sixth grade Davis studied the tuba in school because it was the only instrument available, he said.

By 1951 he decided to make music his career. He chose the double bass, believing it would allow more opportunities to make a living. At age 17 he studied with the principal double bassist at the Philadelphia Orchestra. But when he auditioned for his hometown’s symphony, the audition committee was so unduly harsh and demanding that the conductor Edwin MacArthur questioned their objectivity.

"The answer was, ’Well, he’s colored,’ and there was silence," Davis recalled in a 2002 article in Double Bassist magazine. "Finally MacArthur burst out, ’If you don’t want him, then you don’t want me.’ So they quickly got together and accepted me."

After high school, Davis studied classical music on scholarship at the Manhattan School of Music and the Juilliard School of Music. At night he played jazz in New York clubs.
In the 1970s, his fortunes waned after he filed an unsuccessful discrimination lawsuit against the New York Philharmonic. Like other black musicians who challenged job hiring practices, he lost work and industry connections.

With less work coming his way, Davis returned to school and in 1981 earned a doctorate in clinical psychology from New York University. For many years he was a practicing psychologist while also working as a musician.

As a result of his lawsuit and protest, Davis played a key role in the increased use of the so-called blind audition, in which musicians are heard but not seen by those evaluating them, Hentoff said.

The accomplished musician also pioneered a fingering technique for the bass and wrote "The Arthur Davis System for Double Bass."

Davis also wore the hat of university professor. He taught at UC Irvine for two years. Most recently Davis was a part-time music instructor at Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa.

Besides his son Kimaili, Davis is survived by another son and a daughter.

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Dr. Art Davis

I've been wanting to post something up here about Art Davis, but haven't been able to find the right words. A friend of mine (Alexi David, an amazing bass player himself) emailed me a few days after the news was out and asked me, "Didn't you know him?" I wrote this reply in what seemed to be only seconds. This says it all and I figured I would just post it:

Yeah, I can't believe it. I've been thinking of him a lot recently and even had Nature Boy (Coltrane Quartet Plays...) on the turntable when I found out. My neighbors must have heard me gasp out loud. Man, it hurts.
He was a guiding light for me and encouraged me to play, write and even go to the New School. He was there to help show me the way when I came to a crossroads in my life, as if fate had stepped in. I'll always attribute it to divine intervention. I wrote a tune a couple of years ago as a tribute to him called 'Interstellar Beacon'. He was one of the kindest people I have ever met, and definitely the kindest and most giving of all the so-called 'legendary' figures of the music I have encountered.

I met him at a community college in California where he was teaching (among several teaching gigs he had at various schools). He always had great stories and introduced me to musicians who played with him. I asked him about musicians, the session he did with John Gilmore; I'd tell him about shows that I would check out and he would ask me if I talked to the musicians, like Pharaoh Sanders. He would say, almost like a grandfather giving a little nudge, "Yes, he's approachable. Tell him you're a friend of mine." He would mention how that was the tradition of the music, but would remark on how some musicians were so unapproachable; he'd just smile and laugh. He was super positive and everyone always had a great feeling when around him. He studied psychology (Dr. Davis - even studied experimental psychology) and could really read people. I swear, a couple of times it seemed like he could read minds!! I hadn't talked to him in several months and feel like total sh*t about that. I've been wanting to call him but have still been avoiding telling him I left school, I didn't want to let him down. I was being stupid and trying to build up the nerve to call. Now I wish I had just called him. He was a champion for a lot of things and a real hero to me. For some reason I called his cell phone on Sunday and got his normal message, I was tempted to leave him a goodbye message but couldn't get the words out.

I met Odean Pope (who Art Davis would speak very highly about), a couple of months ago and I can't believe I didn't even tell Dr. Davis about that incredible meeting. Odean sat down with me and talked for a while after one of his trio performances in Philadelphia, he even brought up the possibility of me playing in his saxophone choir at some point in the future, right out of the blue! (he was probably just being nice, but it made my day/year)

Dr. Davis would tell me how John Coltrane, towards the end, would gaze at the stars and look through a telescope and marvel at what was out there, reflecting as if knowing his time was coming soon (which Dr. Davis came to realized later). I had never met anyone who referred to John Coltrane as John until I met Art Davis.
I believe he is now able to see John again and Alice, and his wife who passed a few years ago. A beautiful reunion, I'm sure.

I feel blessed to have know him. And he was my friend.


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Art Davis is one of the most underrated bassists of all time. Of all the guys who played bass in Coltrane's classic quartet, I thought he was the best - better than Jimmy Garrison, better even than Reggie Workman (at the time,) who is another one of my favorites.

With both the recent passing of him and Max Roach I decided to put on the only album I have of the two: Deeds, Not Words. Art plays wonderfully, as always.

If I remember by 'Trane biograpy right, he actually turned down the opportunity to join 'Trane's band permanently, so he could do studio work for NBC in LA...specifically so he could help open up the way for other African Americans to get lucrative studio positions and contracts. Coltrane respected him for that, and so do I.
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