Encyclopedia of Jazz Musicians

  1. A
  2. B
  3. C
  4. D
  5. E
  6. F
  7. G
  8. H
  9. I
  10. J
  11. K
  12. L
  13. M
  14. N
  15. O
  16. P
  17. Q
  18. R
  19. S
  20. T
  21. U
  22. V
  23. W
  24. X
  25. Y
  26. Z

Davis, Art (Arthur D.)

Davis, Art (Arthur D.), bassist; b. Harrisburg, PA, 5 December, 1934, d. Long Beach, CA, 29 July, 2007. In interviews, John Coltrane consistently maintained that Davis had been his first choice for the quartet, but the bassist was not available for a full-time commitment to the quartet at the times that Coltrane had openings. An only child, he studied piano first, but dropped it because he didn't have a piano at home. He was interested in trumpet or trombone, but only the tuba was available at his school. He won a state competition (as "The Forensics") as a tuba player before starting on bass in 1951, studying with his high school music teacher.

He was a prodigious talent who was rated top bass and tuba player for two years at the All State Orchestra and a national youth orchestra, as well as at William Penn High School, and his photo was in local papers. He led his own quintet which by 1956 had been featured on radio, TV, and at major colleges and clubs throughout the Pennsylvania area. (Private tapes exist of these early years.) He studied at 17 with Roger Scott, principal bassist of the Philadelphia Orchestra, and then worked in the Harrisburg Symphony, when he was offered scholarships to three of the leading music conservatories--the Eastman, Juilliard, and Manhattan schools. He chose to study with Anselme Fortier (principal bassist of the N.Y. Philharmonic in the late 1940s) at the latter two schools from 1953-56. From Fortier he devloped a preference for steel rather than gut strings. He also studied with cellist Lazlo Varga at Juilliard, and he adapted the four finger cello system to the bass (explained in his 1975 book). He also learned through watching and listening to Oscar Pettiford. However, he returned to Harrisburg in early 1956 because his mother was ill.

By 1958 he had symphonic work with Symphony of the Air, National Orchestra, Bell Symphony, and others in NYC, as well as extensive employment in theatres, studios, and with singers and jazz groups. 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--one of his bandmates, Booker Little, had accidentally shut the car door on it. Davis's bandage is clearly visible in the photographs on the resulting live album. While Davis was working with Roach's group at Small's Paradise in Harlem, Coltrane approached him about playing together informally. They worked on "Giant Steps" and other pieces, and stayed in touch. Davis toured Europe with Dizzy Gillespie from the fall of 1959 through early 1961, then worked with Lena Horne for a month in London.

He played bass with Coltrane in tandem with Reggie Workman on and off from May through about October 1961, but also appeared earlier and later alongside Steve Davis and Jimmy Garrison, including the 1965 recordings the Quartet Plays and Ascension. He also performed or recorded with 0. 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, Leo Wright, Abbey Lincoln, Al Grey-Billy Mitchell, and Art Blakey at various times. 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 the beginning of 1962 through 1970, breaking the race barrier, and was prominently featured on the Merv Griffin show from the late 1960s until it moved its base to Califronia in 1971. After having auditioned for the New York Philharmonic twice as a classical bassist and been turned down, in 1969 he (along with cellist Earl Madison) brought an 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 unsuccessfully challenged by Davis, who maintained that auditions should be held behind a screen), but that the orchestra did discriminate by avoiding black artists when short-term and substitute musicians were needed. Davis did sub in the Philharmonic as a result.

When the Griffin show moved to Los Angeles in 1971 Davis went back to school to pursue his deep interest in psychology, supporting himself by teaching and playing in Broadway shows, ballets and the Moscow Circus. He taught privately and at Manhattan Community College from 1971 - 1986. He studied there as well, and completed a BA Summa Cum Laude from Hunter College in 1972 (triple major in psychology, music, physics), MA degrees from CUNY and New York University in music and psychology in 1976 and a doctorate in psychology from NYU in 1981.

After receiving his doctorate, he devoted four years to psychology patients and teaching in medical centers and colleges. He was also playing in a duo with Hilton Ruiz from 1979-86. In 1986, he moved to the Los Angeles area (settling in Long Beach), where he has taught at Cal. State Fullerton, and maintains a private practice doing individual psychotherapy as well as playing concerts, clubs, and recordings. He has worked there with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and Orange County Symphony as well.

He performed in Brooklyn in July 1997 and was interviewed on WKCR radio prior to the concert. He returned to NYC to perform at the Knitting factory in March 2002. He presented a lecture-demonstration at the IAJE convention in Long Beach, Ca., in Jan. 2002. He won a 2002-2003 ASCAP award.

A Dr. Art Davis Fan Club was formed in October 1990 by some former students and several of his local fans. They offered a quarterly newsletter, Bass-ically Speaking , and awarded the first Dr. Art Davis Scholarship in 1991. In 1993, Davis founded a non-profit organization entitled B.A.S.S. (Better Advantages for Students and Society), which awards stipends to full time college/university students in all educational disciplines. In 1996, Dr. Davis formed the Gladys Davis Memorial Scholarships for health care majors in honor of his late wife who was a health care provider and passed away in November 1995.
Art Davis died of a heart attack at his home in Long Beach, California on July 29, 2007.

Complete Art Davis discography: http://www.eclipse.net/~fitzgera;  a version of the discography was published in Coda Magazine in the May/June 1997.
As leader:
Reemergence (1980); Life (1985); Live (1984); A Time Remembered (1995)
As sideperson:
Max Roach: Live At Newport (1958), Deeds, Not Words (1958),            Many Sides Of Max Roach (1959), Award-Winning Drummer (1959), Percussion Bitter Sweet (1961), It's Time (c. January 1962); Roach and Hasaan: Max Roach Presents the Legendary Hasaan [Ibn Ali] (1964); Dizzy Gillespie: Copenhagen Concert (1959), Live At Newport (1960), Gillespiana  (1960), three unissued titles from November 22, 1960 in Stockholm, Carnegie Hall Concert (1961); Abbey Lincoln: Straight Ahead (1961); Booker Little: Out Front (1961); Coltrane: Ole Coltrane (1961), Africa/Brass (1961), J.C. Quartet Plays (1965), Ascension (1965).

Imagine The Sound (1981; he performs)

Davis. The Arthur Davis Method for Double Bass (1975)
Davis. A Brief History of Jazz (1995)
Davis. John Coltrane, an Inside View (unpublished)
Valerie Wilmer, Jazz Monthly (1962)
Valerie Wilmer, Jazz News 6/21/61
Jazz Hot 2/63
Chris J. Walker, "The Art of Survival" (Davis website)
Walton, Ortiz. Music: Black, White & Blue (book, 1972)

Back to Top