Ten Facts About Nathan Davis (1937-2018)

Wednesday, 11 April 2018 05:01 AM Written by 


Nathan Davis, retired Director and founder of the University of Pittsburgh's Jazz Studies program from 1969 to 2013,  died Monday in Florida at age 81.  Here is a mini-history, with some music for good measure.  He was not born here, but he became an integral part of this City's jazz heritage. 

1. The Kansas City native was born not far from the home of the young Charlie Parker.

2. Like Parker, he apprenticed playing in the KC swing and blues band of Jay McShann.

3. After college (BA, Music Education, University of Kansas) and Army service, he decided to settle in Europe in 1962.

4. His first solo album, Happy Girl for the German SABA label, appeared in 1965.

"Happy Girl," the title track. Davis, tenor sax; Woody Shaw, trumpet Jimmy Woode, bass; Billy Brooks, drums; Larry Young, piano.

5. He replaced Wayne Shorter in Pittsburgh native Art Blakey's short-lived mid 60's band, the New Jazzmen, in '65.

Blakey wanted him to join the band permanently, taking Shorter's place as the main composer and music director, but Davis, married with an infant daughter, declined the offer so he could remain in Europe.  He and Blakey were lifelong pals.

"Crisis," With Blakey and the New Jazzmen Pittsburgher Blakey on drums, Freddie Hubbard, trumpet, pianist Jaki Byard with Reggie Workman on bass.

6. He often worked with another Pittsburgh-born jazz great: drummer Kenny "Klook" Clarke, the drummer who defined a new approach in the early bebop era.

"That Kaycee Thing" from his second SABA album The Hip Walk. Davis on tenor, soprano saxes and flute; trumpeter Carmell Jones, Clarke on drums; Jimmy Woode, bass; Francy Boland, piano;

7. He returned to America in 1969, and accepted the position of the first Director of Jazz Studies at Pitt.

1971: "To Ursula With Love," with the Nathan Davis Sextet, an original featuring Davis on soprano sax. The song is dedicated to his wife, from the album Makatuka, recorded at Pittsburgh's WRS studio with A-list Pittsburgh musicians: trombonist Nelson Harrison, pianist Joe Kennedy, Don DePaolis on electric piano; Roger Humphries, drums; Virgil Walters, bass.

8. Davis received a Doctorate in Ethnomusicology from Wesleyan University in 1974.

9. He recorded an album-length 1977 Suite for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. accompanied by bothnational and Pittsburgh jazz stars.

"Latin Happ'n"  Davis, soprano sax; Lew Soloff and Clyde Bellin, trumpets; Nelson Harrison and Daniel Poupard, trombones; Lee Gross, baritone sax; Frank Cunimondo, electric piano; Mike Taylor, bass; Joe Harris, drums; Steve Boyd, Arp Synthesizer and clarinet; Willie Amokau, percussion; Eric Johnson, guitar



10. In 2013, after 44 years, he retired from Pitt and received the BNY Mellon Jazz Living Legacy Award.

Aside from his teaching, his achievements here included creating the International Academy of Jazz Hall of Fame, the William Russell Robinson Recording Studio, Pitt Jazz Ensemble and the Sonny Rollins International Jazz Archives.

2013: Discusses the early days of the Pitt Jazz program and a chance 1969 reunion with Art Blakey in town that became the basis of the the Pitt Jazz Seminar. Interview: University of Kansas (KU) Alumni Association

Acknowledgments: All About Jazz



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