After 39 years at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, School of Music faculty member and legendary bassist Richard Davis is retiring this spring. His impact on many music students here in Madison and beyond was profound.
“Richard Davis will be greatly missed,” says Susan Cook, director of the UW School of Music. “Since he joined the faculty, Richard has been a living embodiment of the School’s commitment to the Wisconsin Idea, sharing tirelessly his expertise and insights with audiences throughout the state and internationally. We know that in retirement he’ll continue to be a transformative educator.”
Richard Davis is an international performing musician and Professor of Bass (European Classical and Jazz), Jazz History and combo improvisation at the UW-Madison. He has recorded a dozen albums as a leader and 3000 recordings/jingles as a sideman. Some of his performance/recording credits include Sarah Vaughan, Eric Dolphy, Don Sebesky, Janis Ian, Oliver Nelson, Bruce Springsteen, Van Morrison, Frank Sinatra, Barbra Streisand, Miles Davis Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Band, Dexter Gordon, Ahmad Jamal and a host of other notables. As recently as 2008, he performed live with Springsteen in Milwaukee.
Davis was born in Chicago and came to the UW-Madison in 1977 after spending 23 years in New York City establishing himself as one of the world’s premier bass players. Downbeat International Critics Poll named him Best Bassist from 1967-74. In New York, he began what would become a decades-long performing and recording career. Notably, Davis toured with Sarah Vaughan and performed alongside Jaki Byard, Eric Dolphy, Elvin Jones and Roland Kirk. He was a member of the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra from 1966-72.
In the world of classical music, Davis worked with conductors and composers such as Leonard Bernstein, Pierre Boulez, Gunther Schuller and Igor Stravinsky. Davis’s ability to perform in multiple styles and take on diverse repertories made him sought after by rock and popular music musicians as well. Throughout his long career, Davis received numerous awards, most notably in 2014 he was named a Jazz Master by the National Endowment for the Arts. That same year, the Oral History Association recognized Davis at their national meeting with a public oral history interview.
In 1993, Davis created the Richard Davis Foundation for Young Bassists, which annually brings in 17 masterful bass instructors/performers to teach young bassists ages 3-18. It’s an annual weekend devoted to nurturing emerging bass players as bass performers, many of whom studied with Davis themselves, who come from around the country to lend their support and mentorship.
Davis also founded the Institutes for the Healing of Racism in 2000 to raise consciousness about the history and pathology of racism and help heal racism in individuals, communities and institutions within the greater Madison area and all over the United States. In 2003, he received the City of Madison’s Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Humanitarian Award from former Mayor Sue Bauman.