UW-Madison: Bass Professor Richard Davis receives nation’s highest jazz honor


CONTACT: Richard Davis, 608-263-1911, [email protected]

NOTE: A 2012 video profile of Richard Davis on the Big Ten Network program “Forward Motion” can be viewed at http://go.wisc.edu/9qg496. A 2011 On Wisconsin Magazine feature is posted at http://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com/features/life-lessons/.

MADISON – Richard Davis can add one more leaf to his many laurels.

On Thursday, June 27, the National Endowment for the Arts named Davis, a professor of bass, jazz history, and combo improvisation at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, one of four 2014 NEA Jazz Masters, considered one of the highest honors in jazz. Recognizing his lifetime achievements and exceptional contributions to the advancement of jazz, Davis will receive a one-time award of $25,000.

Each year since 1982, the arts endowment has conferred the NEA Jazz Masters Award to living legends who have made major contributions to jazz. Only living musicians or jazz advocates may be nominated for the honor. For the 2014 NEA Jazz Masters, the panel considered 144 nominations.

The award places Davis in the same category as 131 luminaries such as Count Basie, Ella Fitzgerald, Dizzy Gillespie and the Marsalis family.

“It was an honor to be recognized amongst my peers,” says Davis, recognizing the past generations of musicians. “I’ve worked with almost all of them. A lot of people were, in a sense, models.”

He points to one in particular: bassist Milt Hinton, a 1993 honoree who passed away in 2000.

“His career was just phenomenal,” says Davis. “When I moved to New York, he introduced me to a lot of people who made my career successful.”

Davis is known as a remarkably prolific sideman, performing and recording in nearly every genre. Chicago born, he came to UW-Madison after spending 23 years in New York City establishing himself as one of the world’s premier bass players.

“Richard Davis, with his wide palette of skill sets, has been an inspiration for me and many bassists,” says bassist and composer Linda Oh in Davis’s NEA citation. “To me, he shows strength and versatility within his musicianship – a versatility that seems to not compromise integrity and individuality, something many bassists can only dream to achieve.”

This passionate curiosity has extended to his career as an educator. Since 1977, he has passed that multidimensionality on to students at UW-Madison.

“I think the ability is a necessary path to grow on, incorporate all musics,” says Davis. “As Duke Ellington said, ‘there’s only two kinds: good and bad.’ He was right.”

His years at UW-Madison sometimes seem like a small part of his teaching career. When he shares knowledge, on and off campus, he rarely limits himself to a single time or subject. He leads seminars on racial healing from his home; he convenes dozens of young bassists for annual conferences.

So what’s next?

“Just living,” he says. “Living is excitement. Each hour, day, minute brings on another surprise. You need to grow.”