Jazz bassist Richard Davis has passed away at the age of 93, following nearly two years of hospice care.
The Chicago-born musician, who began his career in 1947 at the age of 17, was best known within mainstream music for playing the bass parts on Van Morrison‘s 1968 album ‘Astral Weeks’. Other non-jazz albums that featured Davis’ playing include Bruce Springsteen‘s ‘Born to Run’ (on the track ‘Meeting Across the River’), Paul Simon‘s ‘There Goes Rhymin’ Simon’ (on ‘Something So Right’) and Bo Diddley‘s ‘Where It All Began’.
Davis often served as bandleader within ensembles he performed in, which includes the band put together to record ‘Astral Weeks’ with Morrison. It is believed that Davis had over 3,000 album credits across his decades as a working musician. Among the artists Davis sat in for as double bassist included Miles Davis (no relation) and Frank Sinatra, as well as performing as part of orchestras conducted by both Igor Stravinsky and Leonard Bernstein.
His first studio album as a lead artist came in 1967 with ‘Heavy Sounds’, a collaborative effort with jazz drummer Elvin Jones. It was released by American jazz label Impulse!, the label best known for its work with John Coltrane. In 1969, Davis released his solo debut album ‘Muses for Richard Davis’. His final works, ‘Madison’ and ‘Blue Monk’, were recorded and released in 2008.
In tandem with his career as a session musician and bandleader, Davis also worked extensively in music education and activism. In 1977, he moved from New York City to Madison to teach at the University of Wisconsin. There, Davis became Professor of Bass, Jazz History and Jazz Ensemble. He taught at the University for nearly 40 years before ultimately retiring in early 2016.
In 1993, he created the Richard Davis Foundation for Young Bassists, which saw Davis hold annual masterclasses for bassists aged between 13 and 18. He also founded the Madison wing of the Institutes for the Healing of Racism in 2000, and hosted weekly meetings with hopes to make Madison a more welcoming place for people of colour. Davis’ association with the city of Madison was recognised by the community in July 2019, when a street in its east side was officially renamed Richard Davis Lane.
“Richard touched the lives of thousands and will be missed by friends, family, fans, students, and colleagues around the world,” wrote Davis’ daughter Persia on an official memorial page set up for him following his death.