Born: February 15, 1937 Primary Instrument: Saxophone
Nathan Davis - tenor and soprano saxophones, bass clarinet, educator
An accomplished jazz master who has quietly garnered an impeccable reputation in both the recording and the academic arenas, Nathan Davis is truly one of the living treasures in jazz and one of its most sophisticated spokesmen as well.
Born Nathan Tate Davis on Feb. 15 1937, in Kansas City, Davis began to play trombone at the age of 17, but soon switched to reeds and became an accomplished player on flute, bass clarinet, tenor and soprano saxophones. His first noteworthy job was with the Jay McShann band, and a little later he became one of the few males who has ever played with the usually all-female International Sweethearts Of Rhythm. While studying at Kansas University, Davis lead a group with Carmell Jones; then army service in 1960 took him to Berlin. On leaving the army in 1963 he remained in Europe and was invited to Paris by Kenny Klook Clarke, with whom he played for most of the next six years.
In 1964 Davis joined Eric Dolphy for a brief residency at the Chat Qui Pechˆ club and also played on the revolutionary reedsman's last recordings, made for the French radio station ORTF. The next year Davis toured Europe with Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers and was asked to join the band on a permanent basis; however, he declined, feeling that the touring life was too precarious.
After making a series of excellent (but long-deleted) albums for small European labels - featuring players such as Jones, Clarke, Woody Shaw, Larry Young, Mal Waldron and Hampton Hawes - Davis returned to the USA in 1969 to teach jazz at Pittsburgh University, where he has since remained. Davis holds a B.M.E. from the University of Kansas and a Ph.D. from Wesleyan University, Connecticut. He is presently a full Professor of Music at the University of Pittsburgh where he founded the undergraduate Jazz Studies Program and helped establish a Ph.D. program in Ethnomusicology.
He continued to record sporadically in the ‘60’s making two albums for the small Pittsburgh company Segue followed by three more for his own Tomorrow International label, on which he tried his hand at fusion: but, as with his European releases, these were never widely distributed. Davis has had bad luck with recordings: not only are most of his own albums unavailable, but his work with Blakey, Clarke and Dolphy remains largely unreleased. The situation began to change in the 80s: the London-based Hot House label reissued his 1967 John Coltrane homage, “Rules Of Freedom,” and later released the new “London By Night.”
In 1985, Davis formed the neo-bebop Paris Reunion Band, comprising various USA musicians who had lived in Paris in the 60s, recording and touring with them in the late 80s: personnel, at different times, has included Johnny Griffin, Joe Henderson, Shaw, Nat Adderley, Dizzy Reece, Slide Hampton, Kenny Drew, Jimmy Woode and Idris Muhammad. He also toured and recorded with the post-bop ensemble Roots. Both of these ensembles he went on to direct and tour with in the early ‘90’s as well.
Nevertheless, it is early albums such as “Hip Walk” (1966) and “The 6th Sense In The 11th House” (1972) that represent Davis' finest work. In particular, his superb tenor on the former's While Children Sleep and his glorious bass clarinet on the latter's The Shadow Of Your Smile suggest he is one of the great balladeers of modern jazz. His recordings are all considered highly collectable by aficionados and are available in reissues.