The National Endowment for the Arts has announced the 2014 NEA Jazz Masters, which is the nation’s highest honor in jazz. Among the four recipients this year is bassist Richard Davis, who they will be honoring for his “lifetime achievements and exceptional contributions to the advancement of jazz.”
Born April 15th, 1930, Davis began singing with his family vocal trio at a young age. He began studying double bass in high school and continued his development under the tutelage of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s Rudolf Fahsbender while attending Vandercook College. It was after school that Davis began playing in dance bands, which eventually led him to meeting pianist Don Shirley, and ultimately he moved to New York City. There he spent 23 years working with the biggest names in jazz: Sarah Vaughan, Eric Dolphy, Don Sebesky, Oliver Nelson, Frank Sinatra, Barbra Streisand, Miles Davis, Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Band, Dexter Gordon, Ahmad Jamal and many more. Davis also crossed genres and recorded with rock artists like Bruce Springsteen and Van Morrison. He’s noted as one of the most recorded musicians of all time with a dozen albums as leader and over 3,000 recordings and jingles as a sideman.
He’s also a staunch advocate for bass education. Davis has been a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison since 1977. In 1993, he founded the Richard Davis Foundation for Young Bassists, Inc., which seeks to provide high quality training, instrument funds, and scholarship funds to aspiring bassists. The foundation holds a conference every year that brings in 17 master bass instructors and performers to teach bassists aged 3 through 18.
Davis, along with fellow recipients Keith Jarrett, Anthony Braxton, and Jamey Aebersold, will be honored at an awards ceremony and concert on January 13, 2014 at Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York City. They will additionally each receive a one-time award of $25,000.