Richard Davis

Richard Davis

Richard Davis, respected bassist and NEA Jazz Master, died on September 6th at 93 years of age.  Anyone who has heard Van Morrison's Brown-Eyed Girl has heard Richard Davis.  Anyone who has heard Pat Martino's Baiyina, The Visit!, or Exit knows who Richard Davis was.  

A favourite in the DownDeat Readers' Poll in the late 60s & early 70s, he had grown up in Chicago, earning a music education degree in 1952.  His first major employers, Ahmad Jamal, Don Shirley, and Sarah Vaughan prepared him for a career in the forefront of of jazz, while keeping him open to the possibilities of other forms. 

Which brings me to Astral Weeks... This Van Morrison album opened the pop door for jazzers - and it was down to Richard Davis to execute, which he did! His first three notes on Brown-Eyed Girl set the confident, exuberant tone... and it never lets up.  With Jay Berliner and Connie Kay, Richard Davis brought the potential of jazz to a whole new (and pretty much clueless) audience.  I'm not sure they ever understood what was going on, but they were influenced to some extent.

Then we get to Pat Martino's Exit - recorded in 1976 - featuring Gil Goldstein, Billy Hart and, of course, Richard Davis who clearly runs the accompaniment strategy underpinning Martino's virtuosic excursions. Days of Wine and Roses is meticulous above and beyond even New York studio standards; Blue Bossa has a translucent energy and muscle that it rarely felt before; I Remember Clifford draws tears without the faintest trace of vibrato; and Exit shows 70s jazz reaching the level of high art, thanks to the restless interplay between bass and guitar - Richard Davis and Pat Martino.

These days are gone and these men are gone - Davis and Martino - but I have an original vinyl pressing of Exit in my hand and it's a living piece of jazz legacy!  And I believe that jazzers everywhere owe them a clink of their glasses for showing the way to another level.