Remembering double bassist Richard Davis

Richard Davis, a world-renowned jazz bassist, educator, and social justice activist, passed away at the age of 93. He was a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison for 39 years and played with notable artists such as Miles Davis and Frank Sinatra.

With Jason Heath · San Francisco, CA

Richard Davis, a jazz legend, educator, and social justice activist, passed away on September 6 at the age of 93 after spending two years in hospice care.

Richard worked as a Professor of Bass, Jazz History, and Jazz Ensemble at the University of Wisconsin-Madison for 39 years before retiring in 2016. He was one of the world’s top bassists, having spent over 20 years in the New York jazz and studio scene. The Downbeat International Critics Poll named him the “Best Bassist” from 1967-1974. He recorded over 3,000 recordings and jingles as a sideman and a dozen albums as a leader. He worked with a number of notable artists, including Sarah Vaughan, Eric Dolphy, Don Sebesky, Oliver Nelson, Bruce Springsteen, Van Morrison, Frank Sinatra, Barbra Streisand, Miles Davis, Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Band, Dexter Gordon, and Ahmad Jamal.

Richard was also well-versed in classical music and played under the direction of George Szell, Leopold Stokowski, Igor Stravinsky, Pierre Boulez, Gunther Schuller, and Leonard Bernstein.

In 1993, Richard established the Richard Davis Foundation for Young Bassists, Inc., which holds annual master classes for bassists aged 3-18. In 1998, he started the Retention Action Project, which focuses on open dialogues on subjects related to multicultural differences. He also founded a Madison Chapter of The Institutes for the Healing of Racism, Inc.

Throughout his career, Richard received numerous awards and honors, including honorary doctorate degrees in Musical Arts and Humane Letters from UW-Madison, the Hilldale Award for distinguished teaching from Chancellor Emeritus Donna Shalala, an honorary doctorate of Humane Letters from Edgewood College, the Manfred E. Swarsensky Humanitarian Award from the Rotary Club of Madison, the Governor of Wisconsin Arts Award, The City of Madison Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Humanitarian Award, the Madison Area Music Association Michael St. John Lifetime Achievement Award, the Rev. James C. Wright Human Rights Award, the UW-Madison Exceptional Service Award, the Spencer Tracy Award for Distinction in the Performing Arts, and the NEA Jazz Masters Fellowship.

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