Richard Davis: There He Bows
It was perhaps these experiences and his eventual overcoming of difficulty that led Davis away from the hectic competitive scene of New York in 1977, answering a call from Wisconsin to impart his knowledge. Davis stated it simply: "I wanted to share what I had learned with the younger generation. Anything I knew I wanted to share, bass, anything, music, whatever I knew, I wanted to share with younger people." His purview has gone past just music however to important life lessons he finds lacking in some students. "I try to educate the white students, who have not been exposed to people other than people who look like them," he said. "And a lot of white students are complaining that they don't have enough diversity on the campus to be able to become better citizens for the next generation... I am sure when they built universities around the country, it was never conceived that a person of color would be going there."
Nevertheless, he is a bassist first and the love of the instrument steered the conversation to the subject of his foundation work. "It's called the Richard Davis Foundation for Young Bassists Incorporated. Our 12th annual is coming up March 25th-26th. It's always Easter weekend. Bass players start late in their lives, generally speaking. They have to be a certain height to play the bass, at least that was the way it was up until 20 or 30 years ago. I just gave a lesson to a bassist who has been playing since he was three. Now he is 11 years old so he's been playing the bass for 8 years. Many years ago, you didn't conceive a bassist starting when he was 3 years old. And so, I noticed that string bass players that would come into the university, they were not nearly as mature as another person of the same age who had played the violin or piano since they were three or four. So I said, why don't we do something about that? So I said I think I'll start a foundation for young bassists. We take them from foetus until they're 18 to get them prepared to go into a college career on the bass. We cover jazz, we cover European classical, we cover Latin. This is our first year having a Latin bassist with us. We cover the music that electric bass players are known to play so it's a rounded thing. We have 85-100 bass players who will come to Madison and they are taught by 18 professional bassists from all fields of music." Davis is optimistic for its success even after he is gone. "The Richard Davis Foundation as I see it will be around as long as any symphony orchestra has been around. The name stands no matter who is here to run it. I got some very good people with me. I got noted bass players from all over the country and it's a big family weekend of bass experiences."
Another family weekend of bass experiences is at Iridium this month. Davis and fellow bassists Eddie Gomez and Avishai Cohen will lead groups and then come together for a low-end jam. "Bass players love each other," Davis mused. "We all have an attitude of a club. It's a big instrument. Sometimes you have to borrow somebody else's. And I like the two guys who are playing it...it's good to see three different styles on the same stage." Chances are, even after these late night city shows, Davis will still be up at dawn.
* Eric Dolphy - Out to Lunch (Blue Note, 1964)
* Andrew Hill - Point of Departure (Blue Note, 1964)
* Rahsaan Roland Kirk - Rip, Rag and Panic (Limelight, 1965)
* Pat Martino - Baiyina: The Clear Evidence (Prestige-OJC, 1968)
* Richard Davis - Now's The Time (Muse, 1972)
* Richard Davis - Live at Sweet Basil (Evidence, 1990-91)