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Nathan Davis Quintet: The Hip Walk


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: Nathan Davis Quintet: The Hip Walk
There are numerous examples of talented American jazz musicians who had long careers but were overlooked by critics, broadcasters and much of the jazz audience, often because they spent decades as full time jazz educators, which limited their opportunities to tour in support of their recordings. Nathan Davis, primarily known as a tenor and soprano saxophonist, though he was also a fine flautist and clarinetist, falls into that category, though part of the reason he is lesser known is that most of his recordings as a leader were made for European or small American labels.

Born in Kansas City, Kansas on February 15, 1937, Davis was drawn to jazz at an early age and worked as a taxi dispatcher in order to buy his first tenor saxophone at the age of fourteen and soon after he played his first jazz gig. When he was not in school, he played in Jay McShann's band.

Entering the University of Kansas after high school, he earned a bachelor of music education degree then he joined the US Army, spending most of his tour of duty playing in the Army Band in Berlin, West Germany. After his discharge in 1962, Davis remained in Europe and settled in Paris after being recruited to join a band led by American expatriate drummer Kenny Clarke. Together they built a working relationship that continued for the next seven years. When Eric Dolphy left Charles Mingus at the end of the bassist's 1964 memorable European tour, Dolphy assembled a band with Davis and trumpeter Donald Byrd that recorded seven songs for radio broadcast on June 11 in Paris with a local rhythm section. Due to Dolphy's sudden death in Berlin on June 29, they were probably never aired, though these performances have appeared on several bootleg releases in recent decades. Davis continued to work with major jazz artists during his remaining years in Europe, including concerts with Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers, Ray Charles, Dexter Gordon and Woody Shaw. Davis also led a quartet that included organist Larry Young on recordings produced for broadcast by ORTF in Paris, though this music would not be commercially issued for another five decades.

Returning to the US in 1969, Davis was invited to join the faculty of the University of Pittsburgh as a Professor of Music. Davis would blossom as a jazz educator and remain until he retired in 2013 at the age of 76. During his first years as a teacher, Davis worked on a graduate degree, earning his PhD in ethnomusicology at Wesleyan University in 1974, a field of study that he introduced while teaching at Pittsburgh. He made many contributions to the university, including establishing one of the first jazz studies programs in the U.S., adding a graduate curriculum in jazz and launching the annual Pitt Jazz Seminar and Concert, which brought international jazz greats to work with students, present lectures and demonstrations both on campus and in the community, along with performing in concert at Carnegie Music Hall. Davis also founded the Pittsburgh Jazz Orchestra in the mid-1980s.

Beginning in the mid-1980s, Davis worked in the cooperative band Paris Reunion Band with Woody Shaw, pianist Kenny Drew and tenor saxophonists Johnny Griffin and Joe Henderson, serving as the group's principal music coordinator, also contributing original compositions and arrangements. In the 1990s, Davis helped form Roots, another all-star cooperative band, with saxophonists Arthur Blythe, Chico Freeman and Sam Rivers. Davis would make several recordings with both groups.

Nathan Davis continued to compose and record, releasing several album on his small label Tomorrow International. He blended in gospel, spoken work and electronics into works such as his "Suite For Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr." His final recording, I'm a Fool to Want You, was made in 1994 and released in 1999. Davis also composed a jazz-inclusive opera based on James Baldwin's novel Just Above My Head that received its premiere performance in Pittsburgh in 2004.

Nathan Davis died at the age of 81 on April 8, 2016 in Palm Beach, Florida.

The Hip Walk was previously reissued in full in the 1998 CD compilation called Two Originals, which also included his first LP, Happy Talk. Whether you purchased the newly remastered CD, or the first ever LP reissue by MPS, which features stunning audio remastered from the original master tapes by Christoph Stickel, you will enjoy even brighter sound. It helps bring to light the early success of Nathan Davis as an improviser, composer and arranger near the dawn of his career and it should entice jazz fans to explore the rest of his discography.

Liner Notes copyright © 2024 Ken Dryden.

The Hip Walk can be purchased here.

Ken Dryden Contact Ken Dryden at All About Jazz.
Ken began collecting jazz in 1972 and has been a jazz journalist since 1988.

Track Listing

The Hip Walk; While Children Sleep; Train Of Thought; Yesterdays; That Kaycee Thing; Carmell's Black Forest Waltz; B's Blues.


Album information

Title: The Hip Walk | Year Released: 2023 | Record Label: MPS

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