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Art Davis, Jazz Bassist, Activist Against Racism

SOURCE: Published: 2007-08-08
LOS ANGELES - Art Davis, 73, the renowned double bassist who played with John Coltrane and other jazz greats, was blacklisted in the 1970s for speaking up about racism in the music industry, then later in life earned a doctorate in clinical psychology and balanced performance dates with appointments to see patients, has died.

Dr. Davis, a player whom jazz critic Nat Hentoff once described as astonishing and “beyond category," died last Sunday of heart failure at his home in Long Beach, his son Kimaili said.

“He was adventurous with his approach to playing music," said pianist Nate Morgan, who played with Dr. Davis intermittently in the last 10 years. “It takes a certain amount of integrity to step outside the box and say: 'I like it here, and I'm going to hang here for a while.' “

Known for a stunning and complete mastery of his instrument, Dr. Davis moved comfortably between genres. He played classical music with the New York Philharmonic; was a member of the NBC, Westinghouse and CBS orchestras; and played for Broadway shows.

The most intense and enriching experience of Dr. Davis' career was his collaboration with Coltrane. Described by Hentoff as Coltrane's favorite bassist, Dr. Davis performed on Coltrane albums including Ascension, Africa Brass I and II, and Ole.

He played with a long and varied list of artists: Thelonious Monk; Duke Ellington; Rahsaan Roland Kirk; Louis Armstrong; Judy Garland; John Denver; Peter, Paul and Mary; and Bob Dylan.

Pianist Ahmad Jamal once dubbed Dr. Davis the “forgotten genius" because for many years the outspoken bassist was blacklisted. His decision to take a stand was born of his experiences in music.

Dr. Davis began studying piano at age 5 in Harrisburg, Pa., where he was born. By sixth grade, he studied the tuba in school simply because it was the only instrument available, he said.

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