Musician, Teacher , Activist
Richard Davis is an international performing musician and Professor of Bass (European Classical
and Jazz), Jazz History and combo improvisation at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Chicago
born, he came to the UW-Madison in 1977 after spending 23 years in New York City establishing
himself as one of the world’s premier bass players. Downbeat International Critics Poll named him
Best Bassist from 1967-74. He has recorded a dozen albums as a leader and 3000 recordings and
jingles as a sideman. His performance/recording credits include 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, Ahmad Jamal and a host of other notables.
Mr. Davis is equally at home in the world of euro classical music, having played under the batons of
George Szell, Leopold Stokowski, Igor Stravinsky, Pierre Boulez, Gunther Schuller, and Leonard
Bernstein. His great versatility as a bassist keeps him in constant demand for worldwide concert
appearances. For nearly fifty years he has drawn enthusiastic audiences in Japan, Europe, Russia,
South America, Puerto Rico, Cuba, The West Indies, Hong Kong , Israel and United States. His most
recent CD release (May 2000) , The Bassists: Homage to Diversity (King Records) was recorded in
Japan. This CD was inspired by experiences related to diversity dialogue. His second CD with King records So In Love was assembled with the idea of embracing the oneness of humankind.
In 1993, he founded the Richard Davis Foundation for Young Bassists, Inc. which annually brings in 17 masterful bass instructors/performers to teach young bassists ages 3-18.In 1998 he created the Retention Action Project (R.A.P.) focused on open dialogues in subjects that educate all of us to multicultural differences. R.A.P. collaborated with Vice Chancellor Paul W. Barrows (student affairs) and Seema Kapani, Diversity Education Coordinator/Trainer (Equity and Diversity Resourse Center).He has been instrumental in bringing to the UW campus renowned speakers and social change activists such as Peggy McIntosh, Jane Elliott, Francie Kendall, Nathan Rutstein, Victor Lewis, Hugh Vasquez (Color of Fear, Stir Fry Productions,1994) and Allan G. Johnson (Gender Knot). Prof. Davis is devoted to equity issues and shares freely his wisdom, home, and resources with one and all to help create an environment where all can experience dignity and peace. He has also initiated a chapter in Madison of the “Institutes for the Healing of Racism, Inc.”
Prof. Davis has received honorary doctorate degrees in Musical Arts and Humane Letters, and the Hilldale Award for distinguished teaching from former Chancellor Donna Shalala, and a honorary doctorate of Humane Letters from Edgewood College, Madison, in 1998. In 2000 he received the Manfred E. Swarsensky Humanitarian Award from the Rotary Club Of Madison. In 2001 he received the Governor’s of Wisconsin Arts Award.
The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Humanitarian Award, bestowed annually by the City of Madison, was presented to Dr. Richard Davis by Mayor Susan J.M. Bauman during the 18th Annual City-County Observance of Dr. King’s birth at the Madison Civic Center, on Monday, January, 2003. (Interview)
In 2008, Richard Davis received the MAMA (Madison Area Music Award Michael St. John Lifetime Achievement Award, Human Rights Award (Rev.James C. Wright), “FIGS” 2008 First Interest Group Students (Freshman Year), the TRIO award/first in family to go to College/Awarded by Caroline McCormack. In 2009 he received the Exceptional Service Award University of Wisconsin-Madison 2009 (Gary Sandefur, Dean), and the Spencer Tracy Award for Distinction in the Performing Arts (Wisconsin Historical Society).
“As one of the world’s premier bass players, Davis’s music has touched the lives of countless fans, and his teaching has inspired generations of students in the classroom as well as with the Richard Davis Foundation for Young Bassists, Inc., which provides musical instruction for financially challenged youth. While the jazz master and professor could’ve ended his renowned biography there, his passion for social justice, for the healing of racism, has changed the lives of those who have accepted his invitation to open their hearts, minds and spirits to the history and pathology of racism within.” (Neil Heinen in Spectrum).
Richard Davis is currently working on his autobiography.