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UW music professor Richard Davis to receive prestigious jazz award at Lincoln Center
Davis: "Why the bass? I was just enthralled by the sound."
Credit:National Endowment for the Arts

Richard Davis, a UW music professor and world-renowned jazz bassist, will be honored with a National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Masters Fellowship at New York City's Lincoln Center on Monday, Jan. 13, at 6:30 p.m. The NEA will livestream the awards ceremony and a related concert that evening. Prospective viewers can stream the event live, and sign up for an email reminder for the webcast.

The Jazz Masters Fellowship is one of the most prestigious awards bestowed on American jazz musicians. The program annually recognizes a small selection of "living legends" whose contributions to jazz have advanced the art form. Along with Richard Davis, the list of 2014 honorees includes Keith Jarrett, Jamey Aebersold and Anthony Braxton. Storied trumpeter Wynton Marsalis will cohost the event with journalist Soledad O'Brien.

Davis is a jazz and combo bassist who has performed with such legends as Sarah Vaughan, Igor Stravinsky and Leonard Bernstein. Born in Chicago, Davis studied at the VanderCook College of Music, then moved to New York City in 1954, where he spent 23 years in the city's jazz scene. He was named best bassist in the DownBeat International Critics Poll from 1967 to 1974. He has also played on albums by Bruce Springsteen, Paul Simon and Van Morrison. Rock critic Lester Bangs called his work on the Van Morrison album Astral Weeks "in the realm of the miraculous."

Davis says he was drawn to the sound of the bass early in life.

"Why the bass? I was just enthralled by the sound," he recalls in an NEA video interview. "The bass was always in the background, and I was a shy kid, so I thought maybe I’d like to be in the background."

But Davis isn't a part of the background anymore. He’s led numerous ensembles and mentored scores of students at the UW. He has taught European classical and jazz bass, jazz history and combo improvisation at the UW since 1977. In 1993 he started the Richard Davis Foundation for Young Bassists, which unites master bass instructors and performers with young musicians for training. He also coaches the UW Black Music Ensemble, a group of musicians who perform the music of black composers.

Davis' leadership stretches beyond the musical realm, too. In 1998, he created the Retention Action Project to nurture multicultural understanding on campus by bringing together university representatives and social-change activists from around the country. The UW has honored Davis with a Hilldale Award for distinguished teaching, research and service, and he received the Madison Area Music Awards' Michael St. John Lifetime Achievement Award in 2008.

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