Richard Davis: In Memoriam


April 15, 1930 – September 6, 2023

We were deeply honored to have Richard as a member of our Advisory Board for several years, and twice to present him in concert—at the Eric Dolphy: Freedom of Sound festival in 2014, and in 2015 at William Paterson University, his last concert performance. In 2018, we contributed to a beautiful celebration of his life’s work—as an artist, an educator, and a civil-rights activist—in Madison, Wisconsin.

All of us at Seed Artists consider ourselves fortunate to have had these opportunities, not only because we so revere Richard’s life’s work, but because he was genuinely gracious, kind and modest. When he asked about your family, your job, he wasn’t just being polite, he was interested in you and your life.

If you think you haven’t heard Richard play bass, chances are that you have. He appeared on more than 3,000 recordings, including seminal works by Eric Dolphy, Andrew Hill, Sarah Vaughan, Joe Henderson, Pharaoh Sanders, Roland Kirk, Wes Montgomery, Jimmie Smith, Shirley Scott, Herbie Mann, Booker Ervin, Elvin Jones—really, one could go on. And one should, to give a sense for Richard’s place in music history. He recorded or performed with Satchmo, Dizzy, Miles, Mingus and Sinatra, Dexter Gordon, Chet Baker, George Benson, Johnny Hodges, Shirley Scott, Stan Getz, Kenny Burrell and Kenny Dorham. But that’s just jazz. Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks? Richard not only played but chose the musicians and directed the music. He recorded with Bruce Springsteen, Bo Diddley, Paul Simon, Carly Simon, Janis Ian, Buffalo Springfield, Ruth Brown, Judy Collins, The Rascals, Bonie Raitt, Don Henley, Phoebe Snow, and Laura Nyro. And performed under the batons of Stravinsky, Bernstein, Boulez, Stokowski, and Gunther Schuller. DownBeat named him Best Bassist from 1967-74, and he was named an NEA Jazz Master in 2014.

Richard’s work outside of performance and recording was equally impressive. He taught at the University of Wisconsin for 39 years and there established the Richard Davis Foundation for Young Bassists and the Richard Davis Bass Camp, which continues to nurture young talent from as young as age three. As a civil rights and peace activist, he founded the Retention Action Project (R.A.P.) and the Madison chapter of the Institutes for the Healing of Racism, to educate the community and promote racial healing and cooperation. His humanitarian works earned him numerous honors, including the City of Madison’s Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Humanitarian Award.

We encourage donations to Richard’s foundation.

And we encourage you to listen to Richard seeking The New at age 85, in concert with Andrew Cyrille, Angelica Sanchez and Aska Kaneko at William Paterson University in November 2015. His last concert appearance and his last recorded performance. Funded in part by a generous grant from the Robert D. Bielicki Foundation.