Nathan Davis

2013 Living Legacy Awardee

Black and white photo of Nathan Davis.

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Image: Nathan Davis. Credit: Courtesy of The Pittsburgh Chronicle.

Saxophonist and composer Nathan Davis is currently director of the University of Pittsburgh Jazz Studies Program.  He is founder of Pitt’s annual jazz seminar and concert, which marked its 42nd anniversary this fall.  It is the longest running jazz event of its kind in the country and is considered one of the most successful university jazz programs in the world.

Nathan received his bachelor’s degree in music education from the University of Kansas in 1960. In 1974, he earned his Ph.D. in ethnomusicology from Wesleyan University.  After college, Nathan served 2 ½ years in the U.S. Army’s 298th Army Band in Berlin, Germany and obtained a European discharge to remain in Europe mainly working with Pittsburgh born drummer Kenny Clarke for the next 7 ½ years.

While in Paris, Nathan taught, performed and recorded with some of the era’s most elite jazz stars, including Donald Byrd, Eric Dolphy, Woody Shaw, Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, Bud Powell, Ray Charles, Johnny Griffin and Dexter Gordon.  During that time he enrolled at the Sorbonne in 1967 to study ethnomusicology.  He studied composition with French composer Andre Hodeir in 1968 and composed over 200 original compositions including film scores, four symphonies, and in 2004, premiered his opera, “Just Above My Head”, based on the book by James Baldwin.

He has published four books including a scholarly text on the history of jazz. Nathan served as Faculty Director of the Kennedy Center’s career development residency program for young artists, “Betty Carter’s Jazz Ahead” from 2000 to 2011, along with residing as a Jazz Master faculty member at the annual Ravinia Festival in Chicago each summer. Nathan served as the musical director for the Thelonious Monk Institutes Steans Institute Summer Jazz Program in Aspen, Colorado.  In December of 2010, he was an artist at the newly formed Jazz Masters München Program, held in Munich, Germany.

Nathan has recorded over twenty LP’s (CD’s) as leader, several videos, with such groups as the Paris Reunion Band, Roots, etc.  He is the founder and editor of the prestigious University of Pittsburgh International Jazz Archive Journal, which is distributed to more than twenty countries throughout the world. With a grant from Gulf Oil Corporation, he recorded and produced an LP entitled Nathan Davis:  A Tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. for the annual “Hand in Hand” celebration of Martin Luther King Week.  His recording, I’m A Fool to Love You, can be found on the Tomorrow International, Inc. label, with Grover Washington, Jr. as a special guest.  In 2005, Davis released The Other Side of Morning and most recently released Parisian Hoedown, both on the Tomorrow International, Inc. label, as well. His composition “Matroyska Blues,” written for cellist Misha Quint, was recently premiered at Carnegie Hall in New York City.

Nathan Davis (1937-2018)

*Bio from Award presentation.