When Local 802 member and bassist Dr. Art Davis, 72, died unexpectedly of a heart attack on July 29, the world lost a giant in the history of jazz, and I personally lost a dear friend and musical partner.
Playing the piano with him for over 15 years in our duos, trios and quartets has been one of the greatest experiences in my life. There was rarely a week in which we didn’t work together at least one or two days.
Art wasn’t the type of person who wore his heart on his sleeve, but over the course of thousands of hours together, both musically and personally, we developed a close relationship with absolute trust in each other. Art was like a family member not only for me, but also for my own family.
Art had a unique sound and style on his instrument. He was the only bass player I know who normally worked without an amplifier and could be heard clearly at the opposite end of a 100-foot long hall. And he always had a great attitude, no matter what kind of music we were playing or how difficult the circumstances were. He always reached out to people in the audience, who enjoyed chatting with him.
Musically, Art and I developed an empathy over the years that can’t be put into words. He didn’t talk much about musical details when we worked together, but communicated through subtle signals in his playing and his eye contact.
When talking about the CD “Puttin’ On The Ritz” that we made together, Art used to say “We almost read each other’s minds.”
Very often we would happen to play an unusual rhythm or harmonic progression together at the same moment and look at each other in delighted amazement. It was always incredible to me that no matter what strange chords or modulations I played, Art would always find the right note, and knew where I was going.
Nat Hentoff, one of the greatest writers and authorities of jazz, once wrote that “Art Davis is beyond category…he has complete mastery of his instrument in every conceivable idiom.”
Art was John Coltrane’s favorite bassist, but was equally competent with such diverse artists as Louis Armstrong, Dizzy Gillespie, Judy Garland, Barbra Streisand, Lena Horne, John Denver, Peter, Paul and Mary, and countless others, including some of the world’s greatest symphony orchestras.
Art Davis was one of a kind and he will be greatly missed.