In this article, we dive into the legendary bassist, Richard Davis (1930-2023), as we explore ten of his most iconic tracks. UK bassist Olie Brice pays tribute to Richard Davis, one of the greatest jazz bassists of all time, who passed away at 93. Davis’ remarkable career saw him playing with big bands, high-profile pop sessions, and leading orchestras, all with an astonishing level of skill, freedom, and imagination.
1. Bee Vamp – Eric Dolphy at the Five Spot
This live performance showcases Dolphy, Booker Little, Mal Waldron, and Ed Blackwell all on fire, with Davis driving the storm, creating a blend of ideas and swing. The song is a testament to the excitement that can arise from confusion and imperfections in music.
2. Black Fire – Andrew Hill
Between 1963 and 1965, Davis played on seven astonishing Andrew Hill albums, starting with “Black Fire.” This quartet ride with Joe Henderson on tenor and Roy Haynes on drums features Davis’ trademark wild intervallic leaps and propulsive swing.
3. Spectrum – Andrew Hill – Point of Departure
“Spectrum” demonstrates Davis’ ability to navigate shifts and different approaches in the same tune. Andrew Hill’s groundbreaking writing and Richard Davis’ central force make this piece a standout on the iconic album, “Point of Departure.”
4. Hat and Beard – Eric Dolphy – Out to Lunch
In this classic masterpiece, the transition from written material to improvisation is seamless, creating an immersive experience. Davis’ unique techniques, like using a big whack on the lowest E string as a snare-like punctuation, are evident on this track.
5. Come Sunday – Eric Dolphy – Iron Man
This beautiful duet for bass clarinet and arco bass spotlights Davis’ gorgeous arco sound. With plenty of space and a sublime atmosphere, Davis’ work with top conductors like Stravinsky, Boulez, and Bernstein shines through.
6. Everything Happens to Me – Elvin Jones – Dear John C
This beautifully recorded track highlights Davis’ incredible swing, outrageous swoops and leaps, and an unexpectedly wild solo. “Everything Happens to Me” encapsulates the essence of Richard Davis’ playing style.
7. Shiny Stockings – Elvin Jones & Richard Davis – Heavy Sounds
Davis’ collaboration with Elvin Jones resulted in productive albums like “Heavy Sounds.” The walking bass on “Shiny Stockings” perfectly illustrates how Davis combines clarity and mystery in his playing.
8. Jeeps Blues – Lawrence Brown (with Johnny Hodges) – Inspired Abandon
Working with both the cutting edge of 60s jazz and elder masters of previous generations, Davis was equally at home and distinctly himself. On “Jeeps Blues,” Davis showcases his swinging walking blues while maintaining his unique style.
9. Parisian Thoroughfare – The Jaki Byard Experience
The rhythm section of Jaki Byard, Richard Davis, and Alan Dawson made several records together, with “The Jaki Byard Experience” featuring Roland Kirk as a standout. The track “Parisian Thoroughfare” swings wildly and features a fantastic bass solo.
10. Vienna – Clifford Jordan – In the World
A track with two bassists, Richard Davis and Wilbur Ware create magic on Clifford Jordan’s tune, “Vienna.” The complex and beautiful bass lines showcase Davis’ sense of adventure and Ware’s clarity, resulting in a stunning duo section.
With a career as vast and versatile as Richard Davis’, there are countless other tracks and albums worth exploring. From his work with Walt Dickerson, Joe Henderson, and Roland Kirk, to his albums as a leader and collaborations with Archie Shepp, the legacy of Richard Davis continues to inspire and captivate musicians and listeners alike.