Thursday, May 06, 2010
Now's the Time: Richard Davis at 80 [revised]
[Below is an expanded version of the original Richard Davis post of Thursday, May 6.]
I couldn't be more excited to announce that my friend Russell Baker and I will spin five straight hours of Richard Davis recordings on WKCR, this coming Sunday, 5/9, from 2pm to 7pm EST. [UPDATE--Sunday, 5/9: The first portion of the broadcast has been preempted by a Columbia University baseball game; we should be underway by 3:30 or 4pm EST. If you tune in and hear play-by-play instead of Richard Davis, please check back soon afterward.] Listen at 89.9 FM in NYC, or tune in online here. We'll hit Out to Lunch!, Astral Weeks and as many points in between as we can. Plus, we'll play excerpts from an interview I conducted with Mr. Davis on April 25.
A preview is up now at Destination: Out, featuring rare tracks from Davis's 1973 curio classic Song for Wounded Knee and a clip of him discussing the session.
For the record, Richard Davis is one of my very favorite musicians. I've been a Davis fanatic since college, when I discovered his beautiful mind-meld with Andrew Hill during the '60s, a partnership that yielded a run of some of the most distinctive jazz albums I know: seven full-lengths in all, from '63's Black Fire to '65's Compulsion. Learning to love Astral Weeks around the same time, and realizing what a crucial role Davis also played on that holy record--this is not received knowledge; get past the "iconic rock album"-ness and try develop a personal relationship with this inexhaustible document--upped my fascination exponentially.
Who was this rare bassist, I remember thinking to myself over the years, who always seemed to leave a mark on the proceedings? In my mind, I have called him Spider-Hands, for the way he weaves these thick, sticky, creepily intricate webs of notes when playing pizzicato. It was almost as if the instrument were smaller, more pliable in his hands, something to be manhandled rather than merely tamed. And then the arco work of unthinkable solemn dignity and depth, and also bow-hair-shredding grit. ("Wailing Wall" from Hill's Smokestack was the kicker there.)
And the discography, shockingly vast. It's been a joyously Sisyphean task trying to make sense of it all, but Russell and I have been trying our best. You could do five days' worth of Richard Davis rather than five hours and never get bored, but we'll try to make our show worthwhile and fitting. You'll hear some of the Davis you know and love, and (hopefully) some you never knew existed. Happy 80th birthday, sir, and thank you for transcending style for so many years, for being yourself and simply playing.
Some great Davis reading and watching:
*A recent and very lengthy Davis video interview from Wisconsin public TV
*A nice 2005 Davis profile/interview by Andrey Henkin, via All About Jazz
*A comprehensive Jazz Times piece from right around the same time
*And lastly, probably the greatest thing on YouTube: 1, 2, 3, 4 videos of Richard Davis and Elvin Jones live in Japan in (I'm educated-guessing) the deep '70s
One question that keeps coming to mind as I research RD: Are there any recorded documents of his classical work, e.g., perhaps this Stravinsky Conducts Stravinsky set? Dying to hear what he sounds like in that context, but I imagine it would be hard to pick him out of an orchestra.