Richard Davis was born in Chicago, Illinois on April 15, 1930 who began his musical career as a singer with his brothers. Davis sang bass in his family vocal trio in addition he began studying the double bass in high school with his music theory and band director, Captain Walter Dyett. After graduation, he went on to study the double bass with Rudolf Fahsbender of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra while attending Vandercook College.
After college, Davis performed in dance bands making a name for himself around Chicago, making connections that led him to pianist Don Shirley. In 1954 he and Shirley moved to New York City, performed together until 1956, when he began playing with the Sauter-Finegan Orchestra.
Richard then toured and recorded as part of Sarah Vaighan’s band, worked with Dorothy Ashby, Jaki Byard, Booker Ervin, Charles Lloyd, Candido Camero, Jimmy Forrest and Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra among others. Some of his most famous contributions were Eric Dolphy’s 1964 “Out To Lunch”, Andrew Hill’s “Point Of Departure” and Van Morrison’s “Astral Weeks”, Laura Nyro’s “Smile” and Bruce Springsteen’s “Born To Run”.
He has recorded fifteen albums as a leader and over a hundred as a sideman. A long-time educator, he has been a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison since 1977 where he teaches bass, jazz history, and improvisation. Bassist Richard Davis received the 2014 NEA Jazz Masters award.
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Frederick Dewayne Hubbard was born on April 7, 1938 in Indianapolis, Indiana and started playing the mellophone and trumpet in his school band at Arsenal Technical High School. Upon the recommendation of one-time Stan Kenton sideman, trumpeter Lee Katzman, he began studies at the Arthur Jordan Conservatory of music. During his teens he played with Wes and Monk Montgomery, bassist Larry Ridley and James Spaulding.
1958 saw a 20-year old Hubbard in New York working with the likes of Philly Joe Jones, Sonny Rollins, Slide Hampton, Eric Dolphy, J. J. Johnson and Quincy Jones. Three years later in ’61 he recorded his debut as a leader, Open Sesame with Tina Brooks, McCoy Tyner, Sam Jones and Clifford Jarvis. That same year he replaced Lee Morgan in Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers and for the next five years played and recorded on a succession of albums. Leaving Blakey in 1966 he formed the first of several small groups with among others Kenny Baron and Louis Hayes.
Throughout his hard bop and post bop career he recorded profusely for Blue Note, Atlantic, CTI, Columbia and a host of subsidiaries and smaller labels playing with the likes of Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane, Wayne Shorter, Eric Dolphy, Don Cherry, Herbie Hancock, Oliver Nelson, Stanley Turrentine, George Benson, Richard Wyands, Eric Gale, Ron Carter, Jack DeJonette, Dexter Gordon, Curtis Fuller and the list goes on.
Freddie Hubbard, NEA Jazz Master, had an unmistakable and influential tone that greatly contributed to new perspectives for modern jazz and bebop. He passed away from a heart attack on December 29, 2008.
Quincy Delight Jones, Jr. was born on March 14, 1933 in Chicago, Illinois. When he was ten, his family moved to Bremerton, Washington, a suburb of Seattle. He first fell in love with music when he was in elementary school, and tried nearly all the instruments in his school band before settling on the trumpet. While barely in his teens attending Garfield High, Quincy befriended then-local singer-pianist Ray Charles and the two youths formed a combo, eventually landing small club and wedding gigs.
At 18, the young trumpeter won a scholarship to Berklee College of Music in Boston, Massachusetts but dropped out abruptly when he received an offer to go on the road with bandleader Lionel Hampton. The stint with Hampton led to work as a freelance arranger and settling in New York, throughout the 1950s he wrote charts for Tommy Dorsey, Gene Krupa, Sarah Vaughan, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Dinah Washington, Cannonball Adderley and Ray Charles.
In 1964 Quincy won his first Grammy for Best Instrumental Arrangement of “I Can’t Stop Loving You”, in 1968 he won his second Grammy for Best Instrumental Performance with “Walking In Space” and that same year along with his songwriting partner Bob Russell became the first African Americans to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Song for “The Eyes Of Love” and he became the first African American to be nominated twice within the same year when for Best Original Score for the 1967 film In Cold Blood.
His firsts would continue in 1971 when named musical director/conductor of the Academy Awards ceremony, being first to win the Academy’s Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award, and He is tied at 7 with sound designer Willie D. Burton as the most Oscar-nominated African American.
His musical achievements are too numerous to list as they span the gambit from film scores such as The Pawnbroker, In The Heat of the Night, The Italian Job, MacKenna’s Gold, The Getaway and The Color Purple to his jazz works “Body Heat” and “Big Band Bossa Nova” from which Soul Bossa Nova was used in the Austin Powers movies to his crowning glories with Miles Davis last release “Live at the Monteux Jazz Festival”, his work with Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” and the charity song “We Are The World”. He continues to produce, conduct, arrange and compose.
James Williams was born on March 8, 1951 in Memphis, Tennessee and grew up listening to the sounds of Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye and King Curtis. He started playing piano at age 13 and hometown hero Phineas Newborn was his primary influences of jazz piano. He served as organist at the Eastern Star Baptist Church for six years early in his career. He went on to matriculate through Memphis State University with fellow piano students Mulgrew Miller and Donald Brown. It was here that he began playing jazz.
After graduating he immersed himself in the city’s jazz community, performing with Frank Strozier, Jamil Nasser, George Coleman, Harold Mabern, Jr., and other local greats. In 1973 he became a faculty member at the Berklee College of Music, played with Alan Dawson’s group alongside visiting musicians such as Milt Jackson, Art Farmer and Sonny Stitt. His first album as a leader came in 1977 and the next year he joined Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, remaining there for four years.
In the early 1980s in Boston he played with Thad Jones, Joe Henderson, Clark Terry, Chet Baker and Benny Carter but by 1984 James was in New York City gigging with Dizzy Gillespie, Freddie Hubbard and Kenny Burrell, Ray Brown, Tony Williams, Elvin Jones and Art Farmer, to name a few.
He would form his own group, the “Intensive Care Unit”, with Christian McBride, Billy Pierce and Tony Reedus. It was during this period in 1984 that he penned and recorded one of his most famous jazz compositions on the Sunnyside label is “Alter Ego”.
By 1999 he was Director of Jazz Studies at William Paterson University, where he remained until his death of liver cancer on July 20, 2004, age 53.
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Douglas Watkins was born on March 2, 1934 in Detroit Michigan. After gaining experience and a reputation as one of many very talented jazzmen on the local Detroit scene, Watkins began touring with James Moody in 1953 followed by a stint with the Barry Harris Trio. In 1954 he settled in New York City and was an original member of the Jazz Messengers from 1955 – 56.
Doug went on to spend a year with Horace Silver and then freelanced with a who’s who list of the hard boppers such as Art Farmer, Kenny Burrell, Phil Woods and Hank Mobley. In 1956 at just 21 years old he was a sideman on Sonny Rollins’ “Saxophone Colossus” alongside Max Roach and Tommy Flanagan, showcasing examples of his fine work on Blue 7 and St. Thomas.
In 1958 Watkins joined Donald Byrd for a European tour, taking up extended residence at Le Chat Qui Peche, a jazz club on Paris’ Left Bank. Along with Byrd, tenor saxophonist Bobby Jaspar, pianist Walter Davis, Jr. and drummer Art Taylor, Watkins made two albums with Byrd during this period, one recorded in the club and another at a formal concert featuring Byrd’s quintet. In 1961 he joined Charles Mingus’ group when Mingus temporarily ventured onto the piano stool, producing such gems as “Oh Yeah!!!” and “Tonight At Noon”.
Doug was known for his superb walking tone and distinct phrasing that was right on the beat, forming an organic, indivisible relationship with his instrument as he swayed with it in perfect time. Throughout his short but prolific career Watkins produced only two sessions as a leader but became the bassist of choice when his cousin by marriage, Paul Chambers was unavailable. He appeared on over 350 recordings working with Red Garland, Yusef Lateef, Philly Joe Jones, Bill Hardman, Gene Ammons and Lee Morgan just to name a few giants.
The hard bop jazz bassist Doug Watkins died in a head-on automobile crash on February 5, 1962 when he fell asleep behind the wheel while driving from Arizona to San Francisco to play a gig with Philly Joe Jones. He was just 27 years old but his legacy as a superb musician, unselfish and enabling ensemble player and a bassist-walker with few peers remains today.
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