Walter Davis Jr. was born September 2, 1932 in Richmond, Virginia. As a teenager he performed with Babs Gonzales and in the 1950s he recorded with Melba Liston, recorded and played with Max Roach, Charlie Parker, and Dizzy Gillespie. In 1958 he played with trumpeter Donald Byrd at Le Chat Qui Pêche in Paris and shortly after realized his dream of becoming pianist and composer-arranger for Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers.
He retired from music in the 1960s to work as a tailor, painter, and designer, but returned in the Seventies to perform and record with Sonny Rollins and again with the Jazz Messengers. Walter recorded with Kenny Clarke, Sonny Criss, Walt Dickerson, Teddy Edwards, Slide Hampton, Jackie McLean, Pierre Michelot, Julian Priester, Hank Mobley, Philly Joe Jones, Art Taylor and Archie Shepp.
Known as an interpreter of the music of Bud Powell, he recorded an album capturing the compositional and piano style of Thelonious Monk. Although few of Davis’ recordings as a pianist remain in print, several of his compositions served as titles for albums by Blakey’s Jazz Messengers. Combining traditional harmonies with modal patterns and featuring numerous rhythmic shifts along with internal melodic motifs within operatic, aria-like sweeping melodies, Davis’s compositions included Scorpio Rising, Backgammon, Uranus, Gypsy Folk Tales, Jodi and Ronnie Is a Dynamite Lady.
Occasionally he played the role of the piano player on the CBS television comedy Frank’s Place and contributed to the soundtrack of the Clint Eastwood film Bird. Hard bop pianist Walter Davis Jr. passed away in New York City on June 2, 1990 from complications of liver and kidney disease.
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