Nathan Davis, founder of Pitt Jazz Seminar and Concert, is recognized for “uncompromising commitment to jazz education”
PITTSBURGH—As the annual University of Pittsburgh Jazz Seminar and Concert enters its 43rd exciting year, its founder, Pitt Professor Emeritus of Music Nathan Davis, accepted the BNY Mellon Jazz 2013 Living Legacy Award in a special ceremony Oct. 5 at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, 2700 F Street, NW, Washington, D.C.
A program of the Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation, the award honors living jazz masters from the mid-Atlantic region who have achieved distinction in jazz performance and education. The celebration included a reception, the ceremony, and a performance by pianist and composer Ahmad Jamal, with a solo opening piano set by Jason Moran.
“Nathan’s world-renowned talent and his steadfast and uncompromising commitment to jazz education are truly remarkable,” said Jim McDonald, BNY Mellon’s managing director of global philanthropy and employee programs, adding that the saxophonist is “a longtime friend who has used his gifts to help thousands of students while entertaining audiences globally.”
Davis arrived at Pitt in 1969 as director of the Jazz Studies Program and soon founded the annual seminar and concert—the first academic jazz seminar of its type in the country. It features international artists connecting with aspiring musicians and the general public in a lecture format, then performing together as an ensemble.
For more than four decades, the event has hosted some of the greatest names in American jazz history, including saxophonists Grover Washington Jr. and Sonny Stitt, drummer and band leader Art Blakey, trumpet master Dizzy Gillespie, and many others.
Davis says he was encouraged to teach at Pitt by longtime friend and Pittsburgh-born drummer Kenny Clarke, with whom he had performed throughout Europe for seven and a half years.
“I wanted to bring dignity—the same dignity and respect afforded physicians, philosophers, and other scholars in academia—to jazz,” said Davis. “And that, I think, I was able to do.”
Visit www.midatlanticarts.org/funding/artists_programs/living_legacy/index.html for more information on the BNY Mellon Living Legacy Award and the Oct. 5 event.
About Nathan Davis
As a 16-year-old in his native Kansas City, Davis answered phones for a jitney company for $14 a week to save money for a down payment on a saxophone. Soon, he was playing local gigs and enrolled at the Kansas City Conservatory. He received his bachelor’s degree in music education from the University of Kansas in 1960 and a PhD in ethnomusicology from Wesleyan University in 1974.
After two and a half years in the U.S. Army’s 298th Army Band in Berlin, Germany, he remained in Europe working with Kenny Clarke. While in Paris, Davis taught, performed, and recorded with some of the era’s most elite jazz stars—Donald Byrd, Eric Dolphy, Woody Shaw, Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, Bud Powell, Johnny Griffin, and Dexter Gordon. During that time, he enrolled at the Sorbonne to study ethnomusicology. He studied composition under French composer André Hodeir and wrote more than 200 original compositions, including film scores, four symphonies, and a jazz opera Just Above My Head, based on the book by James Baldwin. It premiered in Pittsburgh in 2004.
Davis has published four books, including a scholarly text on the history of jazz. He served as faculty director of the Kennedy Center’s career development residency program for young artists, Betty Carter’s Jazz Ahead, from 2000 to 2011 and was a jazz master faculty member at the annual Ravinia Festival in Chicago for many summers. He also served as the musical director for the Thelonious Monk Institute in Aspen, Colo., and in 2010 was an artist in the newly formed Jazz Masters München Program, held in Munich, Germany.
He has recorded more than 20 albums as a bandleader with the Paris Reunion Band and Roots. He is founder and editor of the prestigious University of Pittsburgh International Jazz Archives Journal, which is distributed throughout 20 countries. His recordings include Nathan Davis: Suite for Martin Luther King Jr. (Tomorrow International, 1976), I’m A Fool to Want You (Tomorrow International, 1999), and The Other Side of Morning (Tomorrow International, 2005). His composition Matryoshka Blues, written for cellist Misha Quint, premiered in January 2013 at New York City’s Carnegie Hall.
Davis was named professor emeritus at Pitt in Summer 2013.