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date: 13 November 2019

Davis, Nathan (Tate)free

  • David Wild
  • , revised by Barry Kernfeld

(b Kansas City, KS, Feb 15, 1937; d Atlanta, GA, April 8, 2018). American tenor saxophonist and educator. He grew up in a musical family, and while at high school briefly learned trombone before taking up clarinet and saxophone. At around the age of 18 he worked with Jay McShann, following which he had the unusual distinction of being one of the few men to have played in Tiny Davis’s “all-girl” band. He won a scholarship to study at the University of Kansas, where he gained a BA in music education and led a hard-bop band that included Carmell Jones and Donald Dean. After a period in Chicago, when he played with Ira Sullivan, John Gilmore, and Johnny Griffin at jam sessions, he served in the military (from 1960), played in an army band in Berlin, and began to work with Benny Bailey. In January 1963, through Bailey, he met Kenny Clarke when he was deputizing for Lucky Thompson at a concert in Germany. He remained in Europe following his discharge and from 1963 to 1966 performed regularly in Paris with Clarke at the Club Saint-Germain and the Blue Note; he also worked as a leader at the latter venue and at Le Chat qui Pêche, first with Donald Byrd and Eric Dolphy, and then with Woody Shaw and Larry Young. In addition he played with Art Taylor, joined Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers for a tour of Europe (1965), and recorded with Jef Gilson and Jones (both 1965) and Dusko Goykovich (in Berlin, 1966). Davis recorded a number of successful albums under his own name, playing in both hard-bop and free-jazz styles; among his sidemen were Shaw, Jones, Clarke, Taylor, Roland Hanna, and Richard Davis.

After having established a jazz studies program at the American Academy in Paris, in 1969 Davis returned to the USA to become director of jazz studies at the University of Pittsburgh; later he earned a doctorate in ethnomusicology at Wesleyan University and published a history of jazz, Writings in Jazz (Dubuque, IA, c1976, rev. 5/c1996), an instructional book, Flute Improvisation, and an anthology of photographs from the annual seminar which he hosted at Pittsburgh, which brought together many leading jazz musicians to the university for performances, teaching, and conversation. He continued to perform and record, and in 1985 organized (partly as a tribute to Clarke) the Paris Reunion Band, an octet which toured Europe; during the mid-1980s he also led small groups in Britain, Spain, Brazil, and the West Indies. In the early 1990s he performed and recorded with, and arranged for, another all-star group, Roots. Davis is the subject of an eponymous documentary video (c1983). He continued to teach at the University of Pittsburgh into the new century.

Selected recordings

As leader

Happy Girl (1965, Saba 15025)

Hip Walk (1965, Saba 15063)

Rules of Freedom (1967, Hot House 1002)

Makatuka (1971, Segue 1000)

The 6th Sense in the 11th House (1972, Segue 1002)

of Paris Reunion Band: French Cooking (1985, Sonet 945)

London by Night (1987, Hot House 1004)

As sideman with B. Bailey and M. Waldron

Soul Eyes (1968, Saba 15158)


  • J. Elliott: “Letter from Paris: ‘Introducing Nathan Davis’,” Crescendo, 4/11 (1966), 11
  • P. Sullivan: “Nathan Davis,” Coda, no.137 (1975), 10
  • I. Dittke: “Honoring Kenny Clarke,” JT (1985), April, 11
  • G. Lock: “The Man who Never Wasn’t,” The Wire, no.22 (1985), 16
  • “Nathan Davis und die Paris Reunion Band,” JP, 36/10 (1987), 20
  • S. Woolley: “Nathan Davis: the Saxophonist who Blew in from the Cold,” JJI, 40/6 (1987), 8
  • M. Hennessey: “Dr. Nathan Davis: Practicing what he Teaches,” JT (1988), Oct, 15
  • M. Hennessey: Klook: The Story of Kenny Clarke (London, 1990)
  • G. Albus: Paris Pittsburgh: A Story in Jazz: the Life of Nathan Davis (Munich, 1991) [bio-discography]
  • B. Moody: The Jazz Exiles: American Musicians Abroad (Reno, NV, 1992), 125
  • B. Karlovitz: “Jazz on Campus: Pitt’s 25th Seminar No Mere Jazz Fest,” DB, 62/11 (1995), 82
Jazz Journal International
L. Feather: The Encyclopedia of Jazz in the Sixties (New York, 1966/R1986)
Down Beat
L. Feather and I. Gitler: The Encyclopedia of Jazz in the Seventies (New York, 1976/R1987)
Jazz Times (Washington, 1980-)