Search & Destroy: John Coltrane

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Coltrane bassist r.i.p.

Art Davis, 73; known for mastery of the bass, also was a psychologist

By Jocelyn Y. Stewart, LA Times Staff Writer
August 4, 2007

Art Davis, the renowned double bassist who played with John Coltrane and other jazz greats, was blacklisted in the 1970s for speaking up about racism in the music industry, and then later in life earned a doctorate in clinical psychology and balanced performance dates with appointments to see patients, has died. He was 73.

Davis, a player whom jazz critic Nat Hentoff once described as "an astonishing player" and "beyond category," died of a heart attack Sunday at his home in Long Beach, said his son Kimaili Davis.

"He was adventurous with his approach to playing music," said pianist Nate Morgan, who played with the elder Davis intermittently over the last 10 years. "It takes a certain amount of integrity to step outside the box and say, 'I like it here and I'm going to hang here for a while.' "

Known for his stunning and complete mastery of the instrument, Davis was able to genre-hop comfortably. He played classical music with the New York Philharmonic, was a member of the NBC, Westinghouse and CBS orchestras, and played for Broadway shows.

The most intense and enriching experience of Davis' career was his collaboration with John Coltrane. Described by Hentoff as Coltrane's favorite bassist, Davis performed on the saxophonist's albums including "Ascension," Volumes 1 and 2 of "The Africa/Brass Sessions" and "Ole Coltrane." The two musicians met one night in the late 1950s at Small's Paradise, a jazz club in Harlem, where Davis was playing with drummer Max Roach. Coltrane invited Davis to play with him the following morning at one of his legendary grueling practice sessions.

A few years later, when Coltrane was building his quartet, he invited Davis to join. By then he had become averse to touring and so declined, although he periodically played with the group.

Davis viewed his instrument as "the backbone of the band," one that should "inspire the group by proposing harmonic information with a certain sound quality and rhythmic impulses," Davis said in an excerpt from So What magazine posted on his website. "You let the bass do the talking. A bassist cannot be satisfied with playing straight." By following his own advice, Davis' career flourished. He played with a long and varied list of artists: Thelonious Monk, Duke Ellington, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Louis Armstrong, Judy Garland, John Denver, the trio Peter, Paul and Mary and Bob Dylan.

Pianist Ahmad Jamal once dubbed Davis the "forgotten genius" because the outspoken bassist had been blacklisted for many years. Davis' decision to take a stand against racism was born of his experiences in music.

Davis began studying piano at age 5 in Harrisburg, Pa., where he was born Dec. 5, 1933. By sixth grade Davis studied the tuba in school simply because it was the only instrument available, he said.

By 1951 he decided to make music his career but chose the double bass, believing it would allow more opportunities to make a living. At age 17 he studied with the principal double bassist at the Philadelphia Orchestra. But when he auditioned for his hometown's symphony, the audition committee was so unduly harsh and demanding that the conductor Edwin MacArthur questioned their objectivity.

"The answer was, 'Well, he's ['colored']' — and there was silence," Davis recalled in a 2002 article in Double Bassist magazine. "Finally MacArthur burst out, 'If you don't want him, then you don't want me.' So they quickly got together and accepted me." After high school, Davis studied classical music on scholarship at the Manhattan School of Music and the Juilliard School of Music. At night he played jazz in New York clubs.

"It all sounded good to me — and I felt I could do a number of different fields," he told Double Bassist. "I was of one the first to switch back and forth from jazz to classical."

But the switch was not always an easy one. Davis encountered situations where race was more important than performance. In the 1970s, his fortunes waned after he filed an unsuccessful discrimination lawsuit against the New York Philharmonic. Like other black musicians who challenged job hiring practices, he lost work and important industry connections.

"As a person, he had enormous integrity," Hentoff said in an interview this week. "He wouldn't bend to accommodate bias or the ignorance of some of the people in the music business."

With less work coming his way, Davis returned to school and in 1981 earned a doctorate in clinical psychology from New York University. Davis was for many years a practicing psychologist while also working as a musician.

"I went up against the big power people and lost 10 years of my life. I feel vindicated [through his court case], and I wouldn't be a Dr. Art Davis if it hadn't happened," he told Double Bassist.

As a result of his lawsuit and protest, Davis played a key role in the increased use of the so-called blind audition, in which musicians are heard but not seen by those evaluating them, Hentoff said.

The accomplished musician also pioneered a fingering technique for the bass and wrote "The Arthur Davis System for Double Bass."

Davis also wore the hat of university professor; for two years he taught at UC Irvine. Most recently Davis was a part-time music instructor at Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa. He could be regularly heard on Sundays at the Ritz-Carlton in Laguna Niguel. Among musicians, Davis was highly respected for his work and his role in the Coltrane legacy.

"And he always had a great attitude, no matter what kind of music we were playing or how difficult the circumstances were," said Jan Jordan, the pianist who played with Davis at the Ritz.

"He always reached out to people in the audience."

curmudgeon, Saturday, 4 August 2007 23:17 (twelve years ago) link



BIG HOOS aka the steendriver, Saturday, 4 August 2007 23:39 (twelve years ago) link

RIP, a remarkable man.

Phil's explanation of "playing the changes" on this thread is so clear and to the point -- it sheds a lot of light in three short paragraphs.

Brad C., Monday, 6 August 2007 00:06 (twelve years ago) link

As close to a God to me as anything I hold dear. Sincerely. God schmod.

RIP indeed...

Saxby D. Elder, Monday, 6 August 2007 00:16 (twelve years ago) link

two weeks pass...

Looks like the AP and NY Times just found out about Art Davis.

James Redd and the Blecchs, Friday, 24 August 2007 06:03 (twelve years ago) link

for the "far out free jazz" type stuff, just look for anything from 1964 to 1967 (the year he died)

my favorites are a love supreme, one down one up (recently released live recording with a long insane title track solo), interstellar space, stellar regions (this one was unreleased until the 90s or something, it's awesome), and live in japan (4 cd set with intense long ass songs).

bstep, Friday, 24 August 2007 18:37 (twelve years ago) link

hate when ppl say blue train is 'boring'

deej, Friday, 24 August 2007 18:39 (twelve years ago) link

yeah the solo on blue train is awesome

bstep, Friday, 24 August 2007 18:41 (twelve years ago) link

more like BLUE LAME

Jordan, Friday, 24 August 2007 18:48 (twelve years ago) link


Jordan, Friday, 24 August 2007 18:48 (twelve years ago) link

I did get that "Live In Japan" box -- quite an interesting, disjointed group that came up with some pretty corrosive passages. xp

xyzzzz__, Friday, 24 August 2007 18:51 (twelve years ago) link

six months pass...

Is there somebody speaking in tongues during Tyner's solo on "My Favorite Things" from New Thing at Newport??

BIG HOOS aka the steendriver, Monday, 3 March 2008 05:29 (eleven years ago) link

What the hell is that? Thought it was bowed bass, but you can hear pizz clearly. Is it maybe Trane just puttering? I really can't tell.

BIG HOOS aka the steendriver, Monday, 3 March 2008 05:30 (eleven years ago) link

Yeah, that is 'Trane doing his basso profundo incantating.

Dingbod Kesterson, Monday, 3 March 2008 08:58 (eleven years ago) link

heheh "Search And Destroy John Coltrane" sounds like the heading to a Philip Larkin jazz review!

Dingbod Kesterson, Monday, 3 March 2008 08:59 (eleven years ago) link

one month passes...

any AWESOME books I should read about Coltrane?

rizzx, Thursday, 10 April 2008 12:52 (eleven years ago) link

Not yet read it myself, but this is meant to be v. gd and is likely the easiest to find:


Ward Fowler, Thursday, 10 April 2008 13:02 (eleven years ago) link

Africa/Brass (shite Greensleeves is on it, but...

omar u crazy! it's a beautiful start to A/B, if a weird choice.

andrew m., Thursday, 10 April 2008 14:33 (eleven years ago) link

...he tells omar 6 years later

andrew m., Thursday, 10 April 2008 14:33 (eleven years ago) link

Is there somebody speaking in tongues during Tyner's solo on "My Favorite Things" from New Thing at Newport??

I've found that usually muttering that sounds like "speaking in tongues" on live jazz recordings is the sound of the pianist or drummer vocalizing as they play, and the close proximity of the mics picking it up. Not having heard that piece in a while, I suspect that it's Tyner. You can hear Bud Powell, and countless other pianists doing the same thing. I'd posit that there's nothing particularly spiritual or mystical about it.

Usual Channels, Thursday, 10 April 2008 14:40 (eleven years ago) link

i always thought the muttering was elvin jones, though now that you mention it, i'm not sure why i assumed that ... but uhhh yeah, that Coltrane book by Ratliff is pretty solid. Not the same ol same ol Coltrane is God kinda stuff, but a fresh ears approach.

tylerw, Thursday, 10 April 2008 15:14 (eleven years ago) link

Is there somebody speaking in tongues during Tyner's solo on "My Favorite Things" from New Thing at Newport??

I haven't heard the recording in question, but as someone who was forced to go to Pentecostal church for 17 years, does it sound like "SHA la la la la la Fie sha lala, sha lie COM la la la la la, fie sha la la com lie"? Because that's what speaking in tongues sounds like.

Z S, Thursday, 10 April 2008 17:21 (eleven years ago) link

one year passes...

meditations WOW! nothing else to say, just have the feeling this is becoming my favorite album

sonderangerbot, Friday, 5 March 2010 19:51 (nine years ago) link

yeah, Meditations. I put it on one Sunday morning, knowing little about Coltrane; halfway through the first song I was screaming and in tears (in an awesome way, if that makes any sense)---was happy no one else was around.

begs the question, when is enough enough (Euler), Friday, 5 March 2010 19:53 (nine years ago) link

lol that makes perfect sense actually and would probably be a compliment to all of these guys except elvin jones who i understand didn't care for this thing at all. luckily you can't tell

sonderangerbot, Friday, 5 March 2010 20:41 (nine years ago) link

whenever this thread opens and I see "Blue Train...boring as fuck" I'm like whaaaaa? I understand that it has a weird, maybe slightly overrated status being Coltrane's only Blue Note record, but uhhh, that record is not boring!

tylerw, Friday, 5 March 2010 20:47 (nine years ago) link

but, i can see how someone whose fave bands are Beefheart and the Stooges maybe not being a fan. i think it's one of the best "late-night" listens i own

If you can believe your eyes and ears (outdoor_miner), Friday, 5 March 2010 22:45 (nine years ago) link

four months pass...

The "Crescent" on disk 2 of Live In Japan, from 1966, is incredible! Alice's piano interlude achieves liftoff without losing the groove.

Euler, Friday, 9 July 2010 08:57 (nine years ago) link

Can't believe no-one has mentioned Olé in this thread

bham, Friday, 9 July 2010 09:30 (nine years ago) link

I can't imagine any Beefheart fan not appreciating Coltrane. Beefheart certainly did, though he was quoted most referring to Coleman and Ayler.

After A Love Supreme:

My Favorite Things (Atlantic) 60
Crescent (Impulse) 64
Meditations (Impulse) 65
First Meditations (For Quartet) (Impulse) 65
Transition (Impulse) 65
Giant Steps (Atlantic) 59
The John Coltrane Quartet Plays (Impulse) 65
Ole Coltrane (Atlantic) 61
Coltrane Plays The Blues (Atlantic) 60
Coltrane (Impulse) 62
Sun Ship (Impulse) 65
Ballads (Impulse) 61
Africa/Brass (Impulse) 61
John Coltrane With Johnny Hartman (Impulse) 63
Impressions (Impulse) 63
Coltrane Live At Birdland (Impulse) 63
Live At The Village Vanguard (Impulse) 61
Newport '63 (Impulse!) 63
The Avant-Garde (Atlantic) 60
Blue Train (Blue Note) 57
Coltrane's Sound (Atlantic) 60
Coltrane Jazz (Atlantic) 59
Soultrane (OJC/Prestige) 58
Black Pearls (OJC/Fantasy) 58
Duke Ellington and John Coltrane (Impulse) 62

Destroy: nothing

Fastnbulbous, Friday, 9 July 2010 13:43 (nine years ago) link

yeah, Meditations. I put it on one Sunday morning, knowing little about Coltrane; halfway through the first song I was screaming and in tears (in an awesome way, if that makes any sense)---was happy no one else was around.

― begs the question, when is enough enough (Euler), Friday, 5 March 2010 19:53 (4 months ago)


surfer blood for oil (Hurting 2), Friday, 9 July 2010 13:52 (nine years ago) link

yeah, Meditations. I put it on one Sunday morning, knowing little about Coltrane; halfway through the first song I was screaming and in tears

Stubbed your toe on the way back from the CD player?

Oracle Crackers (Tom D.), Friday, 9 July 2010 13:54 (nine years ago) link

i haven't made it to those later-period live recordings (like LIve in Japan) yet ... the recording quality is good? is it radio broadcasts or something?

tylerw, Friday, 9 July 2010 14:55 (nine years ago) link

Live In Japan quality is v. good

Oracle Crackers (Tom D.), Friday, 9 July 2010 14:56 (nine years ago) link

one month passes...

meditations is basically the best record ever made by humans on earth

FRIDGED WAG MANPAIN syndrome (zorn_bond.mp3), Wednesday, 18 August 2010 09:17 (nine years ago) link

that said, the vastly underrated "stellar regions" is probably my favorite in the realm of ~coltrane records~ vs. whatever pantheonical land meditations inhabits

FRIDGED WAG MANPAIN syndrome (zorn_bond.mp3), Wednesday, 18 August 2010 09:20 (nine years ago) link

was checking out a new collected Coltrane interviews thing in the bookstore this week. amazing how chill the guy was, considering some of the music he made. seems almost ridiculously down to earth.

tylerw, Wednesday, 18 August 2010 14:32 (nine years ago) link

I like "First Meditations" a lot

tom d: he did what he had to do now he is dead (Tom D.), Wednesday, 18 August 2010 14:33 (nine years ago) link

Recent favorites are Ole:

and Alabama (this is live version but you get the point):

matt2, Wednesday, 18 August 2010 14:48 (nine years ago) link

two months pass...

Does anyone have the Prestige Box Sets - Fearless Leader, Interplay or Side Steps? Worth picking up?

Jim, Sunday, 7 November 2010 00:26 (nine years ago) link

i have 'em. some great stuff, also some very so-so, under-rehearsed blowing session-type stuff. I'd say Fearless Leader is the best of the lot.

tylerw, Sunday, 7 November 2010 01:15 (nine years ago) link

Yeah, I have all three, too. I agree that Fearless Leader is the best one, but each has plenty to recommend it. I find myself listening to '50s Coltrane more often than '60s Coltrane these days; sometimes you just want to hear a dude with incredible talent playing melodic, easily-understood and -enjoyed music rather than listening to that same incredibly talented dude Brillo-ing his soul in front of you.

that's not funny. (unperson), Sunday, 7 November 2010 14:18 (nine years ago) link

yeah, true. one essential thing that's included on Interplay is the Kenny Burrell collab album. Great from start to finish.

tylerw, Sunday, 7 November 2010 14:29 (nine years ago) link

Love the Coltrane/Burrell record. Otherwise I agree his Prestige work was inconsistent but has some great moments. A couple of tracks that come to mind are Good Bait and Goldsboro Express.

Kinect: The Body Is Good Business™ (Hurting 2), Sunday, 7 November 2010 17:25 (nine years ago) link

Wow. How did I never hear Olé before? It's brilliant.

Veðrafjǫrðr heimamaður (ecuador_with_a_c), Sunday, 7 November 2010 22:33 (nine years ago) link

All the Atlantic stuff is top notch. Used to own the Complete Prestige set but sold it because it was never getting played. It wasn't bad, just nothing compared to the Atlantic and Impulse stuff.

EZ Snappin, Monday, 8 November 2010 00:51 (nine years ago) link

Wow. How did I never hear Olé before? It's brilliant.

I know, right?

Lostandfound, Monday, 8 November 2010 01:25 (nine years ago) link

meditations is basically the best record ever made by humans on earth

yes, it is.

sonofstan, Sunday, 14 November 2010 21:00 (nine years ago) link

three months pass...

Kind of ashamed I never got around to some of the later material until recently. Sun Ship and Interstellar Space are so incredible.

The Corner Stander, The Suggest Ban Hammer (Hurting 2), Tuesday, 22 February 2011 19:12 (eight years ago) link

eh, no reason to be ashamed. i'm holding off on the later stuff, just because i'm scared of not having any more coltrane albums to discover!

tylerw, Tuesday, 22 February 2011 20:27 (eight years ago) link

this is very good and exciting

the public eating of beans (Sparkle Motion), Friday, 16 August 2019 17:56 (three months ago) link

Really want to listen to this on cd, from a black & orange digipack, on a boombox for full effect.

change display name (Jordan), Friday, 16 August 2019 17:57 (three months ago) link

that new track is indeed wonderful. just what i needed on a sunday evening.

je est un autre, l'enfer c'est les autres (alex in mainhattan), Sunday, 18 August 2019 20:51 (three months ago) link

Listening to the whole album now. It's two versions of "Naima," three versions of "Village Blues," one each of "Like Sonny" and "Traneing In," and the one brand-new track. About 37 minutes of music in all. No bad performances, and the sound — it's in mono — has real punch. I love it. Gonna be listening to this one a lot more than Both Directions At Once, for sure.

shared unit of analysis (unperson), Wednesday, 21 August 2019 19:34 (three months ago) link

oh you didn't like Both Directions? I really loved it. if this is better I'm really excited

Blues Guitar Solo Heatmap (Free Download) (upper mississippi sh@kedown), Wednesday, 21 August 2019 19:52 (three months ago) link

I liked it (bought the 2CD version), but I didn't love it. This one hits my personal sweet spot better, both because of the mono sound and because all the tunes are basically blues riffs.

shared unit of analysis (unperson), Wednesday, 21 August 2019 19:57 (three months ago) link


Mr. Snrub, Thursday, 22 August 2019 00:27 (three months ago) link

I'm confused, isn't "Blue World" just a slower take of Out of this World?

longtime caller, first time listener (man alive), Thursday, 22 August 2019 03:27 (three months ago) link

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