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Fischer, Joan (ed.) / Wisconsin people & ideas
Volume 52, Number 2 (Spring 2006)

Drayton, Michele
The champ,   pp. 13-19

Page 17

"Things were pleading, in a sense, to 
extend past the norm of European 
music. It was almost like freedom or 
emancipation or something of that 
nature-of not being contained in the 
envelope of Euro-classical music," says 
Davis, who won listener and critics' 
polls consecutively from 1967 to 1974 in 
Downbeat magazine. 
Veteran jazz saxophonist and flutist 
Frank Wess, an alumnus of the Count 
Basie Orchestra, knew Davis then and 
has performed with him over the years. 
"He's been on top of the game for a long, 
long time," he says of Davis. 
"Richard was actually far more 
advanced than a lot of the bass players 
many years ago," says Grammy-winning 
trombonist/arranger Slide Hampton. 
"He did a lot of work with Thad Jones's 
band, and that was a good place [in 
which] to be that kind of bass player 
because Thad's music was so in 
advance of everything." 
As commercial music encroached on 
the popularity of jazz, musicians began 
to explore other venues. Some packed 
for Europe. Davis, who had wooed audi- 
ences at UW-Madison as a visiting 
clinician, got an offer to teach. He 
arrived in 1977, tenure in hand. The 
move caused some of his jazz 
colleagues to question-of all things- 
his timing. Why leave New York at the 
peak of your career? "Yeah, a lot of 
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With Coleman Hawkins on saxophone 
and Thad Jones on trumpet. 
people say that. It's possible that it 
might have been the peak of my career, 
but you never know where that peak is 
anyway, I don't think," Davis says with a 
shade of wistfulness. "Once in a while 
you just have to change what you're 
Peter Dominguez remembered Davis 
from an earlier campus visit. The 
leather-clad bassist "had every bass 
player within a 100-mile radius standing 
in Mills Hall," Dominguez recalls. That 
first class taught Dominguez about 
stretching. Davis held up a series of 
charts-anything and everything-and 
said, "Play." "That first lesson was 
monumental to me," says Dominguez, 
now a jazz studies and double bass 
professor at Oberlin. 
"The administration, students, even 
good colleagues of mine, didn't under- 
stand what Richard was about. They 
didn't see that he was much broader 
and made you show him that you really 
wanted to work at this and devote your 
time to this before he would open up," 
Dominguez says. "There's something 
[about Davis] that's all-encompassing 
and makes and motivates somebody to 
really find out what's tried and true in 
themselves. He's able to pull that out." 
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