Early education in jazz leads to lifetime of music for alumnus

Posted on Nov 21, 2015 in Alumni News and News

Nathan Davis was among 12 alumni honored honored with the Mike and Joyce Shinn African-American Leaders & Innovators award at the Black Alumni Network‘s reunion, held on campus Sept. 25-27. The award recognizes leaders from the KU community for their impact on society.

Davis, d’60, is a multi-instrumental jazz performer and educator. Growing up in Kansas City, near Charlie Parker’s childhood home, he got an early education in local jazz from bandleader Jay McShann before coming to KU. After earning his degree in music education, Davis joined the military, studying at the Naval School of Music and playing in military bands throughout Europe. After his service, he became a stalwart of the lively Paris jazz scene, recording his first studio albums and building his performance career as a bandleader and a sideman to Kenny Clarke, Art Blakey and other jazz greats.

In 1969, Davis returned to the U.S. to found one of the nation’s first jazz studies programs, at the University of Pittsburgh. He launched the Annual Jazz Seminar, started an academic journal devoted to the scholarly study of jazz, and established the International Academy of Jazz-Hall of Fame, which preserves jazz artifacts in the Sonny Rollins International Jazz Archives. Davis received the BNY Mellon Jazz 2013 Living Legacy Award at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., for his contribution to jazz education and performance. He retired in 2013 to devote more time to composing and performing.

 

Learn about other honorees of the African-American Leaders & Innovators Project here. These talented and sometimes controversial African-Americans helped shape the University as well as the cities, states and nations their work touched.

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