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Anthony Davis

Pianist/composer Anthony Davis belongs to the class of African-American musicians who reject stereotyping by anyone and insist on following their own course. Davis refuses the designation "jazz musician," and though his father helped found the Black Studies department at Yale (he also knew Art Tatum) has expressed resentment at those who insist he play strictly "black" music, though he doesn't dispute the existence of that body of work. He freely admits pronounced European as well as African-American influences, and has aimed for a delicate balance of improvised and strictly notated compositions. His playing fuses Bebop, Asian, pop and symphonic influences. His earlier albums and compositions were weighed toward conventional jazz styles, but since the early '80s, Davis has been composing longer works and operas inspired by either political or ethnic concerns. He's done free music, participated in big bands and played chamber and Third Stream-styled jazz, but lately has been more composer/arranger than improviser. But Davis remains concerned about the plight of musicians. While living in New Haven he co-founded a group called Advent patterned after Chicago's Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM). Davis studied classic music as a child and later attended Yale, getting his degree in 1975. Besides Advent in 1973, he was also a member of The New Dalta Ahkri led by Leo Smith in the mid and late '70s. He moved to New York in 1977, playing with Leroy Jenkins' trio and also co-leading a duo and quartet with James Newton. Davis, Newton and Abdul Wadud have worked together often. He formed the octet Episteme in 1981, a group conceived to play his mix of improvised and notated material, as well as the works of other composers like Alvin Singleton and Earle Howard. Davis' most controversial project was his opera X, based on the life of Malcolm X, with libretto written by his sister, Village Voice editor and writer Thulani Davis. The merits of this work, and the issue of whether it was truly an opera, were discussed in numerous magazines, both music and general in 1985 and 1986. X was performed in Philadelphia in 1985, and by The New York City Opera company in 1986. Davis made his recording debut as a leader on India Navigation in the late '70s, and has recorded combo and solo albums for Red, Sackville and Gramavision. Besides Wadud, Smith, Jenkins and Newton, he's worked often with George Lewis and Jay Hoggard. Davis taught composition and history of creative music courses at Yale in the early '80s. X finally made its way onto records in 1992, when Gramavision released X: The Life and Times Of Malcolm X. More cynical types suggested the fact Spike Lee's Malcolm X film generated tons of free publicity may have played a part in the company's decision to release it eight years after it was first performed. There's only a couple of other Davis' titles currently available on CD.
© TiVo


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