Walter Davis Jr.

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Walter Davis Jr.
Photo by Carlo Rondinelli
Photo by Carlo Rondinelli
Background information
Born(1932-09-02)September 2, 1932
Richmond, Virginia, U.S.
DiedJune 2, 1990(1990-06-02) (aged 57)
New York City, New York, U.S.
GenresJazz, bebop
Years active1940s–1990
LabelsBlue Note, Denon, Palcoscenico, Mapleshade, SteepleChase
Spouse(s)Mayme Watts

Walter Davis Jr. (September 2, 1932 – June 2, 1990) was an American bebop and hard bop pianist.

Davis once left the music world to be a tailor, but returned. A soloist, bandleader, and accompanist, he amassed a body of work while never becoming a high-profile name even within the jazz community. Davis played with Babs Gonzales' Three Bips & a Bop as a teen, then moved from Richmond to New York in the early 1950s. He played with Max Roach and Charlie Parker, recording with Roach in 1953.

He joined Dizzy Gillespie's band in 1956, and toured the Middle East and South America. He also played in Paris with Donald Byrd in 1958 and with Art Blakey & the Jazz Messengers in 1959.

After retiring from music for a while to run his tailor shop, Davis returned in the 1960s, producing records and writing arrangements for a local New Jersey group. He studied music in India in 1979, and played with Sonny Rollins in the early 1970s.


Born in Richmond, Virginia, Davis performed as a teenager with Babs Gonzales. In the 1950s, Davis recorded with Melba Liston and Max Roach. He played with Roach, Charlie Parker, and Dizzy Gillespie. In 1958, he played with trumpeter Donald Byrd at Le Chat Qui Pêche in Paris and shortly after realized his dream of becoming pianist and composer-arranger for Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers. Davis married songwriter Mayme Watts, who was performing as a vocalist with the Walter Davis Jr. Trio.[1]

After retiring from music in the 1960s to work as a tailor, painter, and designer, he returned in the 1970s to perform with Sonny Rollins and again with the Jazz Messengers. He recorded with many other prominent jazz musicians, including Kenny Clarke, Sonny Criss, Jackie McLean, Pierre Michelot and Archie Shepp.

Davis was known as an interpreter of the music of Bud Powell,[2] but also recorded an album capturing the compositional and piano style of Thelonious Monk. Several of his compositions served as titles for albums by Blakey's Jazz Messengers. Combining traditional harmonies with modal patterns and featuring numerous rhythmic shifts along with internal melodic motifs within operatic, aria-like sweeping melodies, Davis's compositions included "Scorpio Rising", "Backgammon", "Uranus", "Gypsy Folk Tales", "Jodi", and "Ronnie Is a Dynamite Lady".

Davis had an occasional role as the piano player on the CBS television comedy Frank's Place. He also contributed to the soundtrack of the Clint Eastwood film Bird (1988).


Davis died in New York City on June 2, 1990, aged 57, from complications of liver and kidney disease.[citation needed]


As leader[edit]

Year recorded Title Label Notes
1959 Davis Cup Blue Note Quintet, with Donald Byrd (trumpet), Jackie McLean (alto sax), Sam Jones bass), Art Taylor (drums)
1977? Illumination Denon With Carter Jefferson (tenor sax), Charles Sullivan (trumpet), Jeremy Steig (flute), Buster Williams (bass), Bruno Carr, Art Blakey and Tony Williams (drums); Naná Vasconcelos (percussion), Milton Frustino (guitar) added for one track
1979? Night Song Denon Trio, with Tom Barney (bass, electric bass), Kenny Washington (drums)
Abide with Me Denon
1979? Blues Walk Red
A Being Such As You Red
1979? Uranus Palcoscenico
1979? 400 Years Ago Tomorrow
1981? Live au Dreher Trio, with Pierre Michelot (bass), Kenny Clarke (drums); in concert
1987 In Walked Thelonious Mapleshade Solo piano
1989 Scorpio Rising SteepleChase Trio, with Santi Debriano (bass), Ralph Peterson (drums)
1990? Jazznost: Moscow-Washington Jazz Summit

As sideman[edit]

With Art Blakey

With Nick Brignola

With Donald Byrd

With Sonny Criss

With Walt Dickerson

With Teddy Edwards

With Dizzy Gillespie

With Slide Hampton

With Etta Jones

With Philly Joe Jones

With Jackie McLean

With Hank Mobley

With Max Roach

With Julian Priester

With Sonny Rollins

With Charlie Rouse

With Art Taylor


  1. ^ Jet Magazine, Vol 38, No. 10, June 11, 1970, p. 33
  2. ^ Goldsher, Alan (2002). Hard Bop Academy: The Sidemen of Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, p. 94. Milwaukee: Hal Leonard; ISBN 0-634-03793-5.

External links[edit]