These days, jazz studies programs are common at American universities and colleges. In 1969, there were only two at major universities. That’s the year Dr. Nathan Davis arrived at the University of Pittsburgh to establish its program.
A respected saxophonist, the Kansas City native had spent most of the 1960s living in Paris where he was an integral part of that city’s particularly vibrant jazz scene performing and recording with world renowned artists. That background influenced his approach to running Pitt’s jazz program, according to drummer Thomas Wendt.
"He was not only a wonderful saxophonist but he was a real trailblazer in jazz education," said Wendt. "He saw how the trends were changing in the early 1970s and he was really ahead of the curve."
Shortly after arriving in Pittsburgh, Davis established an annual seminar and concert bringing many top jazz musicians to Pitt to teach master classes and perform. Davis directed the jazz studies program at Pitt for 44 years, retiring in 2013. He was also a composer of more than 200 original works including an opera, film scores and four symphonies. Additionally, he authored several books including A Philosophical Look at African American Music in Society, which he coauthored with his wife Ursala Broschke Davis.
Nathan Davis died of natural causes Sunday, in Palm Beach, Fla. He was 81 years old.