Walter Davis, Jr. was born September 2, 1932 in Richmond, Virginia, and was reared in East Orange, New Jersey. His mother sang gospel; his father and four uncles played church and stride piano. By the time he entered high school, Walter was clearly a gifted classical pianist, but hearing Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie in the legendary Billy Eckstine big band changed his music and his life. In 1949, he played his first gig with Bird at the Apollo. It went so well that Bird asked Walter’s mother if he could go with him on a road tour. One show happened to be seen by his high school principal; that finished school for Walter.

Within months, Walter was a regular at the historic Harlem and 52nd Street jam sessions that formed the roots of modern jazz. A pair of inseparable friends and giants of the jazz piano, Thelonious Monk and Bud Powell, took the promising teenager under their wing and taught him all they knew about the music and the world of jazz. He remained close to them, musically and personally, until their respective deaths.

Walter’s first recording was with Max Roach’s early fifties group. Then he joined Dizzy Gillespie’s 1965 big band that toured four continents, and played with Diz, off and on, for the next thirty years. From 1958-1960, he recorded a classic series of Blue Note albums with Donald Byrd, Art Taylor, and Jackie McLean. The series culminated in Davis Cup, an album of Davis originals and his first session as a leader.

Walter spent the early sixties with Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, returning a decade later, in 1975, as the group’s principal composer-arranger. In between, and since, he played with most of the jazz greats in New York, including Sonny Rollins, Philly Joe Jones, and Miles Davis.

After spending years as the quintessential sideman, in the mid-eighties he began to focus on projecting, in solos and small-group sessions, the distinctive Davis piano style which was known to so few people beyond his jazz contemporaries. A series on the Denon label featured Walter as leader with such sidemen as Art Taylor and Tony Williams, not to mention young lions like Carter Jefferson and Kenny Washington. Four other Davis-led recordings were cut on Italian, French, and Danish labels. In New York, Walter’s piano personality developed further—and received more widespread recognition as the result of solo concerts, appearances with Wynton and Branford Marsalis, and a continuing set of piano-bass duo gigs at Bradley’s that New York musicians are still talking about. Finally, Walter was coming to be viewed as the living link with—and master interpreter of—the founding gathers of modern jazz, particularly Thelonious Monk, Bud, and Bird.

Walter, who did so much for others, particularly young musicians, could not have been more negligent of his own health. He died of untreated diabetes and high blood pressure on June 2, 1990. He was fifty-seven years old and had been making jazz history for four decades.


Albums as leader
Davis Cup     Blue Note    BLP4018
Illumination Denon Jazz  YX565-ND
Abide With Me    Denon PCM YX528-ND
Night Song   Denon PCM   YX750-ND
Uranus  Paloscenico PAL15008
A Being Such As You Red VPA150
Blues Walk  Red VPA153
400 Years, Ago, Tomorrow Owl  
Walter Davis, Jr., Live Au Dreher  Night and Day NAD1004
Illumination* Pony Canyon D28Y0199
Scorpio Rising Steeplechase 1989 Release
Albums as sideman
Max Roach and his Sextet Debut  105-106
Max Roach Quartet Debut  107-109
Frank Rehak Dawn  DLP1107
World Statesman/Dizzy Gillespie Verve  MCV8173
Dizzy in Greece/Dizzy Gillespie Verve  MCV8017
The Meeting Time/Roger Guerin Palm (F)21
Jef Gilson Septette Spirit Jazz  SFP13005
Our Island Music/Stan Bronstein Muse  MR5072
New Soil/Jackie McLean Blue Note BLP4013
Vertigo/Jackie McLean Blue Note BLP0185
Byrd in Hand/Donald Byrd* Blue Note BLP4019
Taylor’s Tenors/Arthur Taylor New Jazz NJLP8219
Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers RCA Victor (f) 430054
Paris Jam Sessions/Art Blakey* Fontana 680207
Roots and Herbs/Art Blakey Blue Note BLP4347, BLP84347
Art Blakey at the Champs Elyssee    
Africaine/Art Blakey Blue Note  
Sonny Stitt with Art Blakey’s Messengers Sonnet SNTF691
Gypsy Folk Tales/Art Blakey’s Messengers Roulette SR5008
Philly Joe’s Beat/Philly Joe Jones Atlantic ATLLP1340
Philly Joe Jones Atlantic  unissued
Let Freedom Ring/Jackie McLean* Blue Note BLP4106
Slide Hampton and his Orchestra Atlantic ATLLP(SD)1396
Walt Dickerson Audio Fidelity AF2131
This is Criss/Sonny Criss Prestige  PRLLP7511
Sonny Chriss  Prestige  PRL7526
Teddy Edwards Prestige PRL7518
The Way Ahead/Archie Shepp Impulse A(S)9170
Day Dream/Archie Shepp Denon YX-7570-ND
Blues for Attica/Archie Shepp Impulse IMPAS9222
The Sun, Moon and Herbs/Dr. John Atco  ATCOSD32-262
Horn Culture/Sonny Rollins  Milestone MSP9051
The Cutting Edge/Sonny Rollins    
Ms. Jones to You/Etta Jones Muse  MR5099
Estimated Time of Arrival/Bobby Watson Roulette  SR5009
Burn Brigade/Nick Brignola Bee Hive BH7010
To Tadd with Love/Dameronia Uptown UP27.11
Look, Stop and Listen/Dameronia Uptown UP27.15
Caravan/Art Blakey All Stars RCA Victor/Japan  
Tales of the Guess Who/Babs Gonzales Expudidance  
‘Round Midnight/Bette Carter Atlantic  
The Last Stitt Sessions/Sonny Stitt Muse  MC5280
One Night With Blue Note/Vol.3 Blue Note  BLPCD7-461492
Atlantic Jazz Bebop/Philly Joe Jones Atlantic ATL81702
Bird, Original Movie Soundtrack Columbia SCT44299
Art Blakey    
Sonny Rollins Live    
A Night in Havana/Dizzy Gillespie 1989 Release   



Walter Davis, Jr.: In Walked Thelonious (#56312)