Presented By

Biographies Index

Anthony Davis (B.A., Music, Yale University)

The music of pianist, improviser and composer, Anthony Davis, eludes easy categorization. Active in a variety of media, including operatic, symphonic, choral, chamber, dance, theater, and improvised musics, Davis has focused upon the integration of improvised and notated expressive resources. His work embodies an intercultural approach, drawing not only upon traditional and current African-American sources, but upon the Javanese gamelan, American Minimalism, and the European and Euro-American avant-garde.

His fourth and most recent opera, AMISTAD, based on the slave ship uprising of 1839 and the subsequent trial, premiered at the Lyric Opera of Chicago in November of 1997, with libretto by Thulani Davis and direction by New York Public Theater artistic director George C. Wolfe. His first and best-known opera, X: THE LIFE AND TIMES OF MALCOM X, with libretto by Thulani Davis, premiered at the New York City Opera in 1986.

Recent orchestral works include:

  • NOTES FROM THE UNDERGROUND; premiered in 1988 at Carnegie Hall with the American Composers' Orchestra
  • ESU VARIATIONS; commissioned by the Cultural Olympiad for the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and premiered in Atlanta in May 1995
  • JACOB'S LADDER; dedicated to the composer Jacob Druckman and premiered in October, 1997 by the Kansas City Symphony.
His work HEMISPHERES, a collaboration with choreographer Molissa Fenley, was awarded the first Bessie Award for Music for Dance. Davis also composed the incidental music for the Broadway production of Tony Kushner's ANGELS IN AMERICA: MILLENNIUM APPROACHES--PART ONE which premiered in May, 1993 and PART TWO--PERESTROIKA, which debuted in November of 1993. Most recently, Davis completed a work for the Jose Limon Dancers entitled DANCE, a collaboration with choreographer Ralph Lemon.

As a pianist, Davis has collaborated extensively with musical artists working in experimental forms whose work challenges traditional boundaries between composition and improvisation. His own performance ensemble, Episteme, combines disciplined interpretation with provocative real-time music-making. Other improvisational work includes:

  • Happy Valley Blues (Sounds Without Nouns), composed for the String Trio of New York, recently toured throughout the United States and Europe with the composer at the piano.
  • Improvisers associated with the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, including Wadada Leop Smith's ensemble, New Dalta Ahkri
  • Other collaborations include: Anthony Braxton, Leroy Jenkins, and Roscoe Mitchell, David Murray, Abdul Wadud, James Newton, Ray Anderson, Barry Altschul, Marion Brown, and many others.
Honors/Awards include:
  • Academy Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters (1996)
  • National Endowment for the Arts
  • The New York Foundation of the Arts
  • The Massachusetts Arts Council
  • Chamber Music of America
  • Lila Wallace Fund/Meet the Composer Fund for Jazz and Opera America
  • The Down Beat Critics Poll in both pianist and composer categories
  • 1992 recording of his opera, X: THE LIFE AND TIMES OF MALCOM X, released in 1992 on Gramavision, earned a Grammy nomination for Best Contemporary Classical Composition
Davis has received commissions from the American Music Theater Festival, the Opera Theatre of St. Louis, the Lyric Opera of Chicago, the symphony orchestras of San Francisco, Kansas City, Houston, Atlanta and Pittsburgh, and the American Composers' Orchestra. His compositions and improvisations have been recorded on Gramavision, Music and Arts, India Navigation, Soul Note and Black Saint. Davis is affiliated with ASCAP, and his compositions are published by G. Schirmer. His music is discussed in such standard reference text on jazz, improvised music, classical music and opera as the Guinness Encyclopedia of Popular Music, the Grove Dictionary of American Music, and the Grove Dictionary of Opera.

In January of 1998, Anthony Davis joined the faculty of the UCSD Music Department. Professor Davis comes to San Diego with his young son Jonah, and his wife, Cynthia Aaronson-Davis, a soprano who has distinguished herself in both contemporary and standard repertoire, performing with the New York City Opera, the Boston Lyric Opera, Opera Metropolitana in Caracas, Venezuela, and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.


Introduction to Musicians and Middle Schools |
Using the Videos in the Classroom |

What Creativity Means: Anthony Davis, Cecil Lytle, Steven Schick,
Bertram Turetzky, Chinary Ung & Susan Ung |

Biographies | Purchasing the Videos | TV Schedule | Site Map |

2000 Regents of the University of California