ListN Up: Anthony Davis (April 30, 2021)

ListN Up is a weekly series of artist-curated playlists that offer an intimate sonic portrait of contemporary artists by showcasing the diverse and stylistically varied music that influences their creative practice. 

Opera News has called Anthony Davis “A National Treasure” for his pioneering work in opera. His most recent opera, The Central Park Five, with a libretto by Richard Wesley was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in Music in 2020. He has also been on the cutting edge of improvised music and jazz for over four decades. A graduate of Yale University in 1975, Mr. Davis is currently a Distinguished Professor of Music at the University of California, San Diego.

Hello everyone! I’m going to share my playlist with you, and I think I’d like to talk a little bit about it and what went into my thinking in creating it. I think as kids, we always walk around with movie scores in our head that’s comprised of a lot of music that we’ve heard, or we’ve listened to, or our parents played, and that certainly plays an important role in my playlist because its some of the music that I’ve lived with all my life, especially when I was younger. I also have pieces that I’ve grown to love and feel have an ongoing influence on my direction in music. So I hope you enjoy my playlist as much as I have. Thank you!

“The Blues” from Black, Brown and Beige by Duke Ellington with Joya Sherrill (voice)

Duke Ellington intended to compose an opera about the odyssey of the American Negro from slavery to freedom. Instead, he wrote Black, Brown and Beige, where the fabulous musicians in the orchestra became the characters with Johnny Hodges, Ben Webster, and Tricky Sam Nanton.

A Tone Parallel to Harlem (Harlem Suite) by Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn

This is the 1951 version from the album Ellington Uptown with the Duke Ellington Orchestra.

“Something to Live For” by Billy Strayhorn with Ella Fitzgerald

Billy Strayhorn is one of my favorite composers and his music, lyrics, and original sense of form opened the door for all of us. My parents loved Ella Fitzgerald, and I grew up listening to her and Billie Holiday. I learned how to compose for the voice from her and Billie Holiday.

“You Don’t Know What Love Is” by Billie Holiday

This is one of Billie Holiday’s last recordings, and her rendition never fails to move me. My parents played this album all the time. Her approach to rhythm had a strong influence on my text setting, and I always tell opera singers to listen to Billie Holiday to understand rubato within time.

“Stop, Do Not Go On,” from The Gospel at Colonus by Bob Telson and Lee Breuer, featuring The Blind Boys of Alabama

I first heard this piece in Philadelphia in 1984 when we had the first workshop of my opera X: The Life and Times of Malcolm X. I loved how the piece matched Gospel music with Greek tragedy, and it really worked.

Act I, Scene 3 (Wiegenlied) from Wozzeck by Alban Berg with Hildegard Behrens

Music and Emotion. Wozzeck was the first opera I ever saw live at Yale when I was a student. The music is everything, visceral and lyrical with a incredible structure.

Excerpt from Peter Grimes by Benjamin Britten and Montagu Slater featuring Jon Vickers

The sea interludes with the chorus are haunting and beautiful.

Finale from Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny by Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht

What an anthem! I love the stirring music with the nihilistic message!

“Resolution” from A Love Supreme by John Coltrane with McCoy Tyner, Jimmy Garrison, and Elvin Jones

Powerful music! I listened to Coltrane endlessly when I was a student at Yale. He probably saved me from the stress of academia. McCoy’s solo is outstanding, and the coordination and anticipation of one of the great rhythm sections is without peer.

“Lonely Woman” from The Shape of Jazz to Come by Ornette Coleman with Don Cherry, Charlie Haden, and Billy Higgins

This recording in 1959 was revolutionary in the independence of the rhythm and agonizing lyricism.


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