A Seasoned Musician

Photo used with permission from UCSD Extension
Photo used with permission from UCSD Extension

UCSD music professor Anthony Davis speaks about his latest jazz album, “Notes from the Underground,” and creating music. 

Photo used with permission from UCSD Extension
Photo used with permission from UCSD Extension

From his vinyl record released in 1988 called “The Ghost Factory” to a modernized Biblical myth in his 2009 opera “Lilith,” UCSD professor Anthony Davis is no stranger to composing critically acclaimed music.

Davis, who is a professor of integrative studies with emphases on piano and composition, received a Grammy Nomination in 1993 for “Best Contemporary Classical Composition” and has performed and composed for companies all over the world in places such as New York, Boston, Paris, Greece, Poland and Spain.

The 1975 Yale graduate released his “Notes from the Underground” in March 2014. This album consists of three tracks: “You Have the Right to Remain Silent,” “Wayang V” and “Notes from the Underground,” each of which consists of numerous movements that feature sounds from the piano and two types of clarinet. Composed by Davis, “Notes from the Underground” was an ongoing project with the Boston Modern Orchestra Project, a full, professional orchestra based in Boston, Massachusetts that is committed to performing and recording new music.

“The process of creating the album was great,” Davis said. “Deciding what pieces to record and what order they will be in was fun. You also had to think about what music to record, putting all the elements together [and] raising money to hire guest artists and [rent] studio time.”

To become skilled in music may be a challenge for some, but for professor Davis, playing and composing is second nature.

“I started music by playing classical piano,” Davis said. “I started that when I was 6 years old. It was something that I always enjoyed. I would come home from school and just play the piano; it was my way of expressing myself.”

Davis first became interested in jazz and composing in the 10th grade, which he spent in Italy. He then ventured on to receive an undergraduate education at Yale University and, upon graduating with a bachelor’s degree in music, began his professional career. Davis was involved with many different groups in New York and finally had a chance to write a musical orchestra.

However, success in the music and performance field did not come overnight for Davis. Before publishing “Notes From the Underground,” Davis had composed numerous operas. He is best known for composing “X, The Life and Times of Malcolm X,” an opera based on the life of the civil rights leader Malcolm X which premiered at the New York City Opera in 1986. As a result, Davis rose to prominence as X was the first opera composed based on a contemporary, political person.

For Davis, the most memorable part of his musical career is when “X, The Life and Times of Malcolm X” premiered. It was a big achievement for him as it represented a culmination of what he had done, and working with different operas on different projects was incredibly exciting for him.

Davis understands that mastering the art of music, composing and performing does not come easy, but he believes that persistence in pursuing one’s vision is the most important step toward success in music.

“Be persistent and develop your vision of music,” he said. “Don’t be worried about the commercial potential or how it fits in with other things. Try to explore what is your idea, what is your perception of music and realizing that to the best of your abilities.”

Such a personal take on success complements Davis’s view of music as an all-unifying and truly human force.

“Music is all about the spirit. It’s what makes us human, what makes us one, what gives us the energy to move forward,” Davis said. “Music is about a realm of consciousness that goes beyond who we are as individuals.”

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