Kris Davis, a 2021 Doris Duke Artist in the jazz category, is a critically acclaimed pianist and composer who was described by The New York Times as a beacon for “deciding where to hear jazz on a given night.”
Since 2003, Davis has released 23 recordings as a leader or co-leader and has collaborated with previous fellow Doris Duke Artists such as Terri Lyne Carrington and Craig Taborn along with other celebrated musicians. Davis began studying classical piano at age six, and in her early teens, she discovered her love of jazz through the music of Herbie Hancock and Keith Jarrett, leading her to study jazz at the University of Toronto. She then completed a master’s degree in classical composition from the City College of New York a few years later.
In 2019, her album Diatom Ribbons was named jazz album of the year by both the New York Times and the NPR Music Jazz Critics Poll. She was also named 2020 Pianist of the Year, 2017 Rising Star Pianist and 2018 Rising Star Artist by DownBeat, and 2020 Pianist and Composer of the Year by the Jazz Journalists Association. Her 2016 release, “Duopoly,” was listed as one of the best albums of the year by Jazz Times.
When I compose, I’m alternating between the micro and macro, shaping the details and then standing back to see how they make up the structure of the composition. While writing for this album I learned about diatoms, which are unicellular microalgae that live in the oceans and freshwater and soils. They contribute massively to the planet’s oxygen supply, and there are something like one hundred thousand species. From satellite images above oceans and lakes, huge blooms sometimes appear as beautiful zigzags and ribbons. Up close under a scanning electron microscope, you can see these incredible, ornate structures. So seeing these plants extremely close-up and then so far away, I made a connection between the process of composition and my experience of nature, and that changing your proximity to the same object or idea can dramatically alter your experience of it, often yielding unexpected and inspiring results.Kris Davis, Ossining, May 22, 2019
Kris Davis’ Diatom Ribbons with Esperanza Spalding, Nels Cline, Tony Malaby, JD Allen, Terri Lyne Carrington, Marc Ribot, Ches Smith, Trevor Dunn, Val Jeanty and Kris Davis. Film by Mimi Chakarova
When she was composing the pieces for Diatom Ribbons, pianist Kris Davis was musing about diatoms and larger themes of nature and science. She was also looking for opportunities to explore new musical relationships with drummer Terri Lyne Carrington and vocalist Esperanza Spalding (both Grammy winners) and ground-breaking turntablist Val Jeanty. Carrington, Jeanty and Spalding first worked with Davis on a series of tribute concerts to the late Geri Allen, and there were sparks right away. “We did ten concerts of Geri’s music,” Davis says, “so we were diving into her world. And then Cecil Taylor passed away not long after and I started revisiting all my favorite albums of his. Around this time I was also preparing to play some Monk compositions for the Monk Centennial. Between these concerts and playing/transcribing music by Olivier Messiaen, Henry Threadgill and Youssou N’Dour—there were all these influences going on here.”