“String Theory: The Richard Davis Method”

film to Premiere at WI Film Festival

For young bassists, its no secret that NEA Jazz Master Richard Davis is a superlative teacher; for thirty years, he has gathered young bassists of all ages in Madison for two days of learning, performing, and celebrating the double bass, with a host of acclaimed faculty bassists from around the country.

The far-reaching impact, and the unique magic of this event isn’t widely known to non-bassists however. Thanks to generous funding from the Berger Family Foundation, we were able to record part of the 2018 conference, which has now been brought into a full-length documentary called “String Theory: the Richard Davis Method”, by Story First Media.

“String Theory: The Richard Davis Method” will premiere as part of the Wisconsin Film Festival in Madison on Sunday, April 7th, at 4:45 pm at Music Hall on the UW Madison campus. Tickets are required for this screening, and can be bought on the WI Film Festival Website ($12+fees/ea). The film has also been accepted to the Milwaukee Film Festival (dates tba).

The film will premiere alongside a documentary about a fellow UW professor, artist and all around creative force, Lynda Barry. The premiere will also have a special surprise performance – spoiler alert – it will be a bassist/bassists to be announced later on.

As Richard muses in the film, the RDYB Conference is where students see “a magnitude of bass players and teachers” – something young bassists don’t normally experience in a world where the study of the violin, cello, and other instruments often begins at a much earlier age. Young bassists typically don’t begin study until the age of 14-16 due to their size in relation to the instrument, and the lack of affordable access to child-scale instruments. This delay not only leaves them less prepared to take advantage of scholarships to pursue music study at the college/conservatory level, but also delays the opportunity to develop mastery and musicality on the instrument during formative years.

With the RDYB Conference, Richard Davis set out to change the trajectory and to create a place where students are in his words, “warmly hugged into the world of bass-dom.” He started a movement in bass education. In addition to the conference, the RDYB Foundation supports instrument access through donations of money and instruments, and is building its own collection that includes a range of smaller basses available for need-based loan so that kids can get their hands on instruments earlier.    

It’s about building possibility. In the words of bassist, educator, and composer Rufus Reid, the conference is a place where “the young student can actually see where he or she might be able to go…that is actually possible.”

Professor Emerita of Double Bass at the University of Michigan, Diana Gannet describes the conference as a “catalyst for young bassists like none other.”

2024 will be our first conference since Richard’s passing at the age of 93 on September 6th of 2023. Thirty years and three generations of bassists later, it is a good time to reflect on his living legacy. We look forward to sharing a peek into this special event that has touched so many lives over the years.

See you there!

–Diana Wheeler, RDYB Alum Parent & Catherine Harris, Executive Director