Davis was born in Paterson, New Jersey. He taught at Yale University and Harvard University, and has played with Anthony Braxton and Leo Smith. In 1981, Davis formed an octet called Episteme. He also wrote the incidental music for the Broadway version of Tony Kushner’s Angels in America. He incorporates several styles including jazz, rhythm ‘n’ blues, gospel, non-Western, African, European classical, Indonesian, and experimental music.
Davis has received acclaim as a free-jazz pianist, a co-leader or sideman with various ensembles. Such ensembles include those that featured Smith as bandleader from 1974 to 1977.
Davis is professor of music at the University of California San Diego. His opera Wakonda’s Dream is a tale of a contemporary Native American family and the history that affects them.
His latest opera, Lilith (libretto by Allan Havis)’ had its world premiere at the Conrad Prebys Music Center in UCSD on December 4, 2009. The story is about Adam’s first wife, set in a modern era.