Visitors to Atlanta’s Grady Hospital in December may hear a special musical treat thanks to Stephan Davis, Ph.D., clinical assistant professor of nursing at Georgia State University. On certain days, Davis sets up in the lobby of Atlanta’s largest hospital to entertain patients and their caregivers during this time of year. His performances, sponsored by The Serenbe Institute for Art, Culture and the Environment, are open to the public and touch young and old alike.
While Davis trills on an improvisational rendition of “Christmas Time is Here,” a young elementary-school-age boy dances and sings along to the music. A woman, accompanying him, remarks on how much the boy loves music and has an interest in the saxophone. Nearby, a wheel-chair bound woman in her nineties also hums along to the music. Both ask the young professor for a photo with him and leave in good spirits.
“I love that Grady is so close that I can walk out of my office and play for an hour and then go back to teaching,” said Davis. He previously performed during the holidays at the University of Maryland Medical Center and Georgetown University Medical Center while a graduate student at Georgetown.
Davis plays the alto saxophone by ear. He began his love for music as a child. Taught by his mother, who had wanted to be a nurse, he began to sing publicly at age five. By his teen years, Davis switched to the saxophone and began composing. At 17 he studied at New School University’s Jazz and Contemporary Music Program. After a year of studying music academically and being exposed to courses in philosophy, creative writing and anthropology, Davis decided to move in a different direction. Drawn to helping fields, Davis explored social work and psychology before settling on nursing. He attended the University of Maryland for his bachelor of science in nursing and later went on to complete his master’s at Georgetown University and doctorate at Yale University.
After Georgetown, Davis moved back to New York City for six years, during which he was an active performer and recorded several of his original works in studios. Since leaving New York, he has not been able to perform as much he would like given his other professional commitments. Thanks to his friend, Brandall Jones Program Manager for The Serenbe Institute, Davis was encouraged to participate in the Grady Hospital performances. The Institute previously sponsored performances in the Grady waiting rooms and had received a request from the hospital to provide holiday performances in the atrium lobby.
“The saxophone seemed the perfect instrument to fill such a large space with holiday sounds of joy. With Dr. Davis’ incredible experience and talent, we knew the patients and families at Grady would be uplifted by his performances,” said Jones.
A highlight of Davis’ musical career was when he was commissioned to perform Amazing Grace as a prelude to Aretha Franklin’s finale at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. during a Martin Luther King Day celebration the night before President Barack Obama’s inauguration. Franklin complimented Davis by referring to him as “John Coltrane.”
“I was honored to hear her call me his name although we play different types of saxophones.”
Davis will perform on Christmas Eve and December 26, both from 1 to 2 p.m. in the Grady Hospital atrium lobby.
The program is sponsored by The Serenbe Institute for Art, Culture, and the Environment for the South Fulton Area Initiative, in partnership with Grady Hospital.
View Davis’ performance here.