Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis (b.1922 - d.1986) was a NYC-native tenor sax innovator. His tone was recognizable to say the least. In fact, Davis is one of the few musicians actually renamed for his sound. His "lockjaw" blowing technique has also been called ragged, hard-blown, forceful, tough, gritty, edgy, honking, combative, and suggestive of emerging R&B and rock and roll horn styles. Such labels are insufficient, however, for describing the affirmative aspects of his playing. Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis was a black man striving to be heard in a very real historical hot-bed; it was not uncommon for such "aggressors" to be misunderstood.
He may not be the first tenor sax man that comes to your mind, but he was among the most accomplished. He played with Cootie Williams, Lucky Millinder, Andy Kirk, Louis Armstrong, Fats Navarro, Count Basie, Coleman Hawkins, Johnny Griffin, Harry "Sweets" Edison and many more.
Like all great composers, Davis strove after the soundscape in his mind, often despite convention. His song structures and instrumental mixes were identifiable but hardly status-quo. Everyone is familiar with the sax-led quartet; but he replaced piano with a Hammond B-3 and occasionally spiced it up with African percussion, some Jerome Richardson on flute, a rowdy trombone solo by Steve Pulliam, an expanded 13 member "big band".... whatever his vision called for. Davis knew what he was driving at, and achieved it "by any means necessary".
Davis comes out swinging with "Intermission Riff," an infectious jam pairing him with the great jazz organist Shirley Scott. Her percussive chords and intuitive accompaniment style make her the next coolest person by far on this collection. Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis and Shirley Scott will always be remembered for their profound harmonic integration of bebop, blues, and gospel. The best examples of this are Davis' own compositions "Goin' to Meetin'," "The Rev," "The Chef" and the transcendent slow-blues "In The Kitchen." The standard ballad "Willow Weep for Me" finds Davis crooning over George Duvivier's pizzicato bass and Arthur Edgehill's sly drumbeat. Scott's organ playing is alternately sustained and stabbed, making the whole thing feel like a classic Film Noir soundtrack. This quartet formed the basis of much of Davis' Prestige catalog and legitimized the organ/sax small combo forever. They were joined by bongos and congas on the bluesy "Last Train From Overbrook". Davis was an imaginative improviser. You'll hear him stumble upon a groove he liked, then vamp on it for emphasis, tossing subtle variations here and there until the whole group agreed to move on.
"Robbins Nest" is another compelling swing number with particularly great sax/guitar interplay on the outtro section. Just when you conclude the rhythm section is there only to support Davis' wailing solos, they each break out with impressive solos of their own. Their cohesive section playing is beguiling. "Body and Soul" is different but derived from Coleman Hawkin's masterpiece. Davis' version is obviously strong enough for Prestige to still be capitalizing on it 47 years later. Oliver Nelson wrote "Trane Whistle" for John Coltane. He and Ernie Wilkens created this mid-tempo arrangement for a 13-piece band, simulating an epic backdrop for Davis' solos. The diverse harmonies and counter-melodies made for an interesting experiment (especially considering Clark Terry, Eric Dolphy, and Roy Haynes' participation.) However, some of the "Big Band Pizzazz" was lost on Davis' fans already used to the larger-than-life musical momentum of his power-trio.
"I Only Have Eyes for You" is another good band jam and launch pad for bop-infused solos. You'll love Norwegian guitarist Paul Weeden's inspired contribution. The vibe on "Goin' to Meetin'" is dustbowl tent-revival meets sexy spy soundtrack, and features some sassy stride piano from Horace Parlen (it's strange to hear a Davis track sans organ.) "The Rev" boasts the same authoritative pulpit-thumping. This call-and-response is the perfect context for a swirling Hammond organ. The best part is how seriously everyone approaches this allegory. Davis and crew know how to sell it.
"Speak Low" is an irresistible toe-tapper, thanks to the perfect timing of Arthur Edgehill on drums and Ray Barretto on conga. Davis exhibits more self-restraint than elsewhere, his phrases are fewer and softer but even more persuasive. Scott turns in another excellent solo, driven with determination by Duvivier's bedrock bass playing. The final track could be the best; "In The Kitchen" is one of the best slow blues on record. Shirley Scott's undeniable triumph forced the jazz elite to accept and celebrate three things: herself, women as equal improvisers, and the Hammond B3 organ as a legitimate instrument. Not too shabby.
Audio engineer Rudy Van Gelder's creative use of vintage multi-track equipment makes for some interesting stereo images, even in our modern age of surround-sound. His brilliant touch is all over these recordings. If nothing else, his technical accomplishments alone make these Prestige Profiles worthwhile.
Highly recommended classic jazz.
-David Seymour is a jazz journalist in Saint Louis, Missouri, USA.