Going through some of my old music collection recently, I came across a very treasured item: an EP record (Extended Play, 33 1/3 rpm vinyl, 2 tunes per side). It is a recording of one of the first saxophone players to really make a big impression on me when I was first learning to play that instrument…
How I discovered Eddie Davis…
One summer day in my early teens in Toronto, I was browsing through a used record store, and this item caught my attention with the cool image of a sax player on the cover. So I bought it… only $2.00. Research today indicates this recording is quite RARE!
From the first time I spun these grooves, I just loved Eddie’s edgy style; his tone, his phrasing, the attack of certain notes, the smoothness of his trills and chromatic runs all around the horn. His sound was big-toned, and bluesy, yet full of sensitivity.
Back in those days, EP recordings were designed for distribution through the “new” big hole 45 rpm market. This format was ideal for Davis at that time, as he clearly wanted to make his music accessible to a broader audience (beyond the LP) for casual enjoyment.
EDDIE DAVIS AND BONNEMERE PLAY / 1053 / Royal Roost EP#308 /
I Only Have Eyes For You (3:11)
Secret Love (2:37)
Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis (tenor sax)
Eddie Bonnemere (piano)
Joe Simmons (bass)
Charlie Rice (trap drums)
Ray Barretto (bongo drums)
Davis was self-taught.
He developed his own sound and had an often unorthodox way of playing the saxophone (a Selmer Mark VI tenor). Feeling that some of the keys on the instrument were completely useless, he preferred to use his own unorthodox fingerings; these made more sense to him – whatever it took to get what he wanted out of the horn. Some people have said he manhandled the instrument. Bring it on. He was great!
Eddie’s influences a young person way back in the early 1930s would have been Coleman Hawkins and Ben Webster. Yet, the style of those players might sound “dated” by today’s standards, whereas, Eddie Davis’ recordings still sound fresh, cutting, and contemporary. You could say he was ahead of its time.
Lockjaw’s style became a very personal mixture of just about everything he had heard, from R&B to bebop and beyond. He made extensive use of the blues scales, which are part of the Rhythm and Blues vocabulary as well as rock music.
According to Derek Taylor on the All About Jazz website, Davis was the “bearer of a sound that could cleanly shift from coarse Rhythm and Blues infused wailing to beautifully textured, romantically voiced poetry. In either gear his signature sound, a full-bodied articulation that made ardent use of his instrument’s rich tonal properties, always shone through as distinct and non derivative.”
Here’s an amusing Eddie Davis quote from a conversation with drummer Art Taylor on why Eddie decided to become a tenor saxophonist.
Eddie: “In my case I wanted the instrument for what it represented. By watching musicians I saw that they drank, they smoked, they got all the broads and they didn’t get up early in the morning. That attracted me. My next move was to see who got the most attention, so it was between the tenor saxophonist and the drummer. The drums looked like too much work, so I said I’ll get one of those tenor saxophones. That’s the truth.”
As the possessor of a cutting and immediately identifiable tough tenor tone, Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis could hold his own in a saxophone battle with anyone.
Eddie Davis began his professional career in Harlem eight months after purchasing his first saxophone. He began to make his mark on the jazz scene in the late 1930s when he was around 17.
Davis would play at two major New York City night clubs that were “the” great jazz spots in town: at Clark Monroe’s Uptown House, his tenor saxophone playing was rooted in swing and the blues (despite this establishment’s close ties with the emergence of bebop a few years later), and he displayed a marked affinity with the tough school of Texas tenors.
In 1940 the other hot jazz club was Minton’s Playhouse on 118th Street and they had a house band with its leader being tenor saxophonist Teddy Hill. Now, everybody wanted to play at Minton’s. It was one of the places to be heard, in order to build your career.
Now, when Teddy Hill moved up to becoming the club manager, Lockjaw was appointed to take over the leaders chair for the house band and it was the leaders job to decide who gets to play in the jam sessions, and who does not; many unqualified players would often try to sit in.
Davis: “In some instances I was labeled as a tyrant, but on the whole the guys appreciated it. The word spread. If you can’t play, don’t go on Lockjaw’s thing, because he’ll ask you off. In doing that we got the best musicians.”
His recording career started with a couple of Cootie Williams sextet sessions January 4 and 6, 1944 (which are also the first recordings of legendary pianist Bud Powell). Aside from recording four 78 rpm sextet sides on January 6, they also recorded four big band sides (Cootie Williams And His Orchestra).
On May 26, 1944, he recorded with Lucky Millinder And His Orchestra, alongside tenor saxophonist Lucky Thompson.
After a few session in 1945, he recorded with Andy Kirk’s big band on January, 3, 1946, alongside tenor saxophonist Jimmy Forrest, and with Fats Navarro in the trumpet section. Davis even got to play with Louis Armstrong.
In 1946 Davis began heading his own groups. His earliest recordings tended to be explosive R&B affairs with plenty of screaming from the horn; on one session he matched wits successfully with Fats Navarro. He continued recording his own sessions as well as sessions with other leaders through the rest of the 1940s and into the ’50s.
Eddie must have had a great sense of humour when he recorded this very spirited version of a tune everybody knows…
On July 22, 1952, Davis recorded with Count Basie And His Orchestra for the first time, alongside arranger Ernie Wilkins, who also played alto sax in the band. Lockjaw loved the Basie band and would return to it many times during his career through the 60s and on into the 70s.
He was a mainstay for the Prestige label, and released a long list of fine sessions for that label, and their subsidiary Moodsville. It was with Basie that he made his greatest impact, although in between these Basie stints he continued to lead his own groups.
Between 1955-60 Davis became a pioneer of the tenor-and-organ combo, touring and recording with a blues-based ensemble featuring Shirley Scott on the Hammond B3. In this long-running group, Davis realized his vision of what an organ/tenor combo could achieve.
Miss Scott’s taste and light touch on the organ made it possible for Davis to avoid the battering-ram approach and produce music of restraint and taste without sacrificing drive and excitement.
That Old Black Magic – Eddie Davis and Shirley Scott
Night and Day (1958)
Close Your Eyes – Eddie Davis Trio featuring Shirley Scott
Eventually, when Shirley Scott left the band, Davis never really returned to the organ/tenor sound, despite his success with it.
The Two Tenors
As the 1960s came into focus, Eddie Davis and his Chicago counterpart, Johnny Griffin, a fellow tenor player who was just as strong a player as Davis, hooked up as a duo for a series of so-called “tenor battle” albums that were easily a cut above most other such recordings of that time.
Both saxophonists were rock solid bop players, each at the peak of their powers. The two were very compatible in their playing styles and had a lot of mutual respect.
Here is a tune from that series…
Straight No Chaser – Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis & Johnny Griffin / Recorded live at Minton’s Playhouse, New York, New York on January 6, 1961.
Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis, Johnny Griffin (tenor sax) – Eddie doing solo blowing.
Junior Mance (piano)
Larry Gales (bass)
Ben Riley (drums)
During 1960-1962, Lockjaw collaborated with Griffin in many exciting performances and recordings, starting with the album “Battle Stations” for Prestige on September 2, 1960. Strange as it may seem, the two tenors did not play together on any of these tracks.
Although the two tenors were of different temperaments both musically and emotionally–Davis played with the fire he learned with Basie and was known for his observant, wry, and private nature, while Griffin, who had played with Lionel Hampton, Art Blakey, and Thelonius Monk was outgoing and always smiling–their ideas complemented and enhanced one another.
“What we are doing is presenting, side by side, two different styles of playing tenor–a contrast, not a contest,” explained Davis to J. Robert Bragonier on the 52nd Street Jazz website.
Johnnie Griffin said in a subsequent interview that, at first, he used to watch “Jaws” fingers to try to figure out how he came up with his unique lines; but he soon abandoned trying to understand Lockjaw’s unorthodox approach, saying:
“He was incredible, I have no idea how he could play the saxophone that way. I very quickly stopped trying to figure out what he was doing. Watching his fingers would mess me up!”
Other Eddie Davis Projects
Stolen Moments – Eddie ‘Lockjaw’ Davis Big Band / Prestige / 1960
Eddie Davis (tenor sax)
Clark Terry, Richard Williams, Bob Bryant (trumpet)
Oliver Nelson, Eric Dolphy, Jerome Richardson, George Barrow, Bob Ashton (reeds)
Melba Liston, Jimmy Cleveland (trombone)
Richard Wyands (piano)
Wendell Marshall (bass)
Roy Haynes (drums)
Arrangements by Oliver Nelson and Ernie Wilkens
A Little Story about How Lockjaw Did A Sound Check
“I learned a nice lesson on how to sound check from Jaws. I was playing 3rd alto in the big band that was backing Jaws for a series of concerts. Jaws was on the stage on a stool right in front on me and the 4th tenor player, John Simon. So when the time came for Jaws to test his solo mike, the bell of his horn was about 3 feet from the mike. So the sound man, who’s in the booth way in the back of the club, says through the talkback, “MR. JAWS, COULD YOU PLAY INTO THE SOLO MIKE PLEASE?” So Jaws, whose horn is still like 3 feet from the mike goes…. VOVA FOVA HOVA WOVA VIVIP AHH……VOOOOOOOMM!! Put vibrato on the VOOOOOOOMN!, that’s his low bflat. I’m trying to put into words the sound of his horn playing one of his patented descending licks here.
So the sound guy announces through the talkback, “MR. LOCKJAWS, COULD YOU PLEASE MOVE UP TO THE MIKE TO WHERE YOU ARE GOING TO BE PLAYING INTO IT TONIGHT!” So Jaws move his horn like 2 inches closer to the mike. So now he’s 2 feet and 10 inches away from the mike. VOVA FOVA HOVA WOVA WIVIP AHH…….VOOOOOOOOOOMM!!
So the sound man asks Lockjaw, “SIR, IS THAT HOW FAR AWAY FROM THE MIKE THAT YOU ALWAYS STAND? Jaws humbly nods his head yes. He then turns around to me and John and whispers, “man, don’t ever give ’em everything you got on a sound check. They’ll turn you down so far that you’ll never hear yourself.”
Of course that night Lockjaw was right on top of the mike, and had no problem hearing himself. So ever since that night, when I test the mike for levels, I always blow easy. “
“… I remember him calling the ballad But Beautiful, looking at the pianist and bassist who gave the “yes” nod, then started playing the song, finding out that neither really knew the tune. When it was finally over, Jaws gave them both a terrifying look and I heard him say, “Don’t ever do that again!!!”
After temporarily retiring to become a booking agent (1963-1964), Davis rejoined Basie.
Through the decades, Davis recorded as a leader for many labels, including Savoy, Apollo, Royal Roost, King, Roulette, Prestige/Jazzland/Moodsville, RCA, Storyville, MPS, Black & Blue, Spotlite, SteepleChase, Pablo, Muse, and Enja.
Davis kept busy with music until the time of his death. He succumbed to cancer on November 3, 1986, at the age of 65, passing away in a Culver City, California, hospital. Davis was survived by his wife, Beatrice, and a daughter.
His Influence On Other Sax Players
Generally regarded as a Soul Jazz player, Lockjaw Davis was a huge influence on future Blues & R&B musicians: for example,
- Greg Piccolo, who plays sax with Colin James “Little Big Band 3” and Jimmie Vaughan (Stevie Ray Vaughan’s surviving brother);
- Keith Pray, a saxophonist who has worked with many great artists, including Paul Anka and The Temptations;
- William Clarke, blues harmonica player, was influenced in his style to a large extent by the bluesy jazz playing of Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis.
Eddie belongs to the swing / mainstream school and there is definitely very little influence of modern hard bop or post bop in his playing.
He stayed very close to the earlier blues and swing forms and expressed himself in a funky and rocking style but without using the more simple phrasings of typical honking rhythm and blues saxes.
Eddie always maintained a distinctive way of expression although his phrases could be fiery and wailing. Eddie was at his best in small groups which gave him the opportunity to stretch out in extended solo work. He tackled his solos with a lot of maturity, improvising along the melodic line of the theme.
Together with Buddy Tate, he was the most versatile player of what was left of the mainstream school of players of which Hawkins, Byas, Webster, Quebec, Berry and other tenor greats have been the founders.
- March 2, 1921 Born in New York City.
- Mostly self-taught, he was already playing at Clark Monroe’s Uptown House in Harlem eight months after buying his first instrument.
- 1942-43 Joined Cootie Williams’ band , Lucky Millinder, Andy Kirk, Louis Armstrong for short periods.
- 1945-52 Formed his own combo, playing mostly at Minton’s
- May 1952 Joined Count Basie in but left one year later.
- 1953-55 Worked with his own groups with changing rhythm sections –> Royal Roost Recording EP #308
- February 1955 Took Shirley Scott in his trio and they stayed together for a long time, with the exception of short periods when he worked with Count Basie’s band, mostly when they toured abroad.
- June 63 to October 64 Out of the active music scene working as a booking agent.
- 1973 Rejoined Count Basie not only as a soloist but also as road manager.
- Late 70’s he was mostly performing as leader.
- November 3, 1986, died in Culver City, California,