Griff and Lock: EDDIE ‘LOCKJAW’ DAVIS and JOHNNY GRIFFIN Quintet
Eddie Davis (ts) Johnny Griffin (t) Junior Mance (p) Larry Gales (b) Ben Riley (drs)
Recorded in New York City; November 4 & 10, 1960
The Last Train from Overbrook (6:50) (James Moody)
Hey, Lock! (7:54) (Eddie Davis)
Midnight at Minton’s (5:23) (Babs Gonzales)
Second Balcony Jump (4:19) (Jerry Valentine)
I’ll Remember April (6:33) (Raye-DePaul)
Good Bait (7:39) (Dameron-Basie)
Exactly when the first tenor “battle” took place is a fact we have been unable to pin down. Tenor saxophone was not used too much until the mid-1930s, so it is unlikely to have started before then. There was a rivalry between Lester Young and Herschel Evans in Count Basie’s band but their solos were usually widely separated by the arrangements. The beginning may have been I Lionel Hampton’s band with Arnette Cobb and Illinois Jacquet at the Harlem Square in Houston during the late ‘30s, or on 52nd Street in 1941 when Coleman Hawkins’ small band also featured another tenor player of note, Don Byas.
At any rate, a tradition had begun to evolve. Jacquet and Dexter Gordon were brought together on a number called Po’k Chops with Hampton in the early ‘40s. Then, in the mid-‘40s, Gordon and Gene Ammons continued the tradition with Blowin’ the Blues Away in the Billy Eckstine orchestra. A few years later, Dexter teamed with Wardell Gray for The Chase and other tenor-tandem numbers in a small group context at sessions and on record. In 1950, at New York’s Orchid Room (the old Onyx), Gray and Sonny Stitt blew against each other. The nest step was taken by Ammons, who teamed with Stitt on a permanent basis for club and concert engagements as well as recordings from 1950 to 1952.
Since then there have been many tenor pairs on record dates, but the first to appear regularly in clubs after the break-up of Ammons & Stitt was the Al Cohn–Zoot Sims team. Then, in May 1960, came a vital new addition to the two-tenor combo ranks – Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis and Johnny Griffin. “Griff & Lock” are stylistically closer to Stitt and Ammons than to Sims and Cohn, but they share one important characteristic with the latter pair. While Gene and Sonny were dedicated to a heated (even though not vicious) saxophones swordplay, Eddie and Johnny are always enhancing each other. In a Down Beat interview (June 22, 1961), “Lock” explained the group’s intent to Pete Welding. “It’s not rally a battle at all. What we are doing is presenting, side by side, two different styles of playing tenor – a contrast, not a contest.”
Although both Davis and Griffin are rough and ready, extrovert players, there is a definite contrast. This helps sustain interest in the solo portions. The well-balanced ensembles show that there is enough similarity of basic approach in their respective styles to weld them into a cohesive unit.
Both men have served in big bands (Griffin with Hampton; Davis most importantly with Basie) and in small groups (each has led his won combo as well as working as a sideman). “Lock” has one of the most personal, immediately recognizable styles in jazz. In many ways it is unorthodox; intriguingly freakish. On ballads, his Ben Webster influence is evident but is isn’t often that he is heard at ballad tempo in this group. (The first chorus of Good Bait is the only instance here.) Davis explained in Down Beat: “We very rarely play slower ballads. It’s not that we have anything against them. It’s just that they don’t seem to fit into our approach … The patrons don’t rally want us to slow down.”
Griffin, who takes the second tenor solo on all six selections here, is still “the fastest gun alive” but is a calmer player than in his pre-Thelonious Monk days. This is not to say that he has lost any of his tremendous drive, but he is more in control of his own powers than before. Occasionally, Johnny gets that hollow Dexter Gordon sound in the upper register and sometimes he reminds me of Gene Ammons but like Davis he is essentially an individualist whose multi-noted style is unmistakable.
The individual and combined powers of the two tenor “terrible”, (used in the most positive jazz sense of the word) is a constant good groove. Junior Mance, his authentically funky piano and his strongly rhythmic cohorts, Larry Gales and Ben Riley, help to make this album a delight from start to finish. Perhaps the most important factor in the success of this set is the excellent choice of tunes. The six selections here inspire the players to do their best. The only standard is I’ll Remember April and that one has a way of refurbishing itself through the years which does not let its interest for player or listener diminish. The others are each, in their own way, special/ Guts and beauty in combination are to be found in James Moody’s Last Train from Overbrook. Hey Lock! Is a Davis original with its own bridge separating body and soul. Babs Gonzales’ Midnight at Minton’s is a minor-key swinger. Second Balcony Jump was written by Jerry Valentine for the Earl Hines band of the 1940s and later reworked for Billy Eckstine. Griff and Lock introduce it with a bit of The Theme before leaping over the balcony railing. Tadd Dameron’s Good Bait (written in collaboration with Count Basie) is also from the ‘40s and was first recorded by a Dizzy Gillespie quintet. Davis brings out its stately minuet-like qualities for a chorus and then Griffin joins in to help him swing it.
If you have either of the group’s other albums, (Tough Tenors and Lookin’ at Monk) you know what to expect in terms of spirited performances. This one is every bit as good and what is more important, accomplishes it with a quality and feeling all its own.
JAZZLAND albums by this group include:
Tough Tenors – Griffin-Davis Quintet – JLP 31 & Stereo 931S
Lookin’ at Monk – Griffin-Davis Quintet – JLP 39 & Stereo 939S
Produced by ORRIN KEEPNEWS
Recording Engineer: RAY FOWLER
Recorded at Plaza Sound Studios
Cover design: KEN DEARDOFF
Back-liner photographs: STEVE SCHAPIRO
JAZZLAND RECORDS are produced by BILL GRAUER PRODUCTIONS, Inc.
235 West 46th Street, New York 36, New York