Blues Up and Down: The EDIE ‘LOCKJAW’ DAVIS and JOHNNY GRIFFIN Quintet
Eddie Davis (ts) Johnny Griffin (ts) Lloyd Mayers (p) Larry Gales (b) Ben Riley (drs)
Recorded New York; June 5 and August 17(*), 1961
Camp Meeting (*) (5:26) (Johnny Griffin)
Blues Up and Down (5:03) (Ammons and Stitt)
Nice and Easy (7:25) (Johnny Griffin)
Oh, Gee (*) (3:51) (Matthew Gee)
Leapin’ on Lenox (4:35) (Eddie Davis)
Layin’ on Mellow (4:48) (Griffin and Davis)
Several cities in the United States lay claim to having originated the saying, “If you don’t like the weather, wait a few minutes,” A similar saying could apply directly to jazz: “If you don’t like the music, wait a few years.” But with a slightly different meaning. Jazz has more to do with fashion than with the weather and, like some ladies’ dresses and some men’s suits, you can keep a certain style tucked away in the closet for a few years, haul it out, dust it off, and await the delighted remarks.
Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis should know everything there is to know about fashion. He has been both In and Out, and a group he ha at one time deserves a fair share of the credit for stimulating the current popularity of tenor-and-organ combos. Since all these things have happened to him, and since in all the years he has been playing he has never basically altered his style in an effort to make them happed, he tends to view the history of jazz as cyclical. And since his own career proves his point admirably, it is difficult to argue.
This present quintet, which Jaws shares with Johnny Griffin, came about for several reasons. One of them is Davis’ love for his instrument. He has always been fascinated with the possibilities of the tenor saxophone, and it is obvious to a man of Davis’ turn of mind that if one tenor player can explore so much, then two tenor players … So the group was formed, having as its precedent such former combinations as Hawkins-Byas, Gordon-Gray, and Ammons-Stitt. It was so successful that the Ammons-Stitt partnership decided to re-form, and the style of tenor playing represented here has now been so highly publicized that anyone who wasn’t been called “boss tenor” at least once since the start of 1961 had better look for another line of work.
One of the interesting things about this group is that two such different men play so well together. Johnny Griffin is a happy, open guy, and most people who know him are united in a sort of unofficial fan club whose main activity consists in telling Johnny Griffin stories. Eddie Davis is a shrewd and mordant observer of almost anything you care to name, something of a homemade philosopher who will draw upon a vast range of interests, with vocabulary to match, to tell you the reason behind the reason for just about anything that happens to engage his fancy at the moment.
The original union was, at least in part, a matter of necessity. Late in the Spring of 1960, at about the same time that Davis’ tenor-organ combo broke up, Griffin was traveling around the country as a single, at the mercy of whatever rhythm section the local club happened to have in stock. Davis had had the idea for a two-tenor group for some time, and approached Griffin on the matter. They played together, they liked what they heard, and they’ve been in business ever since.
The expression “tenor battle,” often used to describe a team such as this, is actually somewhat misleading. If two men stand up every night and really try to cut one another (as happened in the almost legendary situations which are the true origins of this unit), there will, sooner or later, be a winner. After that, the interest of the players is bound to lag, and it won’t take audiences too much time after that to lose interest themselves. But what these two men do is work with rather than against each other, and the fact that they insure themselves a longer tenure together is only one of the benefits thus attained by all.
Now we come to the question, who is playing what? A graph of solos could be constructed which would make this liner look like something found on the blackboards of the Princeton Institute for Advanced Study. If you just remember that Davis got his best experience with Basie, and Griffin with Blakey and Monk, you should have enough of a clue. Those credits also make the two tenormen something of a capsule history of the last twenty years. But it is safe to say that there is no educational intent involved in this record. Anyone who has ever seen the Davis-Griffin group in person will know that their main interest is the conveyance of emotion, and that emotion is generally pure excitement. If you watch the audience at one of the clubs they play, you’ll see no hands on chins, heads nodding solemnly, or stationary feet. Davis and Griffin set out to break up the audience, and they almost never seem to fail.
Even if you happen to be unfamiliar with the group, it should be no great surprise to learn that one of its main topics of conversation is the blues. Basie and Monk, after all, stand for the blues. (And for swing). So this album, deliberately designed to spotlight this favorite topic, is entirely made up of various treatments of the bleus. The first one, Johnny Griffin’s Camp Meeting, has, as its title suggests, a compelling gospel feel. The title track, Blues Up and Down, is a collaboration by Gene Ammons and Sonny Stitt, and thus stands as a nod in the direction of an illustrious tenor-team predecessor. There are two other “outside” tunes on the set. Oh, Gee is a catchy swinger by trombonist Matthew Gee; while Richard Carpenter’s rather widely recorded Walkin’ helped set the direction for a new trend in jazz when Miles Davis originally played it. Of the remaining three blues, one each is by F\Davis and Griffin – both written some years ago and now revived for two-tenor use – and the final number is a recent collaboration between the co-leaders.
Bassist Larry Gales and drummer Ben riley were part of the rhythm section on the quintet’s three precious Jazzland albums. Pianist Lloyd Mayers was the replacement called in when Junior Mance departed to form his own trio; his basic, direct blues piano is a fine complement to the lead horns.
The basic problem of a quintet such as this is the incipient – or, at least, potential – monotony contained in its central idea. But so far, Griffin and Davis have managed to avoid that pitfall. It’s a hard job they have set for themselves, with the burden of freshness and variety set squarely on them every time they play. They have recourse to nothing but their own inventiveness, but that has shown no signs of diminishing. It remains as when Gene Lees first heard them and wrote, in Down Beat: “This group certainly doesn’t point ‘he’ direction in jazz. It is just five men swinging up a storm, and jazz is fortunate that such men sexist to feed it.”
This recording is available in both Stereophonic (JLP 960) and Monaural (JLP60) form
The Quintet’s previous Jazzland include:
Tough Tenors (JLP 31; Stereo 931)
Lookin’ at Monk – playing Thelonious Monk compositions (JLP 39; Stereo 939)
Griff & Lock (JLP 42; Stereo 942)
Produced by ORRINKEEPNEWS and RAY FOWLER
Recording Engineer: RAY FOWLER
Recorded and mastered at Plaza Sound Studios
Mastered by NEAL CEPPOS
Album design: KEN DEARDOFF
Back-liner photos by STEVE SCHAPIRO
JAZZLAND RECORDS are produced by BILL GRAUER PRODUCTIONS, Inc.
235 West 46th Street, New York 36, New York