Count Basie completed two tours of Great Britain in 1957—the first in April and the second just after recording The Atomic Basie for Roulette Records. Both tours were critical hits, according to Melody Maker, the London music magazine popular at the time. The second tour even included a command performance for Queen Elizabeth at London's Palladium theater.
Eddie Lockjaw Davis was on hand for that fall tour, having returned to the Basie band over the summer of 1957, just before the band's Atomic date.
Lockjaw Davis was a confident, no-nonsense tenor saxophonist whose sound was infused with a raw, roadhouse sense of the blues. Lockjaw knew only one way—a full, rich, exciting sound that was both relentless and soulful. He also had an entertainer's knack for the dramatic, handling his tenor as though it were made of balsa wood. As Lockjaw explained in Stanley Dance's The World of Count Basie (1980), there was a reason why he always gave his tenor a little heave after every solo:
"I deliberately handle the horn the way I do, to show I'm its master! I've always noticed how delicately so many tenor players handle it, as though it were fragile, as though it commanded them. I try to show that I have command of the horn at all times, whether I'm playing or just holding it. You take charge, it's yours, and I want the audience to feel I'm in complete command. Otherwise you can give the impression the horn is too big for you, whether you play it well or not. The visual impression is quite important."
This Basie band in the fall of 1957 was spectacular. It also was unusual, in that the reed section featured three tenors—Frank Wess, Frank Foster and Lockjaw Davis—instead of the customary two.
The reason for the trio had to do with evolving personnel changes. During this period, Basie was forced to replace three chairs: trombonist Al Grey was in for a departing Bill Hughes; trumpeter Snookie Young joined when Renauld Jones left; and the return of Lockjaw (a Basie favorite) forced Frank Wess to learn the alto charts when alto saxophonist Billy Graham gave notice at about the same time.
"That's how we happened to have three tenor soloists on that [Atomic] album, the two Franks and also Lockjaw, who got the meat on Flight of the Foo Birds, After Supper, Whirly Bird and Double-O," said Basie in Good Morning Blues: The Autobiography of Count Basie (1985).
Frank Foster—who had replaced Jaws four years earlier— recalled the worrisome musical shadow cast by Jaws' arrival during a 1992 interview with Bob Bernotas:
"Jaws was Basie's sweetheart when it came to the tenor. He fit the band so well 'til I felt intimidated every time Jaws played. I even had more of a hangup trying to fit with the band during that time. And some of my recorded solos with the Basie orchestra are things that I'm not very proud of."
That second tour of England in the fall of 1957 was Lockjaw's first trip there. But his big, strong American sax at the dawn of rock and roll was the real deal to young British audiences hungry for musical honesty and energy. Besides, Lockjaw's recordings with small jazz groups were already well know in the UK. British fans lined up to hear him with the Basie band and cheered every wide-body solo.
Jaws' popularity in Britain even unnerved Basie. During the flight home, Jaws, nursing a scotch and milk, began to hint about starting a group. But before he could raise the issue of leaving the band, Basie beat him to it:
"You need your own thing," Basie recalled telling Jaws in Good Morning Blues.
" 'Now, look, when we get back, my joint [Count Basie's on Seventh Ave. and 132d St.] will be ready to open in about a month or something like that. Why don't you go and work in there? That's what you need.'
"And he said, 'What are you talking about?'
'You want a job with your own thing?' I said. 'You got a job in there.'
He just looked at me. I said, 'See how you like it. Because you need your group. I don't know why you broke it up nohow.'
He didn't say anything for a minute or so, and then he said, 'Well, you know, maybe...' "
That's how Lockjaw left Basie the second time. Jaws played Count Basie's club and other jazz spots in New York, forming a popular trio with Shirley Scott on organ and Arthur Edgehill on drums. And Frank Wess, much to his relief, went back to playing tenor in Basie's reed section.
Then on June 20, 1958, Lockjaw's organ trio went into Rudy Van Gelder's studio in New Jersey to record the first of their many soulful, bluesy dates for Prestige Records. The result was The Eddie Lockjaw Davis Cookbook, Vol. 1.
I spent much of yesterday listening to the CD, which was remastered in 2006 and includes Jerome Richardson (on tenor and flute) and George Duvivier (on bass). Its probably one of Lockjaw's best albums. Lockjaw plays with assertiveness and authority. He's completely in charge, and each track has a different feel.
I also mixed in the Atomic Basie album to hear Lockjaw's fabulous solos prior to the Cookbook date. This was a great period for Lockjaw. He was on top of his game. No wonder so many rock and roll tenors tried so hard to emulate and exaggerate that big, edgy sound so effective in working crowds up into a frenzy.
Wax tracks: The two stunners on Cookbook/Vol. 1 are In the Kitchen, a rich smokey blues, and the standard But Beautiful. The remastered CD offers a previously unissued alternate take of But Beautiful, and it's a tough call which version comes out ahead. Download these tracks at iTunes—or buy the album for about $12. You only live once.
Wax clips: If you want to see what the fuss was all about, here's Lockjaw in the late 1950s with the Basie band. Talk about cool heat. And here's Lockjaw with Basie in the late 1960s playing on Cherokee (dig how he handles that tenor!) and Magic Flea.
Enough said. Lockjaw always came to play. Now imagine catching these guys in a small jazz club like Birdland. One can only dream...