Back in the early 1970s I loved the take-charge sound of Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis' tenor saxophone so much that I kept buying Count Basie LPs. My hope was that I'd come across one that featured Lockjaw more extensively. On most Basie albums, Lockjaw would have a solo or two, but they were never enough for me. His solos with Basie were standouts, to be sure. They just always sounded as if he hadn't been given enough runway to say all the cool stuff he needed to.
Then in 2001, I came across a CD featuring two Lockjaw albums I long had hoped would be released. I first heard the CD's LPs on New York's legendary and long-gone jazz radio station WRVR. The most revered deejay at the station was Ed Beach, who had one of the coolest late-night voices in jazz radio. It was hip, urban-accented and loaded with euphemism. Words and phrases like "blow the whistle on some blues," "it's a swing thing, "pretty wild sounds, there," and "we're going back into the blues bag" sounded savvy and inside, especially with Wes Montgomery's guitar playing softly behind his easy banter.
In 1974, Beach devoted two of his famed Just Jazz shows to Lockjaw, and the tracks he played off two different albums left a deep impression. These were exactly the kinds of Lockjaw records I had been looking for. But there was a problem. Beach's on-air lingo was so cool that when he came back on the air to announce the songs he had played, I couldn't quite figure out whether the words he used were part of his riff or the real title, and which words belonged to which.
My only clues were the names of the two songs he played: I Wished on the Moon and Midnight Sun. So for years I had these songs listed in a little pocket-sized notebook I carried around to record stores. But I never came across the albums on which the songs appeared.
That is, until 2001, when I was in Tower Records (now also gone) near Lincoln Center. There, in the bin, was a single CD that contained two Lockjaw Davis albums: Lock, the Fox and The Fox and the Hounds. When I turned over the CD, both songs I had been hunting for all those years were listed. I couldn't believe my good fortune. To this day these recordings remain my absolute favorite Jaws albums, and for good reason.
Of the two, The Fox and the Hounds (November 1966) is the cooker and features a monster big band arranged by Bobby Plater. The musicians on the date were Ernie Royal, Joe Newman, Thad Jones, Snooky Young (trumpets), Urbie Green, Wayne Andre, Jimmy Cleveland and Tony Studd (trombones), Bobby Plater and Jerome Richardson (alto saxes), Lockjaw, Billy Mitchell and Frank Wess (tenor saxes), Danny Bank (baritone sax), Hank Jones (piano), Gene Bertoncini (guitar), George Duvivier (bass) and Grady Tate (drums). Now that's a big band.
The Fox and the Hounds opens with rip-roaring renditions of I Wished on the Moon and When Your Lover Has Gone, followed by the ballad Born to Be Blue. People Will Say We're in Love is taken at a medium-tempo gallop, with Day by Day reverting back to the pure high-octane tempo that Lockjaw loved so much. Bye-Bye Blackbird also is up-tempo. Call Me is a terrific bossa nova with mid-1960s swing sensibilities. Jaws is back to a ballad on This Is Always, while I Remember You is medium-tempo. They saved the best for last —Out of Nowhere, which swings all the way down the line.
Lock, the Fox (June 1966) is equally potent, but with a scaled-down group: Lockjaw is joined by Ross Tompkins on piano, Les Spann on guitar, Russell George on bass, Chuck Lampkin on drums and Ray Barretto on conga. Here, Jaws tightens up and drives the group with jaunty melody lines and solos. All of the songs get the Lockjaw treatment—cinderblock-sized runs, dragged notes, bluesy phrases, fearless riffs and powerful locomotive snorts. It's all here on Nina Never Knew, Speak Low, Midnight Sun, On Green Dolphin Street, Save Your Love for Me, On a Clear Day, West Coast Blues, Days of Wine and Roses, The Good Life and Oh! Gee!
These two albums feature Lockjaw at his very best and were recorded as he began recording more frequently in non-Basie settings. Lockjaw had become increasingly fed up with Basie's seemingly endless stream of painfully commercial recordings. Why Basie made some of those albums for Verve has always been something of a puzzle to me. Part of this mystery was solved last night when I re-read Cadence magazine editor Bob Rusch's magnificent two-part interview with Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis from 1986:
CAD: Somebody telling him what to do?
LD: That's right.
CAD: Roulette Records?
LD: No. That joker Willard Alexander [the renowned big-band booker]. Basie was in tax trouble.
CAD: Because of gambling?
LD: No. Road managers, people like that.
CAD: Which road manager?
LD: They had 2 or 3 of them. Each one took a little more, to the point where the accountant got in trouble. Instead of sending the money, he was beating it. In fact, 2 or 3 years ago, they gave him some time.
CAD: The accountant?
LD: Yeah. The (Basie's) wife found out who was really beatin' him all those years. All they got was tax trouble. I know way back then when I was in the office as an agent, the Internal Revenue sent all the agents a list of different audits. If you had any of the audits below, [the list said,] notify us first. So they could garnish the income. And Basie's name was on [the list]. In order to get him out of this bind, he took a lot of funny, funny jobs, funny recording dates. We did a tour with Tom Jones. It had nothin' to do with jazz, nothin'. But the kind of money they gave Basie, it made it worth it for Basie. But not looking ahead at his future, Basie in jazz. Now they couldn't do that with Duke Ellington.
CAD: Because he controlled his own thing?
LD: But with Basie they could. That's what caused [those albums].
Yet another interesting and lesser-known factor that helped diminish jazz's status and power in the 1960s: Prime artists facing tax troubles. Owing the IRS money certainly forced many jazz artists to take on uncomfortable and corrosive projects just to pay the bills. Which in turn undermined their reputations and left listeners with subpar albums.
JazzWax tracks: The two-fer CD that combines Lock, the Fox and The Fox and the Hounds is available here from Collectables Jazz Classics. This CD is a must-own. Lockjaws' soaring confidence and beautiful lines are hair-raising. Lock, the Fox is available as a stand-alone from RCA Spain, but you're better off with the two-fer. You really don't want to miss The Fox and the Hounds.