Lockjaw Meets the Hawk

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To the best of my knowledge, tenor saxophonists Eddie “Lockjaw" Davis and Coleman Hawkins recorded together as a duo only once (Very Saxy was a group session with saxophonists Buddy Tate and Arnett Cobb). Davis—like Sonny Rollins, Don Byas, Lucky Thompson and others— was deeply influenced by Hawkins's gruff, boastful attack. So teaming up with his mentor put him on the spot, and Davis went all out for the session.

The album we're talking about is Night Hawk, recorded in December 1960 for Prestige's Swingville subsidiary. Like Moodsville, Swingville was a division reserved for compelling pairings of cooking jazz giants. Moodsville also featured pairings, but, as the name implies, the tone of the series tended to be more dinner and candlelight.

On Night Hawk, The two tough tenors were backed by a sterling rhythm section: pianist Tommy Flanagan, bassist Ron Carter and drummer Gus Johnson. Lockjaw and Hawk are totemic here. They are together on all tracks, with Hawk serving up his direct, bossy approach while Lockjaw was more serpentine and bluesy.

This album is one of the great, lesser-known cutting sessions. Both knew the stakes and that the listener's judgment wasn't going to come down to nuances but all-out, full-throttle solos. Hawk slides around purposefully on tracks, as if knocking tables and chairs out of the way to get where he's going. Lockjaw, by contrast, trucks and struts. Dig In a Mellow Tone, for example, when the two tenors trade fours toward the end. [Photo above of Eddie “Lockjaw" Davis]

The results on this album are electrifying. There are plenty of fine tenor-battle albums featuring Hawk and Lockjaw facing off with other players. But matched in the ring here, it's pure Ali-Frazier stuff. And as you'll hear, they slug it out to a draw. I never can get enough of this album and always discover something new in the solos. [Photo above of Coleman Hawkins]

Coleman Hawkins died in 1969; Eddie “Lockjaw" Davis died in 1986.

JazzWax clips: Here's the full album...

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This story appears courtesy of JazzWax by Marc Myers.
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