CELEBRATING
50 YEARS

Johnny Griffin/Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis Quintet: OW! Live at the Penthouse (Reel to Real)

A review of previously unreleased live recordings from the saxophonists

Johnny Griffin/Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis Quintet, OW! Live at the Penthouse
The cover of OW! Live at the Penthouse from Johnny Griffin/Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis Quintet

In the 1960s a weekly radio show hosted by Jim Wilke was broadcast live from the Penthouse jazz club in Seattle, Washington. Over 200 performances there were recorded by the radio station KING-FM. In recent years several labels have tapped into this large, rich tape archive. OW! is the second Penthouse release by a new historical label, Reel to Real.

In the culture of hard-bop tenor saxophone, Johnny Griffin and Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis were keepers of the flame. From 1960 to 1962 they teamed up as the “Tough Tenors” and made nine LPs on the Prestige and Jazzland labels. The folklore of the “tenor battle” was in the air, and the debut “Tough Tenors” album was called Battle Stations. But what Griffin and Davis did together was not a competition. It was collaboration, mutual inspiration and a special art form based on similarity and contrast.

It worked because they shared a language rooted in Ben Webster and Coleman Hawkins, but spoke it differently. Davis, self-taught, had a peculiar, clenched, throaty tenor pronunciation. Griffin was smoother, even faster, and more “modern.” Mostly what they had in common was a pure passion for blowing. At this 1962 gig, “Blues Up and Down,” “Blue Lou,” and “Second Balcony Jump” are wild rides. Themes are blasted in raucous unisons, then Davis puts pedal to metal and Griffin (often after a blistering Horace Parlan piano solo) kicks it to overdrive.

This is not music of nuance and depth. It is innocent, optimistic, balls-to-the-wall jazz of a kind you don’t hear anymore. Griffin and Davis had a working band that did blowing sessions, with all the exhilarations (and limitations) that great blowing sessions delivered, back in the day.

The package, with a 28-page booklet full of vivid reminiscences, interviews, and photos, renders living history.

Preview, buy or download OW! Live at the Penthouse on Amazon!

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Thomas Conrad

Thomas Conrad has a BA from the University of Utah and an MA from the University of Iowa (where he attended the Writers Workshop). He taught English at Central State University in Ohio, then left the academic world for the private sector. His affiliation with publications such as JazzTimes, Stereophile, The New York City Jazz Record and DownBeat has enabled him to sustain active involvement in two of his passions: music and writing.