Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis - tenor saxophone
Milt Buckner - organ
Panama Francis - drums
A group within a group, the Three Bad Pennies consisted of organist Milt Buckner, tenor saxophonist Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis and drummer Panama Francis, all of whom were also part of Lionel Hampton's Inner Circle of Jazz for this July 4th celebration of jazz at Carnegie Hall. Combining potent, swinging grooves with Davis' inimitable robust-toned honking tenor work, the Three Bad Pennies stepped out from the larger group and entertained the crowd with their ebullient showmanship and considerable chops.
They open on a rousing note with an unnamed swinger (sounds like the chord changes to "Just Friends" with some allusions to "Mean To Me" and "Too Marvelous For Words" along the way). Whether it's "The Chef," "The Broilers" or "Heat 'n' Serve" or any of the numbers off his great Cookbook series from the late '50s, Davis' tenor work throughout is typically aggressive while Buckner lays on a thick Hammond cushion underneath while pumping the bass pedals with his feet.
They next settle into a lush interpretation of Antonio Carlos Jobim's bossa nova classic, "Wave," which Davis imbues with alluring, smoky tones. Buckner also brings some bounce to this number with his ebullient, syncopated keyboard playing. From the mellow to the sublime, the luxuriate in the haunting Jimmy Van Heusen ballad "But Beautiful," with Davis delivering a mellow tenor sound as expressive as a classic Bing Crosby vocal. Davis, Buckner and Francis close out their set in blazing fashion. Davis resorts to his rowdy bar-walking profile on this rockin' good number (maybe "Three Dueces," possibly "The Broilers") while Buckner attacks his Hammond keys in extravangant fashion. And Francis fuels this hot jam with an unrelenting pulse underneath.
Organist Buckner, dubbed the "St. Louis Fireball," began his career as an exuberant boogie woogie pianist before incorporating the Hammond organ into his repertoire. Following stints with the Lionel Hampton Orchestra in 1941-1948 and 1950-1952, he gained popularity, first with the burgeoning R&B audience and later with mainstream jazz fans, as the pre-eminent organist on the scene. During the 1960s, Buckner toured frequently through Europe as a leader and sideman, playing both piano and organ, and made many recordings for the French Blue & White label with such tough tenor sax stylists as Buddy Tate, Eddie Chamblee, Arnett Cobb, Illinois Jacquet and Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis. Following this 1975 Newport Jazz Festival appearance with Davis and Francis, Buckner continued to tour and record abroad, making music in Paris, Cologne, Antwerp, Lausanne, Barcelona, London, Geneva, Nice, and Leiden with both American and European musicians, including the likes of guitarists Al Casey and Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown, trumpeters Buck Clayton, Joe Newman and Bill Coleman, saxophonists Ben Webster, Hal Singer, Lucky Thompson, Big Nick Nicholas and Illinois Jacquet; pianist Jay McShann, bassists Milt Hinton and Major Holley and vocalist Big Joe Turner. Buckner's last studio session took place in Paris on July 4, 1977. Three weeks later, on Wednesday July 27, he collapsed and died, at age 62, after setting up his Hammond organ in preparation for a performance with Illinois Jacquet at the Jazz Showcase in Chicago.
His longtime compatriot Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis was known as an inveterate jammer who could hold his own in a saxophone battles with anyone (most notably frequent combatants Sonny Stitt and Johnny Griffin). Born in New York City on March 2, 1922, he gained early bandstand experience through the early '40s playing in bands led by Cootie Williams, Lucky Millinder, Andy Kirk and Louis Armstrong. He began leading his own groups from 1946 and made an immediate impact with his aggressive attack and explosive R&B riffs. Davis had a stint with Count Basie's band from 1952-1953 before joining forces with organist Shirley Scott, from 1955-1960. For the following two years he co-led a quintet with fellow tenor star Johnny Griffin before temporarily retiring from playing in 1963 to become a booking agent. He rejoined Basie's band in 1964 and remained through 1973, making a slew of recordings with the group during that period, including tributes to Frank Sinatra, James Bond and the Beatles. In his later years, Davis often recorded with trumpeter Harry "Sweets" Edison. He remained a respected figure on the jazz scene up until his death on November 3, 1986 at age 64.
Albert "Panama" Francis (Born December 21, 1918 in Miami, Florida) broke in as a Swing era drummer with George Kelly's group (1934-1938) before moving to New York and working with trumpeter Roy Eldridge and playing for dancers at Harlem's Savoy Ballroom with the Lucky Millinder big band (1940-1946). Following a stint with Cab Calloway's band (1947-1952) he became an in-demand studio drummer, performing anonymously on many pop, blues, R&B and rock & roll records by the likes of John Lee Hooker, Ray Charles, Mahalia Jackson, the Four Seasons ("Big Girls Don't Cry," "Walk Like a Man"), the Platters ("The Great Pretender"), Bobby Darin ("Splish Splash"), Neil Sedaka ("Calendar Girl"), Dion ("The Wanderer") and James Brown ("Prisoner of Love").
He drummed on "Prisoner of Love" for James Brown, "What a Difference a Day Makes" for Dinah Washington, "Drown in My Own Tears" for Ray Charles, and "Jim Dandy" for LaVern Baker. Many music reference books indicate that he also played drums on Bill Haley & His Comets' 1954 version of "Shake, Rattle and Roll", In 1979, following two decades of relative obscurity, he formed the Savoy Sultans and made a string of successful Swing era recordings for the French Black & Blue label and New York-based Stash Records while maintaining a lonstanding residency at Manhattan's elegant Rainbow Room in Rockefeller Center. He continued touring and recording through the '80s and '90s and died on November 13, 2001 at the age of 82. (Milkowski)