Joe Locke: On the Ascension, Part 1-2
While Locke had some formal music training, he is completely self-taught on the vibraphone. 'I translated piano to vibes,' explains Locke, 'and that's what I still do. I got to take lessons with some wonderful teachers at the Preparatory Department of the Eastman School of Music. I remember taking orchestral snare drum, and as I entered high school and got more serious, I remember part of my percussion studies involved working out of the Morris Goldenberg book for xylophone, marimba and orchestral bells, working on etudes and taking some lessons in classical mallet playing, but that was the extent of it. I didn't get heavily into classical mallet playing. I was getting more and more into jazz and basically just learning. I studied improvisation with a brilliant pianist, Phil Markowitz; in the '70s he was a senior at the Eastman School and I was a thirteen year old, so he was my teacher, getting me into chord-scale relationships and playing over changes, which was a big help. Those studies taught me how to teach myself, so I got to the point where I could transcribe solos off records and figure out what they meant.
'When Phil left Eastman,' continues Locke, ' I studied with Bill Dobbins, who is an incredible musician and educator, and we did some more work with me transcribing solos, opening my ears up by transcribing some Hank Mobley, Coltrane, Milt Jackson and Bobby Hutcherson solos. I started to learn how to learn and I took it from there and have been self-taught ever since, but as a vibes player I've never studied with anyone.'
While Milt Jackson and Bobby Hutcherson were to be the players Locke modeled himself after the most, his influences were broader and, to some extent, surprising. 'I remember really loving Gary Burton,' Locke says, 'although he didn't become a major influence on my playing. And someone else who I think I've gotten a lot from is Mike Manieri, who is just a wonderful player. I've never transcribed him, but I always got a lot out of his playing, and I think I just internalized some aspects of his work, so he's someone I always like to acknowledge. There's just a way Mike plays that seems to bridge a generational thing for me; there were certain licks that were very identifiable Mike things that I heard easily and could incorporate into my playing in a very natural way. I didn't really have to study them hard, they were just so musical, and there was so much clarity that I could translate them easily to myself. Mike is one of the true giants of the instrument and of the music. I don't only admire and respect him as a vibraphonist, I admire him as a pioneer in a lot of areas. He was at the forefront of the fusion movement with the White Elephant Big Band, Steps and other groups, and as a person and a creative artist I really admire him.
'But as a vibes player,' Locke continues, 'for the language, I spent a lot of time listening to Coltrane, especially the early '60s stuff, trying to take some of the ideas he had and some of the harmonic devices he was using around that time, superimposing them over standard forms. I was influenced a lot by the album Crescent , I remember copping as much of that language as I could and translating it to the vibes. It's really interesting because a lot of this stuff is really applicable to the vibes, and it opened me up to some interesting possibilities, that the notes you play over certain chord progressions didn't have to be so locked into what was right and wrong. So I got a lot of mileage and inspiration, as countless of us did, from listening to Trane. And, of course, like a lot of people of my generation I was influenced by people like Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter and Joe Henderson.'
Moving to New York
In the early '80s Locke made the big leap and relocated to New York City which, at the time, was a hot bed for both established players and a whole new generation of musicians. 'The amazing thing about moving the New York,' Locke explains, 'was the young guys moving there at the same time as myself, how gifted they were and how I realized I had a whole lot of homework to do. People like Brian Lynch, Jim Snidero, Marvin 'Smitty' Smith and Jeff 'Tain' Watts. It was around that time that Branford Marsalis was starting to break into the scene. And the list goes on and on.
'I thought that I would be moving to New York,' continues Locke, 'to hear the great musicians who were my heroes, like Dexter Gordon, Michael Brecker, Sonny Rollins and Freddie Hubbard, but I got just as much inspiration from guys my age who were letting me know that the time that I was practicing ' or not practicing more to the point ' they were at home getting it together and that I'd better step up to the plate. So that was really inspiring.'