Joe Locke: On the Ascension, Part 1-2
Locke has always made the best of every situation he's been in, but his association with Eddie Henderson may be one of the most influential of his career. 'It was of primary importance to me,' Locke says. 'First, Eddie is a grand master on his instrument and he's a real artist, someone who transcends the music on the page every time he plays. And I had the chance to be on the bandstand with him night after night for many years, whether it was a weekend somewhere, or a tour; I was always learning from listening to someone who had really gotten it from the source. And he always had a great band, the rhythm sections that Eddie had were always stellar, whether it was Kenny Barron, Victor Lewis and Wayne Dockery or Ed Howard, Billy Drummond and Kevin Hays.
'And the repertoire that Eddie was dealing with was very challenging,' continues Locke, 'including some of the more involved pieces by Wayne Shorter, Joe Henderson, Herbie Hancock from the mid-to-late '60s, as well as his own music. I was also given a forum as a writer and was able to bring some of my own compositions to the band. It was great to play in a front line situation with trumpet and vibes; I think that's going to remain a very, very important relationship. No matter how much longer I'm able to stay here and keep doing music on this earth, I think the relationship with Eddie is going to remain one of the important ones.'
Milestone, Billy Childs and Gene Jackson
Following his six albums for Steeplechase, Locke moved to Milestone for three albums, Sound Tracks , Moment to Moment , and Slander and Other Love Songs , all featuring pianist Billy Childs and drummer Gene Jackson. 'Billy was someone I was in awe of from a distance. I remember the first time I heard his music was on a Windham Hill record of his called His April Touch , and it was one of the best records I'd heard in a long time. Billy is just astounding as a player and a composer; I really think he's an American treasure. I was familiar with his playing from his work with Freddie Hubbard and Bobby Hutcherson, but then when I heard His April Touch I saw the scope of his gift as a composer.
'I remember I went to a concert he gave at Columbia University,' continues Locke, 'and I expected, if I was fortunate enough to meet him, to meet a very erudite, intellectual and probably distant kind of man, you know, someone who would look down his nose at someone like me. And I met him backstage and he was totally down to earth, really funny, very warm and gracious. We kept in touch, and when I had the chance to record I called him and this friendship started that continues to this day. He's not only a great jazz musician, but he's someone who is as at home with the symphony orchestra as he is with a set of blues changes. His writing for orchestra is second to none, he's an amazing composer and he's turned me onto a lot of classical music which I wouldn't otherwise have been hip to.
'I also worked, on all three albums, with Gene Jackson,' concludes Locke. 'He's simply one of my favourite human beings. He's a great person and he's a hundred percent serious about the music. He really cares about the music, and he's a great drummer with a great feel and a great spirit that he puts into the playing.'
Working with Pianists
Until recently, almost all of Locke's work has been in tandem with a pianist, which some might find odd, considering that both are chordal instruments and have the potential of getting in each others' way. How has Locke managed to work so well with so many fine pianists, including Frank Kimbrough, Kenny Barron and David Hazeltine ( Mutual Admiration Society )? 'Here's the thing,' says Locke. 'I hold four mallets when I play, but I'm really a two-mallet vibraphonist in most situations. When I'm holding the four mallets I play with the two inside mallets, and when I'm playing with piano players ninety percent of the time I'm not using the two outside mallets. The outside mallets are there for ensemble stuff and I'm very agile with four mallets; a lot of the pianists I work with write tricky stuff where I need to use all four mallets, but when it comes to soloing I'm basically influenced by horn players, and the two-mallet vibraphonists like Bobby Hutcherson, Milt Jackson and Dave Pike, and so my concept is a linear horn-like kind of thing.
John Priestley and Sirocco Records