Joe Locke: Versatile Vibes Master
"I was listening to Return to Forever. I was listening to my older brother's recordsCream, Santana, Jefferson Airplane, Procol Harem, Hendrix, Paul Butterfield and all that stuff. I was listening to Weather Report and Mahavishnu Orchestra. When you're listening to Weather Report, you'd go to the record store and see an Art Blakey record and that guy Wayne Shorter was on the record. You'd check it out. When you're listening to Return to Forever and you see Lenny White playing drums, then you go to the record storethey had record stores back thenand you see Lenny White on a Joe Henderson album. You'd go, 'Oh. Let me check that out.' And you kind of go back that way. I think that's the way a lot of folks our age or younger got into the acoustic forms of the music."
One of his close friends, Joey Currazato, an alto saxophonist who died in 2009, was also instrumental in his music education. "He was like a jazz library. His apartment was chock-full of recordings. I could go over there and listen to music for eight hours at a time. He turned me on to everybody from Donald Byrd, Howard McGhee, Sonny Clark, Art Farmer. Players like Pony Poindexter and Eric Kloss, people that maybe I would never had heard of. Hadley Caliman, who I had the opportunity to record with a couple years ago in Seattle. I was turned onto him by Joey Currazato. I was very lucky to have someone like him to guide me, as to the right stuff to listen to."
He adds, "The first record I heard to turn me on to what I considered the real pure jazz stuff was a Jackie McLean record called Let Freedom Ring (Blue Note, 1962). I started listening to a lot of Jackie's music, a lot of Blue Note records. Most influential at the time was Jackie McLean, Lee Morgan and Hank Mobley. Then listening to Miles' quintet with Jimmy Cobb and Wynton Kelly, Cannonball. People like that. I was listening to a lot of horn players and transcribing their solos as best I could. Trying to glean information from their playing."
The first album he heard with vibes was Mike Mainieri's Journey Through an Electric Tube (Solid State, 1968). Then Gary Burton's Good Vibes (Atlantic, 1970) made an impact, "where he was connecting fuzz and wah-wah pedals to the vibraphone and doing all kinds of wild stuff. Then I got hip to Milt Jackson and Bobby Hutcherson. Maybe Bobby before Bags. And vibes players like Dave Pike, Lem Winchester, Terry Gibbs. Lesser known but very good. Roy Ayres' early records were beautiful. So I was listening to everything."
After avoiding the glockenspiel, two years of figuring out the vibraphone in the meantime and starting to absorb jazz, he was playing around Rochester at the age of 15. "After I graduated from high school I got a call to go on the road with a cat named Spider Martin, who was a tenor player in the area and a working band leader. So when I was 17 I started playing professionally, traveling and touring, getting a chance to play a record. He would bring in guests for tours and recording like Pepper Adams, Jimmy Owens, Dizzy, Mongo Santamaria, Billy Hart. On the road, he'd end up doing gigs with Jack McDuff, Groove Holmes. People like that. Jimmy McGriff. So I got a taste of the road and of being a professional jazz musician. I never looked back. The die was cast."
In addition to getting road experience, there were other encounters that further his education. "I had the luxury of getting to do some concerts with Dizzy and listen to him tell stories," Locke notes. "I even had the opportunity, on a couple occasions, to sit with him at the piano and have him talk to me about harmony and how improvisation was all about knowing chords and the permutations of chords. I had the opportunity to room with Mongo Santamaria on some of the gigs. I used to hear great stories about his experiences as a bandleader. When I moved to New York, when I was 20 or 21, one of the first calls I got was from Walter Davis Jr. to do a concert and we became friends. I got the opportunity to learn some music from him. Much later on I played for a decade with Eddie Henderson, the great trumpet player. That was a great, invaluable experience for me, to get extensive time playing with someone like him."