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Joe Locke: Are You Ready for Him?

By Published: November 17, 2005

AAJ: Is it true that musicians don't like to rehearse?

JL: No, I don't think that's true. I think that what musicians like more than anything else is to play meaningful music that communicates something that resonates with the listener and I think that takes rehearsing and developing, taking the time to let what you want to communicate unfold and you need time for that to gestate and be able to talk about it before you present it to an audience. So I really feel that musicians do want to rehearse because they want to communicate something with meaning to the listener. That's definitely what it's like with me and my colleagues.

AAJ: You've collaborated with many different pianists, however, the combination of vibes and piano is relatively rare in jazz, since both are chordal instruments and both cover similar harmonic territory. How do you get these instruments, which traditionally don't go together, to compliment each other?

JL: It's just a matter of two musicians being able to make music together—it's as simple as that. Sometimes saxophone and piano doesn't work together because the saxophonist and the pianist don't really work together. Even three chordal instruments will work together fine because the musicians are listening and they have an empathy for each other. I've always loved to play with pianists. It's a matter of knowing when to play with two mallets, as a horn player, and when to play with four mallets in a chordal way. Maybe it seems surprising, but very infrequently with the great pianists that I've played with have I had a problem stepping on each other's toes. It's completely different playing with Frank [Kimbrough] or playing with Geoffrey [Keezer] or playing with David Kikoski or playing with Cecil Taylor or Kenny Barron or John Hicks or George Cables or all the pianists that I've worked with. I've just been really lucky to play with great piano players, and I think it has never really been an issue of "Gee, we're getting in each other's way here.'

AAJ: Your quartet with Dave Kikoski toured for two weeks in Italy this past March and you recently played Japan with Geoffrey Keezer and New Sounds. Contrast your Keezer and Kikoski quartets.

JL: I feel really lucky. I think that Kikoski and Keezer are two of the most brilliant piano players currently playing and I'm like a kid in a candy store because I get to play with both of these guys. They're both really individual players and strong creative forces. They're both complete pianists with an incredible harmonic vocabulary and they have this incredible energy in their playing. I feel with both of them that I'm being lifted by the momentum of their creative energy when I play with them. So there are similarities definitely in their playing, and what's different in their playing are just the things that make them different as people. They both have distinct voices as composers. There's a common thread in the style of my writing, whether I'm writing for the band with Geoffrey or whether I'm writing for the band with Dave, but their writing is very different and it's nice to experience the difference in their musical personalities via their music.

AAJ: How's your glockenspiel?

JL: (laughing) Exactly! People ask me why I'm a vibes player. The story is my mom wanted me to play the glockenspiel in the marching band. Of course, my mom is great, but she had some twisted, sadistic desire for me to play the glockenspiel. The glockenspiel player in the marching band is the kid who the nerds would beat up after school, you know. So, she saw an ad in the paper for a vibraphone and I still remember man, she came to me and she said, "Joe, there's a vibraphone for sale in the want ads. That's something like a glockenspiel, isn't it?'

AAJ: Do you remember getting picked on or getting some names thrown your way for being the glockenspiel player?

JL: No, I didn't play the glockenspiel. I said she wanted me to, but I was hip enough or whatever that I wasn't havin' it.

AAJ: (laughing) I see. Okay, and after high school you attended the Eastman School of Music in Rochester NY before moving to New York Cityâ'¦

JL: I didn't go to college at Eastman. When I was in high school I studied at Eastman's prep department, so I am not a college educated, conservatory educated musician. I learned at the University of the Streets. [laughter] I got out of high school and a week later I was on the road with Spider Martin who was a tenor player in the upstate New York area and I went on the road with him and toured for over two years and when I was twenty-one I moved to New York.

AAJ: â'¦and started playing on the street with George Braith.

JL: George Braith is a very interesting, creative musician. He had four or five records on the Blue Note label in the "60's and we'd play on the street for 12 hours a day. I joined George's group. Sometimes it was Tommy Turrentine, sometimes it was Clarence C. Sharp, who was an underground legend—he recorded with Lee Morgan and Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers—a brilliant bebop alto saxophonist. So sometimes it was C Sharp, sometimes it was Tommy, sometimes Cindy Blackman, who went on to play with Lenny Kravitz and become an incredible bandleader, she played drums for a long time with us. You know, I would go out there and get my butt kicked for 12 hours a day and learn, learn how to pace myself, learn how to play long solos and try to play something interesting, learn the Great American Songbook, learn Monk tunes and Bird tunes. It was a great education man, great education.

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