Joe Locke: On the Ascension, Part 1-2
While sitting in with more established names at the clubs was de rigeur , it was much more difficult as a vibes player to break into jazz circles. 'It's pretty hard to carry your axe around,' says Locke, 'and say, 'can I sit in, can I set up my vibes and play one tune with you?' So it was a very slow road. I think at the time that I moved to New York, in the post bop scene I was in, the real hardcore straight-ahead scene, the vibraphone had lost a lot of its credibility. There weren't people around who were really pursuing that kind of language on the instrument. There were people like Dave Friedman and David Samuels, who I hold in very high regard, but they were doing a very different thing, and I think at the time, that there was a large gap between Bobby Hutcherson being around and laying down all this incredible music, and the time that people like myself and Steve Nelson eventually came along.'
Still, perseverance and making connections resulted in Locke getting more and more work. 'There were people who were very helpful to me when I first moved to New York,' explains Locke. 'One of them was Jerome Hunter, a bassist from Philadelphia who started calling me; I did a lot of gigs with Jerome, Byard Lancaster and J.R. Mitchell, a lot of interesting people from Philly that I used to go down and work with. At the same time I remember doing some playing with Calvin Hill and, in particular, Bob Moses, who was very helpful to me, very vocal in telling people about me and very supportive.
'But, if it's not too bold of me to say,' continues Locke, 'people like myself and Steve Nelson gave the vibes back some of its credibility, people started to dig the instrument again, and it started to feel like it didn't die with Milt Jackson and Bobby Hutcherson, that there were guys who were really swinging on the instrument and playing the language of the art form on a high level. And what's very heartening now, is that I see that happening a lot more after this quiet period of the '70s and '80s. I'm seeing young players come up under me that are even younger than Stefon Harris; people like Tim Collins, who is a former student of mine, who is playing really well.
'I think what it really comes down to these days,' concludes Locke, 'is that there are so many people on other instruments who are playing profound music. There's a whole younger generation of musicians coming up who are already established, like Seamus Blake, Chris Potter, Kevin Hays and Kurt Rosenwinkel; the music is being played on such a high level that vibes players who want to be involved in the music had better be taking it seriously.'
Steeplechase and Some Early Connections
While Locke began to build a reputation through the '80s, it was only in the '90s that he began to cultivate a solo career, first through an association with Steeplechase Records. 'I'd have to start off by saying that my association with Steeplechase sprang from my relationship with the great trumpeter Dr. Eddie Henderson,' explains Locke, 'an amazingly fruitful relationship that has lasted over thirteen years. I first recorded as a sideman with Eddie, Victor Lewis, Wayne Dockery and Kenny Barron on an album called Phantoms , and after making that record Nils Winter from Steeplechase called and said he'd like me to make a record of my own. So I went into the studio and recorded an album called Present Tense with Ron McClure, Larry Schneider, Ronny Burrage and Kenny Werner, and that was the beginning of a series of six records for the label and it was really good.
'So at the same time,' continues Locke, 'I was recording as a member of Eddie Henderson's band as well as making records under my own name, and that was an important thing to happen because it gave me projects to work towards, and when you have a project that's out there on the calendar one tends to focus, practice and grow musically. I'd take each project I was preparing for very seriously and I'd learn something getting ready for each session. It gave me the chance to write music knowing it would be recorded and it also started to slowly give me confidence in the studio, to the point where I now know that while I like to be prepared for every session, I also know that over preparation isn't a good thing either, that when the light comes on I'm just expressing myself in the moment. I think that comes from hundreds of hours of being in the studio and being put in the position to create instantly. It's something I feel very fortunate to have ' a forum, if you will, as I was making a record about every eighteen months.