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Interviews

Joe Locke: Versatile Vibes Master

By Published: February 15, 2010

Last year, Locke was approached by E1 music about making a recording. He had just finished doing a week with Washington and the band—George Mraz

George Mraz
George Mraz
b.1944
bass
, Clarence Penn
Clarence Penn
Clarence Penn
b.1968
drums
and Keezer—at Dizzy's. "I said I did have a project I'd love to do and it was this particular project." E1 jumped at the chance to record the project.

From left: Geoffrey Keezer, Kenny Washington, George Mraz Joe Locke, Clarence Penn

"It came out of doing the Mancini music and the film music. So you'll see on the record we have a Mancini tune, a Mandel tune, a Morricone tune," Locke says. "Then we didn't have to stick with that concept. So I added some original music of my own—a vocal tune, which I wrote words and music to, that's a tribute to the late saxophonist Bob Berg

Bob Berg
Bob Berg
1951 - 2002
saxophone
, 'Verrazano Moon.' I thought this was the perfect opportunity to do the vocal version of that tune with Kenny. We do a tune by the Isley Brothers, the title tune, 'For the Love of You.' The reason that I did that is because Kenny has a real understanding of not just the jazz lexicon, but R&B too. He has, in his musical DNA, Donnie Hathaway, Jackie Wilson and Marvin Gaye. It's part of who he is musically. So I wanted that to be expressed. There's even a Neil Young tune that I've always wanted to do just because it's a beautiful ballad ("Birds"). So it was really fun to put this project together."

The rhythm section throughout is stellar, with Mraz and Penn providing all the right feels, and Keezer expertly coloring every nuance and providing his own bright, inventive solos. The band gets to stretch out on Locke's instrumental, "Bright Side Up," and it's outstanding. Washington's voice is supple enough for jazz and indeed has a strong R&B feel. It's a recording that will bring his name into more conversations, and justifiably so. The fact that he worked with this band, not just a singer brought into a studio, shows in the cohesiveness of the music.

"It's not all swinging. The Isley Brothers and Neil Young stuff is more groove-oriented. But the focus is on swinging and pretty ballads," says Locke, an upbeat, effervescent guy with an easy manner and a generous soul. "Although the cats in the band bring such a personal thing to the music. If you listen to 'Old Devil Moon,' part of it very in-the-pocket swinging. It's a tune that has been done many times, but there's an energy in the track, with the arrangement, the vibes and piano and fourths, that has the vibe of a Bobby Hutcherson

Bobby Hutcherson
Bobby Hutcherson
b.1941
vibraphone
and McCoy Tyner
McCoy Tyner
McCoy Tyner
b.1938
piano
kind of '60s energy. Yeah, the focus is on swinging, but it there is some modal playing going on and a modern approach.

"On some of the tunes the whole thing is to play pretty. Bring some beautiful music to the table and play pretty. I think there's always room for that... This is a more traditional project for me, but I really dig it and I feel happy to have had the opportunity to do it. It's nice to be able to express all the different aspects of one's personality. I love to write original music, but I love the Great American Songbook. I love to play unusual forms and contemporary music, but I love to swing out too. I'm pretty lucky. I've had the opportunity to do a lot of different stuff."

The group has since done another week at Dizzy's and has a few others dates on the horizon. For Locke and Keezer it marks the continuation of a musical relationship that goes back about 18 years. "We've had an ongoing musical friendship for a while now. We've played in so many contexts... He's one of my absolute favorite musicians, period."

Joe LockeThe two play duet gigs on occasion, have co-led quartets and, with saxophonist Tim Garland

Tim Garland
Tim Garland
b.1966
saxophone
, comprise Storms/Nocturnes, an adventurous trio. In over 30 years on the scene as a jazz musician, Locke has played with people like Cecil Taylor
Cecil Taylor
Cecil Taylor
b.1929
piano
, Dizzy Gillespie
Dizzy Gillespie
Dizzy Gillespie
1917 - 1993
trumpet
, Pepper Adams
Pepper Adams
Pepper Adams
1930 - 1986
sax, baritone
, Mongo Santamaria
Mongo Santamaria
Mongo Santamaria
1922 - 2003
percussion
, Grover Washington, Jr.
Grover Washington, Jr.
Grover Washington, Jr.
1943 - 1999
saxophone
, Kenny Barron
Kenny Barron
Kenny Barron
b.1943
piano
, Dianne Reeves
Dianne Reeves
Dianne Reeves
b.1956
vocalist
, Rod Stewart, Eddie Henderson
Eddie Henderson
Eddie Henderson
b.1940
trumpet
and the Mingus Big Band
Mingus Big Band
Mingus Big Band

band/orchestra
, among many others. Pretty good for a guy who started out on drums and piano at about the age of eight, before wood-shedding on the vibes.

"The vibraphone was right in between the two instruments and satisfied both urges, the rhythmic urge and the melodic urge. I found my voice. I found the vibraphone when I was 13. There was no looking back," he says. His high school had no music program, but that didn't stop Locke.



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