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Interviews

Joe Locke: Chemistry and Camaraderie

By Published: July 9, 2012
AAJ: You're also inspired by poetry in a number of these compositions: "The Lost Lenore" is inspired by Edgar Allen Poe, while "This Is Just to Say" is inspired by William Carlos Williams. The Williams poem, in particular, certainly resonates with your goal of reaching people in a simple and direct way.



JL: When I was thinking about recording this album, I happened to be reading some of Williams' poetry, and stumbled across his poem "This Is Just to Say." It's a simple and beautiful piece of work about a man who takes a plum from his friend's icebox, eats it, and then writes his friend a brief note apologizing for doing so. It couldn't be simpler than that, and I found something so moving in this directness. I wanted to write something comparable within music.

For that, I was also inspired by the singer Bettye LaVette. The way she sings is so direct and her ability to connect with listeners is so visceral. I took these two sources of inspiration as my starting point. While I don't think I'll ever reach the level of William Carlos Williams, I was certainly aiming for that as I wrote the piece.

"The Lost Lenore" was written after I reread Poe's poem "The Raven." I returned to the work after a number of years, and I realized the degree to which the poem is a meditation on unrequited love. The narrator is pining for Lenore, and I wondered who she was and what she sounded like. We first recorded this piece with Storms/Nocturnes, and decided to revisit it on this album. Consequently Lenore is still brooding, but on this new version she's a bit more urban. She's got a little bit of funk in her now!

AAJ: "Lost Lenore" is one of two tracks on this album that were originally recorded by Storms/Nocturnes. The other is "Sanctuary," which Storms/Nocturnes released last year.

JL: For a while I had really been hearing these two pieces for the Locke/Keezer Group. I'm glad we did it, because I think "Sanctuary," in particular, was almost made for Terreon Gully and Mike Pope to play. They each bring rich new characters to the piece, which really develops a new level of forward motion.

For me, it was a welcome change of pace. Performing "Sanctuary" with Storms/Nocturnes placed me in more of an accompaniment role against the piano and bass clarinet, while here I can play the clarinet's melody on the vibes and be the "singer," as it were. So, it was a wonderful pleasure to revisit the tune.

AAJ: Another surprise on this recording is the thorough reworking of John Coltrane
John Coltrane
John Coltrane
1926 - 1967
saxophone
's "Naima." How did that version come about?

JL: This piece has a multilayered history for me. I wrote a piece called "Snowfall in Central Park," interestingly enough, for my earlier group with Geoff, the New Sound Quartet. We recorded it for the album Summertime, and Eddie Henderson guests on flugelhorn. In fact, Geoff and I also recorded it last year with Tim Garland for the Storms/Nocturnes album VIA (Origin, 2011).

Later, I was commissioned to write for the Scottish National Orchestra, focusing on the music of John Coltrane. I decided to do a big band arrangement of "Naima," and as I prepared the arrangement, the arpeggios of "Snowfall in Central Park" came into my head. I started playing with this idea, of linking the melody of "Naima" with the arpeggios of "Snowfall in Central Park."

Joe Locke Geoffrey Keezer Group—Live in Seattle What resulted was wonderful. The arrangement maintains the integrity of "Naima," but in structure it draws from my piece. I'm thrilled with how it came out, and I had been hoping to record it again with this ensemble.

When people hear it for the first time, I think it takes them a while to realize that it is, indeed, "Naima." It was a lot of fun recording it with the quartet, and I take my hat off to these guys because it's a difficult arrangement and a very different conception of this piece.

AAJ: It's interesting that the two covers on this album are back to back, and that they juxtapose John Coltrane with Imogen Heap. What inspired you to cover "Hide and Seek"?

JL: It's quite simple: it's a tune that Geoff and I both love. When we were talking about repertoire for the new record, he told me that he really wanted to do a cover of "Hide and Seek," and I loved the idea.

What we did was a literal transcription of the original tune. The vibes hold the melody, but we didn't steer far from the original. Sometimes, when you cover a piece, you can really turn it inside out; in fact, I think that's the tendency with jazz musicians. However, if you love a piece of music, I think there's something to be said for stating it simply and in a straight-ahead fashion. I remember that I once did a transcription of Joni Mitchell
Joni Mitchell
Joni Mitchell
b.1943
vocalist
's "Blue" with [pianist] Billy Childs
Billy Childs
Billy Childs
b.1957
piano
and [bassist] Rufus Reid
Rufus Reid
Rufus Reid
b.1944
bass, acoustic
on the album Slander (And Other Love Songs) (Milestone, 1998), and it's a very faithful transcription. To me it suggests that if you love a piece of music, you don't have to change it.


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