In the course of a long and varied career, vibraphonist Joe Locke has established an imposing track record for inspired musical interpretation—as leader, sideman, and arranger. His third Milestone album Slander (And Other Love Songs) is the latest addition to the 39-year-old veteran's distinguished discography.
Locke is joined by pianist Billy Childs and drummer Gene Jackson, who were on hand for Locke's 1995 Milestone debut Moment to Moment: The Music of Henry Mancini; bassist Rufus Reid, heard (along with Childs and Jackson) on last year's Sound Tracks; and guitarist Vic Juris (on five of the CD's nine cuts) in a program that showcases Locke's continued growth as composer and arranger. In addition to memorable originals like "Saturn's Child," "Cecil B. DeBop," and "Slander," Locke reworks such disparate pop gems as Stevie Wonder's "Tuesday Heartbreak," "I Can't Help Falling in Love with You," and Joni Mitchell's "Blue," performed as a duet with Childs.
Born March 18, 1959 in Palo Alto, California, but raised in Rochester, New York, where his father was a professor of classics, Locke started playing piano and drums at the age of eight and secured his first vibraphone when he was 13. He had been playing almost exclusively in rock bands but his new instrument, which tended to get lost in the amplified din, led him in a jazz direction. "There was a good scene in Rochester at that time," he remembers, "around the Eastman School of Music and on the street." As a teenager, Locke found himself listening to an eclectic mix that included Thelonious Monk, Lee Morgan, early Wayne Shorter, and Weather Report. While Bobby Hutcherson and Milt Jackson were of course primary influences on the vibes, Locke garnered tremendous inspiration from such horn players as Jackie McLean, Hank Mobley, John Coltrane, and Steve Grossman. "For years I was like a frustrated tenor player," he explains with a laugh, "copping their licks and playing their sax lines on the vibes. But more and more I've been checking out piano players like Herbie Hancock and Bill Evans."
While he was in junior high and high school, Locke took advantage of the Eastman School's preparatory department and studied privately with bassist Steve Davis, pianists Phil Markowitz and Bill Dobbins, and others. "I think I got damn near the equivalent of a college education," he says. Within a week of graduating from high school, Locke deferred further pursuit of formal schooling and hit the road with a band that included Spider Martin and Steve Davis. Before long he was participating in recording dates with the likes of saxophonist Pepper Adams and drummer Billy Hart, and landing gigs alongside saxist Sal Nistico, organists Groove Holmes and Jack McDuff, and many others.
By 1981 Locke was ready for the move to New York City, where, after several years of what he calls a "hand-to-mouth existence," his career has truly blossomed. He has been tapped for his talents by musicians throughout the jazz spectrum, from Freddy Cole, Kenny Barron, and Walter Davis, Jr. through Marvin "Smitty" Smith, Calvin Hill, and Jerry Gonzalez's Fort Apache Band to Bob Moses and Byard Lancaster. He also composed and performed the score for the film El Salvador—Another Vietnam, the documentary prize-winner at the 1983 Paris Film Festival. As a member of the Mingus Big Band, Locke played on Nostalgia in Times Square and participated in the recording and touring of Charles Mingus's masterwork, Epitaph.
It was Locke's eloquent vibes performance on trumpeter Eddie Henderson's 1995 Milestone date, Inspiration, that captured the ears of producer Todd Barkan and led to the recording of Moment to Moment. Even before that project evolved into a tribute to the late composer Henry Mancini, Locke had conceived of an ensemble sound that would include pianist Billy Childs. Rounded out by bassist Eddie Gomez and drummer Gene Jackson, the quartet melded into the kind of finely tuned band that could meet the demanding standards of both Mancini's music and the vibes-playing leader on the date.
In recent times, Locke's schedule has grown ever more crowded. He appeared on recent albums by Eddie Henderson, Hiram Bullock, Freddy Cole, Gerry Gibbs, Dianne Reeves, and organist Barbara Dennerlein. In addition to frequent gigs with Eddie Daniels and with Henderson, including a tour of Japan last year, Locke has also completed four successful tours of Russia with saxophonist Igor Butman. While home in New York, he finds time to teach at the Manhattan School of Music and the New School.
In the last couple of years Locke has also made his mark as an arranger on several special projects. Dream Session (Milestone) focused on the repertoire of Miles Davis, with "sidemen" like Benny Golson, Grover Washington, Jr., George Coleman, Ron Carter, and Roy Hargrove, while Eddie Henderson's 1998 release Dreams (Sharp Nine) is a tribute to George Gershwin. Locke also handled arrangements on Grover Washington, Jr.'s Grammy-winning Breath of Heaven.
Joe has been working on a new collaboration with pianist/co-leader Dave Hazeltine, bassist Essiet Essiet, and drummer Billy Drummond (their first album will be released by Sharp Nine), and appears weekly at the Soho club Kavehaz with his own electric quartet, Joe Locke and the Vibe.
Slander (And Other Love Songs), meanwhile, captures Locke and his musical partners in a swinging acoustic mode that jazz and pop standard fans of every generation can appreciate.