6 January 2022

Take 5 with Joe Locke

The vibraphonist, composer and arranger answers our 10 questions

The celebrated vibraphonist Joe Locke first performed with the SNJO as a special guest on the album ‘American Adventure’ recorded in New York City in 2013, then premiered his first LIVE tour featuring the music of Mancini and Mandel with Kenny Washington in February 2017.

Since this is the first time you are writing all the arrangements for Pop! Rock! Soul! – was that challenging?

Yes! And also, hugely rewarding! Writing for large ensemble is extremely time-consuming, but when I am writing for a great orchestra like the SNJO, I consider it time very well spent.

What’s your process?

I always begin at the piano. First, I think about what I want the atmosphere of the piece to be. Then I try to find an introduction which will set that tone. Usually when I begin writing a piece, I have an overall idea of where it will go and how it will end, but sometimes the notes on the page have another idea and they tell me where they want to go – I’ve learned to listen and heed their advice!

How did you choose the songs?

Tommy Smith afforded me the luxury of choosing songs I love, songs which resonate with me personally. I’m pretty confident that many of the songs will resonate with the SNJO audience as well.  Next, it was important to find material which would lend itself to this large ensemble format. Then of course it was important to choose songs which excited our star vocalist, Kenny Washington. Discussing and selecting the repertoire for Pop! Rock! Soul! with Kenny was a really fun process.

Which songs will Kenny Washington sing?

I think I’ll leave that a mystery until you attend the concert! Suffice to say, I think you’ll be pleased.

What are you looking forward to most about these concerts with the SNJO?

Ah, there are so many things! First of all, it’s always a thrill to hear the results of hundreds of hours of arranging work when those results are in the deft and capable hands of such a great orchestra.

Next, I’m looking forward to spending time with some people who have become dear friends over the years. Tommy Smith and I have been thick as thieves for more than 35 years, but I’m also happy that many enduring friendships have been forged through my relationship with Tommy and the SNJO. Whenever I’m fortunate enough to visit, it feels like a homecoming of sorts. Add to that the knowledgeable, supportive and enthusiastic Scottish audience, and… what can I say? Yes, I am very much looking forward to these concerts!

At what age did you start playing a musical instrument – what was it?

Eight years old. Drums and piano.

Did you go to music college?

No. Though I am on the faculty of the Royal Academy of Music in London as a visiting professor and have taught at several major universities in the United States, I am a self-taught musician.

Who are your major influences?

John Coltrane, Bobby Hutcherson, The Beatles, Art Tatum, Horace Silver, Cannonball Adderley, Bill Withers, to name a few.

What’s the first record you bought?

“One is the Loneliest Number”, by Three Dog Night. It was a single!

What is it about music that makes it such an essential part of your life?

Since I can remember, music has been my friend, my nemesis and my mirror. It nourishes me, challenges me, gives me an outlet for my pain, and a platform to display my joy. I don’t know where I’d be without it.

What’s the best advice you’ve been given?

Shut up and listen!

When did you first travel to Scotland?

1987. With a band called Atlantic Bridge, which featured a young saxophonist by the name of Tommy Smith. Scotland was the first country I ever visited on the other side of the Atlantic and it has had a special place in my heart ever since.


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