Joe Locke - Biography

The critical community continually cites Joe Locke for his artistic work. "There seems little doubt that Locke, with his ability to play cool and funky, heady and relaxed, is set to become the pre-eminent vibraphonist in jazz." (The Times, London). He has been voted the #1 vibist in DownBeat Magazine's Critic's Poll (TDWR) and Brazil's International Jazz Poll, has recorded over 25 CDs as a band leader, and as producer and a sideman he appears on almost 100 recordings.

Joe Locke was born in Palo Alto, California, but raised in Rochester, New York. A self-taught improviser, he benefited from his early studies in classical percussion and composition at the Eastman School of Music with John Beck, Gordon Stout, Ted Moore and David Mancini.

As a jazz musician, Locke was precocious, having played with such luminaries as Dizzy Gillespie, Pepper Adams and Mongo Santamaria before he was even out of high school. Since moving to New York City in 1981, Joe has performed with Grover Washington, Jr. , Kenny Barron, Dianne Reeves, Eddie Daniels, Jerry Gonzales' Fort Apache Band, Rod Stewart, The Beastie Boys, Eddie Henderson, Hiram Bullock, Bob Berg, Ron Carter, Jimmie Scott, Geoffrey Keezer, The Mingus Big Band and Randy Brecker, among many others. Joe has since toured extensively throughout the world, both as leader and guest soloist. Some highlights include a 16 city tour of Russia, which culminated in a concert with the Moscow Chamber Orchestra, under the direction of world-renowned violist, Yuri Bashmet; a 30 city tour of all major capitals of Europe, performing Charles Mingus' magnum opus, "Epitaph" as a featured soloist under the direction of distinguished conductor, Gunther Schuller; a series of volcanic duet concerts in Italy with pianist Cecil Taylor, where Joe went head-to-head for three nights with the undisputed high priest of the avant-garde.

Following his six albums for SteepleChase, Locke moved to Milestone for three albums: "Sound Tracks", "Moment to Moment" and "Slander and Other Love Songs", all featuring pianist Billy Childs and drummer Gene Jackson.

Joe Locke has been on the scene for over thirty years, and it is especially in the past decade that his name has begun to reach a broader audience. This is in no small part due to his participation in two seminal groups: British reed player Tim Garland's "Storms/Nocturnes" Trio, which also features pianist Geoffrey Keezer and, perhaps most importantly, Locke's most recent group projects, "The Joe Locke / Geoffrey Keezer Group", which has released the award winning and critically acclaimed "Live in Seattle" (Origin 2005). In 2008 Joe created the quartet 'Force of Four', featuring Robert Rodriguez, Johnathan Blake and Ricardo Rodriguez. Both, their highly successful album "Force of Four" (origin 2008) and the band's busy international touring schedule are the result of a perfectly balanced, inventive and dynamic combination.

With all his recent projects Locke has completely transcended his past reputation as a fine post bop instrumentalist, demonstrating an even more complete musical picture that includes everything from melodic chamber jazz to intensely personal compositions that bridge the gap between post bop and a more lyrical contemporary style.

In 1998 Locke recorded a duet record with Frank Kimbrough - "Saturn's Child". Interestingly enough, the follow-up to "Saturn's Child", "The Willow" (Omnitone Records), found Locke and Kimbrough expanding the sonic palette by adding Tim Ries on woodwinds and Jeff Ballard on hand percussion. Prestigious collaborations with such fine pianists like Kenny Barron and David Hazeltine ("Mutual Admiration Society") equally resulted in critically acclaimed recordings. The latter has since celebrated its 10-year anniversary with a new release, "Mutual Admiration Society 2" (both SharpNine, 1999 and 2009).

In 2000, Locke recorded his first album with Sirocco Records and continued to record with his unique groups such as 'Storytelling' and '4 Walls of Freedom' and as a member of the 'Storms/Nocturnes' Trio, with Tim Garland and Geoffrey Keezer. The concept for the band 'Storytelling' came out of meeting vocalist/multi-instrumentalist Mark Ledford in '86 and produced two vocal based recordings, that feature Joe as a composer and lyricist: "Storytelling" and "State of Soul".

The 'Storms/Nocturnes' Trio so far resulted in two critically acclaimed recordings and numerous tours: 2001's "Storms/Nocturnes" and 2003's "Rising Tide".

In 2004/2005 Joe teamed up again with pianist Geoffrey Keezer for two recordings on the Eighty Eight’s label (Sony Music): "Summer Knows" and "Summertime". Completing the "New Sound Quartet" are bassist Bob Hurst and Billy Kilson on drums. Joe has also been working intensively with fellow Vibes and Marimba artist Christos Rafalides, resulting in the Locke/Rafalides Duo and Education Project, including the recording "Van Gogh by Numbers" (Wire Walker, 2005).

Other albums in recent years have found him guesting with Russell Malone, Eddie Higgins, Vic Juris, The New York Quartet (featuring Billy Childs, Idris Muhammed and Cameron Brown), Tim Garland's Storms/Nocturnes chamber trio and vocalist Dianne Reeves. While maintaining a busy touring schedule, Locke also finds time to work with student ensembles and compose for the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra and the Jazz Band Classic of the New York Youth Symphony. In 2008, Joe was appointed International Vibraphone Consultant by the Royal Academy of Music, London - a position which he holds on a visiting basis.

One of Joe Locke's most exciting work to date includes the first US release of the Joe Locke / Geoffrey Keezer Quartet. "Live in Seattle" - featuring Mike Pope and Terreon Gully, was recorded 2005 at the Ballard Jazz Festival and released in July 2006 on the Origin label. The Origin release received the 2005 Earshot Award.

In 2008 Joe put together a unique new quartet by gathering the young talents and distinct musical personalities of Robert Rodriguez (piano), Johnathan Blake (drums) and Ricardo Rodriguez (bass), building this fresh sounding ensemble. The influences of New York, Cuba, Philadelphia and Puerto Rico, as well as the many places travelled by these four player/composers, come together in this group; their first recording, "Force of Four" (Origin) becoming an overwhelming success.

 Joe Locke is a faculty member of the Manhattan School of Music and has been International Vibraphone Consultant at the Royal Academy of Music, London, on a visiting basis since 2008.


* "Joe Locke's playing and writing have been an absolute joy to this vibist's ears that have been starving to hear a player who challenges himself on every tune. Joe is constantly pushing the envelope musically. The cat is going into orbit soon .... I love it!" —Mike Mainieri
* "In the select group of contemporary vibes players, Locke has claims to head the list." —Penguin Encyclopedia of Jazz
* "Not only has he mastered an instrument that has catapulted only a handful of players to the forefront of modern jazz - but he has done so in a way that transcends mere technique and establishes him as a unique and adventurous musical voice." —Derk Richardson San Francisco Bay Guardian


* 2006 - Golden Ear Award - "2005 Concert of the Year" (Joe Locke / Geoffrey Keezer Group at Ballard Jazz Festival)
* 2006 - JJA Award - "2006 Mallet Player of the Year"
* 2008 - Golden Ear Award - "2007 Concert of the Year" (Joe Locke at Port Townsend Jazz Festival)
* 2008 - JJA Award - "2008 Mallet Player of the Year"
* 2009 - JJA Award - "2009 Mallet Instrumentalist of the Year"