Interview with Joe Locke about Saturn's Child
by Frank Tafuri

[Interview with Frank Kimbrough]

Locke: I'm really excited about this release.

Tafuri: We're calling the release Saturn's Child, named after one of your tunes [on the record].  Where did you come up with that title?

Locke: I was reading Thomas Moore's book called Care of the Soul.  In it he points out that someone who is disposed to melancholy is known as being a child of Saturn.

Tafuri: How long ago did you write the tune?

Locke: A couple of years ago.  It was pretty [new] when we recorded it.

Tafuri: Did you include it [on this album] because the tune itself is disposed to melancholy and, so, fits in with the other tunes on the set?

Locke: Frank [Kimbrough] and I had wanted to do a recording where the pervasive mood was beautiful, reflective, and languorous.  Although there are a couple of tunes on the record that are not coming from that place, the majority of the recording has songs that you can put on and that bring you to that place —peaceful, reflective place —like you could hear this music playing as you look out the tranquil water of a lake.  That's where we wanted to come from for this recording: we wanted to do something really beautiful that had that kind of mood.

Tafuri: Why?

Locke: Because we had talked about so many CDs that we own that we don't go back to when we found ourselves in a reflective mood.  We didn't really have music to put on that reflected that mood.  So many CDs had one song that was a nice moody, slow piece and then, right after that, you'd have this really fast, up-tempo burner.  We wanted to do a record that you could basically put on from beginning to end and it would keep that mood when you were in a reflective kind of mood.  Although we didn't achieve it 100% because there are pieces like "Trouble Is a Gorgeous Dancer" and Frank's tune "Waltz for Lee," the most of the material is languorous and beautiful and that's why we made the recording  —because we didn't have recordings in our collections that were really like that. We said, 'Let's make a recording that we'd like to hear.'

Tafuri: So Necessity is the mother of Invention.  [If you've been talking about this project for a while,] how long have you and Frank known each other?

Locke: I've known Frank for close to as long as I've been in New York.  I've been in New York for eighteen years, so I'd say fifteen years.

Tafuri: And you've never recorded together before?

Locke: We recorded on an Igor Butman record with Gene Jackson and Essiet Essiet that was never released in America, but that's the only other time we've recorded together.

Tafuri: Speaking of other recordings, you have a lot of other recordings with your own groups on Milestone, with Eddie Henderson, and with others.  Do you think that people who listen to your music are going to be surprised by this album?

Locke: Yes, some people will be surprised.  [Saturn's Child] is a very moody, dreamy record and a lot of the other recordings I've made has a high energy "thing" to them and I'm playing a lot of notes. One thing I love about this record —and this is something I love about playing with Frank —is that Frank really brings out another side in me.  He makes me slow down, because everything about Frank's playing is so organic.  There's a spirit to his playing that's so natural, so in-the-moment.  In his musical presence, I don't have to play a lot in order to make some beautiful music happen.  I don't have to force anything because he doesn't force anything, and that changes my playing.  I think he brings out the best in me as a musician because something about his musical personality makes me take a minute to pause and be more in-the-moment.  So, to answer your original question, some of my fans will be surprised at the reflectiveness of this record and the fact that's it's not coming from a groove oriented place or a heavily swinging place, but a much more moody, atmospheric place.

Tafuri: I've heard you play in several settings: I've heard you place with Eddie [Henderson], I've heard you with your own groups including your electric group [Vibe] at Kavehäz.  As a fan of your music, I think perhaps other fans have already heard that [gentler] side of you and they might enjoy hearing you stretch out in that.

Locke: I think people who know my music are going to know my playing and know my previous records are going to really enjoy this record.  It's a very beautiful record.   It's very pretty and melodic, so it's a very accessible record in that sense.   It's a very tonal record —

Tafuri: —or, in this case, an OmniTonal record —

Locke: An OmniTonal record.  Exactly!  But I wanted to say something else about Kimbrough: I went through a period of playing with Frank a lot (and I hope to get back to that place where I can play with him a lot).  Of a lot of musicians I could name, Frank has helped me grow as a musician, to become a better musician and a more mature musician.

Tafuri: That's quite a statement.

Locke: Very much so.  It's a very true statement.  When I listen to myself with him, because he's so in the moment, I asked him one time about what he practices and how he approaches practice (I practice in a very deliberate way and I work on very specific things I'm trying to address) and Frank said, "Oh, I don't practice, I sit down and play the piano ... with no agenda."   And I think that comes out in his playing because, in everything he plays, there's nothing predetermined.  When he begins an improvisation, he's very much in-the-moment and so, in that sense, he's truly an improviser.  He also has the most relaxed [sense of] time of just about anyone I know.

Tafuri: It's relaxed, but it's amazingly solid.

Locke: Exactly, completely solid and it's relaxed at the same time.

Tafuri: Maybe some of that came from studying with Shirley Horn.

Locke: I bet it did and I bet a lot of it came from playing solo for years and years at the Village Corner.  He had to be the entire rhythm section.

Tafuri: Shirley's one of two people who jump into mind who can do tunes that slow and get away with it.  The other's Ray Charles.

Locke: I completely agree with you. Ray's another perfect example of someone who can groove really hard at a really slow tempo.  Anyway, Kimbrough's really special and people who really know know how special a cat he is.

Tafuri: About the tunes on the album, you've contributed several.  What's behind "Trouble Is a Gorgeous Dancer"?

Locke: I'm quite happy with that piece.  I wrote it for an electric band that I had four or five years ago.

Tafuri: Not the current band [you have a Kavehäz]?

Locke: No, a different group.  When it came time for Frank and I to record, I resurrected it. I pulled it out, dusted it off, and made a couple of changes and it really worked as a [duo] piece.  I wanted to have a piece who's structure was different than [just] melody/solo/melody.  It's actually quite a bit more involved than the other pieces on the record.  It was nice having the idea of shifts in tempo in the ensemble sections.  It starts out rubato then it goes into tempo then into a set of changes for the vibes then, if I remember correctly, there's a sendoff into a different set of changes into the piano solo and then back into rubato at the end. It's more involved in structure.  It's not a programmatic piece.  It's a piece where the title comes from that fact that things that are attractive to us or things that we think we want are not [always] the best things for us.  So, the idea of the gorgeous dancer is a metaphor for things that sparkle and glitter that we think we want: things we desire that ultimately cause us trouble.

Tafuri: That's interesting because with the image I had, I thought you were being biographical here.

Locke: Biographical, but only in a symbolic way.

Tafuri: Not autobiographical.

Locke: We all, in our personal stories, have things which where we're reaching out to the flame because it's so pretty and getting burned.  "Trouble Is a Gorgeous Dancer" is just a metaphor for things that we want but aren't really good for us.

Tafuri: So, with the moodiness and brewing nature of the album, it's really appropriate.   How about this tune "Empty Chalice"?

Locke: I wrote that for my dad when he died.  That's very, very personal.  My father wrote a book called Quest for the Holy Grail, a book that he published and with which a large part of his scholarship had to do.  It was about the search for the grail and the grail was supposedly chalice that Christ used at the Last Supper.  "Empty Chalice" refers to the fact that my father was searching for spirituality and to the find answers about what it was all about.  Ultimately, I feel like he never quite found them and, therefore, the chalice remained empty at the end of his life.  The "Empty Chalice" is about my father's sadness at the end of his life about trying to fill [the chalice] and he was never able to.

Tafuri: Then we go from a title like that to "I Still Believe" which is definitely very hopeful.

Locke: Yes, "I Still Believe" and then, in parentheses, "in Love," right?   That song is about my wife's love and about how unconditional it is.   It's always been there, so that's a song for Patricia.

Tafuri: So that's grace that you're writing about.

Locke: Yes, it sure is.

Tafuri: Then there's the duo piece you both composed, "Midnight."

Locke: That is a thing Frank and I worked on as an introduction for "'Round Midnight" and we realized that it was so long that if we used it as an introduction, the song would be twenty minutes long.

Tafuri: So it became something in and of itself.

Locke: It became something in and of itself, and I'm really happy how it turned out.

Tafuri: And, as a collaboratively written composition, it's an appropriate way to end the record.  Knowing about your musical odyssey and Frank's musical odyssey, it feels really appropriate that you two would make a record like this at this time.

Locke: Overall, we wanted to make a record that was a very expansive, reflective, languorous, melodic record, and I think we achieved that.

[Interview with Frank Kimbrough]

©2013 OmniTone