The last time I saw vibes master Joe Locke, he was burning it up underneath an overpass at the late lamented Kingston Jazz Festival; unfortunately, the stage set-up there didn’t allow me to get a close look at him working. For his appearance last Saturday at the Athens Cultural Center, I was close enough to see Locke’s breath fog one of his bars when he blew on it to “make” the black-and-gold instrument pulse. (“Sorry about that,” he murmured immediately, apparently suffering a stab of uncharacteristic self-consciousness.)
This level of intimacy came courtesy of Planet Arts’ outstanding one2one concert series, which gives you a concert and a pre-show question-and-answer session in one reasonably-priced package. It’d be easy to just talk about the experience at the physical level, given the size of the performance space at Athens Cultural Center: The main gallery is pretty spacious for a reclaimed storefront, but between the low ceiling and the backs-to-the-wall crowd that jammed its way in prior to the Q&A, things were a bit close.
But things went far beyond the physical as the affable Locke quickly warmed to the audience’s questions, talking openly about everything from the first time he heard (and saw) a vibraphone to how both he and bassist Jay Anderson prefer to teach students out of their homes. “Sometimes,” he told us, “It’s sitting down, making pasta, and saying, ‘Let me play you this…'” In between, Locke named Chicago and Santana as the gateway bands that led him to jazz, talked about the experience of playing with Colombian harpist Edmar Castaneda and raved about marimba player Ed Saindon, calling him “the guru of mallet jazz.” (“You’ve got to search ‘Saindon’ and ‘marimba’ on YouTube,” he enthused. FYI: I followed his advice, and the results are pretty cool.)