Didier Lockwood, a French violinist who was a former protégé of French jazz legend Stephane Grappelli but became an acclaimed and innovative musician in his own right, died suddenly in Paris in the early hours of Feb. 18, after a concert at the city’s Le Bal Blomet jazz club. He was one week past his 62nd birthday.
His death was announced Sunday afternoon in a statement by Lockwood’s agent, Christophe Deghelt. The cause of death was given as a heart attack.
While Lockwood acknowledged Grappelli as his hero, he by no means limited himself to the elder violinist’s “gypsy jazz” milieu. Lockwood was already a rock star by the time he met Grappelli—a veteran of the progressive band Magma—and would proceed from his tutelage to a career heavily identified with jazz fusion. In addition, Lockwood was a composer of violin concertos as well as two operas, and created a musical with his first wife, singer Caroline Casadesus.
For all the diversity of his achievements, however, Lockwood was most renowned as a jazz musician, and in the early 2000s created a nationally accredited school of improvised music.
Born in 1956 in the northern port town of Calais, Lockwood was the son of a Scottish music teacher and a French amateur painter. He began learning the violin at age 6, engaging in classical training, but very soon took an interest in jazz after his elder brother, a talented pianist, began exploring the tradition. At 14, upon hearing Jean-Luc Ponty’s playing, Lockwood acquired an electric violin; three years later, he abandoned his formal studies to join the touring configuration of Magma, a conceptual avant-garde rock band. He continued working with the band until 1981.
While performing at a jazz festival in 1976, Lockwood met Grappelli, who invited the 20-year-old to tour with him. It proved his breakthrough as a jazz artist. He went on to work with fusion drummers Andre Ceccarelli (with whom he would continue collaborating for four decades) and Aldo Romano and keyboardist Gordon Beck, with whom he recorded his first album, New World, in 1979.
Lockwood’s career developed throughout the 1980s and 1990s, gaining notice for his interest in unique and innovative timbres on the amplified violin. During this period Lockwood worked with respected musicians across the French and international jazz spectra. He performed as a sideman on Billy Hart’s 1985 recording Oshumare, the American drummer returning the favor in the following year on Lockwood’s Out of the Blue (which also included Beck and bassist Cecil McBee). He also continued sporadically working with Stephane Grappelli (often joined by guitarist Babik Reinhardt, Django’s son), and recorded two tributes to the elder violinist after his death in 1997.
In the 21st century, Lockwood devoted more time and interest to acoustic jazz, and to working with his second wife, French soprano singer Patricia Petibon. He had also dedicated himself to musical education through the creation in 2001 of the Didier Lockwood Music Centre in Dammarie-les-Lys (on the outskirts of Paris). This did not slow his work as a headline attraction, sideman and composer; according to Deghelt, he died with a “huge” number of projects in progress.
He is survived by Petibon and three children from his two marriages.
Among the many luminaries paying tribute to Lockwood on his passing was French president Emmanuel Macron, who praised the violinist’s “influence, open-mindedness and immense musical talent.”