CELEBRATING
50 YEARS

Eddie Locke Dies at 79

Eddie Locke, a jazz drummer who played with Roy Eldridge, Coleman Hawkins, Kenny Burrell and a host of other greats of the bebop era, died on September 7. He was 79 years old. According to JT’s Nat Hentoff, Locke embodied “the resilience of the jazz life.”

Locke was born and raised in Detroit, a hotbed of jazz talent in the ’40s and ’50s; that scene produced, among others Thad, Hank and Elvin Jones, Curtis Fuller, Tommy Flanagan, Ron Carter, Kenny Burrell, Barry Harris, Yusef Lateef and many others. Locke began playing the drums when he was 6 or 7, sometimes using a homemade drum kit until his family could afford a real drum set. Mostly self-taught, Locke performed in a popular vaudeville act Bop & Locke, along with fellow drummer Oliver Jackson. Encouraged by Cozy Cole, Locke and Jackson went to NYC in 1954, got a gig at the Apollo and decided to stay in the city. Early in his stay in NYC, Locke was mentored by the legendary Papa Jo Jones. In his profile of Jones for JT, Nat Hentoff talked about how Locke would carry Jones’ drums and would learn from watching Jones at work. “He was the most creative drummer I ever saw,” Locke told Hentoff about Jones. “He could create things I never saw anybody else do. And I’d never seen anybody play brushes the way he could.” Locke was also influenced by Sonny Greer, Jimmy Crawford and Gene Krupa. Locke’s big break in the big city was a regular job at The Metropole jazz club, one of the important spots in the New York jazz club scene of the ’50s. In 1958 he was hired by Eldridge, with whom he performed for many years. Locke appears on Eldridge’s Swingin’ on the Town for Verve in 1960, as well as on several other Eldridge recording dates and the two frequently performed together at the club Ryan’s, where they were the house band off and on for about 15 years. He also had a close relationship with Coleman Hawkins, with whom he performed until Hawkins’ death in 1969. Locke is featured on many Hawkins’ albums, including In A Mellow Tone and for Prestige and Wrapped Tight for Impulse. Locke also performed and recorded regularly with guitarist Kenny Burrell.

A quintessential sideman, Locke did form a group with Roland Hanna in the ’80s and in recent years led his own band when he could. But for the majority of his career, he was better known as a first-call drummer for jazz performances in New York. The late Stanley Dance, in his book about the swing era, confirmed that Locke was “unusual in his ability to comprehend and adjust to the requirements of two of swing jazz’s greatest figures, Roy Eldridge and Coleman Hawkins.”

Locke was also one of the last surviving subjects from the famous photograph A Great Day in Harlem shot in 1958 by Art Kane. At just 28 years of age, he was one of the youngest jazz artists appearing in the photo. Sadly, the only artists in that photo still alive today are Sonny Rollins, Benny Golson, Hank Jones and Marian McPartland.

Besides a very active performing schedule, Locke also found time to teach music both privately and at the High School of Performing Arts and the Trevor Day Music School in New York City. He was beloved by his students and protégés, many of whom went on to great success as professional jazz musicians.

Mr. Locke is survived by his two sons, Edward Locke and Jeffrey Locke, and two grandsons, Jeffersen Carver Locke, and Gunnar Livingston Locke, all of Hawaii, and Mary Ellen Healy, of Ramsey, N.J.

Originally Published