It was a shock when I learned that Didier Lockwood passed away so suddenly and so unexpectedly in February 2018. He was 14 years younger than me and emerged on the French jazz scene after I moved to California in 1973. I discovered his playing while I was on tour in Europe a few years later. We had a day off in the Netherlands and Magma, a famous progressive rock band from France, was playing in a club in Amsterdam. I knew the leader of that band, drummer Christian Vander, so I went. They had a young violinist who was playing really well in that avant-garde rock style with a good stage presence—Didier. I wasn’t able to get backstage and therefore didn’t meet him. Shortly after, I was visiting Stephane Grappelli in Paris and mentioned that I’d just heard this new violinist named Didier Lockwood. Stephane said that he’d heard him but was not so impressed. I insisted that Didier sounded good with that band. Stephane then said that he would check him out again. He sure did, and eventually he helped Didier’s career take off in jazz.
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In the French media, Lockwood is often referred to as the spiritual son of Grappelli. He was inspired by Stephane indeed, but I also could hear, as did musicians and critics, another inspiration, which for sure came from me. This was perhaps not so easy for Didier to admit at the beginning of his career, until he developed a more personal style. But he sent me a letter in 2003 in which he wrote, “You have been the trigger of my passion for improvisation, I wanted you to know how much you have counted in my musical life … it is with admiration that I continue to listen to you, considering you as the one who changed the violin’s destiny.”
I appreciated his virtuosic approach to improvisation, his passion for jazz violin, and his desire to transmit that passion to younger generations. He was quite an entrepreneur and created a music school for improvisation near Paris, where one room is named after Grappelli and another after me. We finally met in 2010; he invited me to give a master class in his school, which I accepted, but it did not happen.
The world of jazz violin will miss him.