Drummer Eddie Locke has worked with some of the giants of the music world – including tenor saxophonist Coleman Hawkins and trumpeter Roy Eldridge. Prominent in New York’s jazz scene since the 1950s, he continues to perform and tour and, as a teacher, to develop a new generation of jazz artists. Early in January he spoke about his life in music with Bob Cranshaw, the noted bassist and a jazz rep for Local 802.
Born in Detroit in 1930, Locke began playing the drums at the age of six or seven, when his mother bought him a toy drum set he had been yearning after. “I was the baby of four boys, so that drum set didn’t last long,” he recalls. “My older brothers tore it up.” So he taped together some broken sticks a neighbor had given him and made a drum pad out of inner tubes nailed onto some boards, “and that’s what I practiced on for years. That’s all I had, until my mother was able to buy me a real drum set.”
Locke studied with a music teacher who came around to his school each week, and taught all the instruments. Except for what he learned from other musicians, he was basically self taught. “But I could always swing, so I got a lot of jobs,” he recalls. “Even though I didn’t know that much about music, a lot of guys would hire me because they wanted a drummer to keep the time. And at that time there were a lot of places where you were playing for singers or shake dancers; it wasn’t like a jazz club, where the music was the focus.”
From the very beginning, he says, “I just loved to play the drums. I didn’t even know that people got paid to play music; that wasn’t my motivation. I think anybody can learn the technical aspects of anything, if they put the time in. But you can’t get the feeling part of the music that way. And if you lose the love and the feeling part, the music is not going to be there.”
Oliver Jackson was two years behind him in high school, and the two young drummers developed an act called Bop and Lock in which both sang and danced and played the drums. After rehearsing for about two years, “we played our first gig at the Colonial Theatre in Detroit, in about 1953 or ’54, and from that job they booked us into the Apollo.”
The Apollo job, in July of 1954, was a promising start – but their move to New York coincided with the rise of rock and roll “and that killed show business,” Locke recalls. “That’s when all the great dancers and comedians had to drop out. That doo-wop stuff took over all the theatres, and the work dried up.”
After falling far behind in their rent, he and Jackson lost their room at the Alvin Hotel. “That’s when Poppa Jo Jones took us in.” Jones was living in the Henry Hotel on 44th Street, and Locke stayed with him for two years. He got a series of day jobs: at Macy’s, Horn & Hardardt, and shining shoes in the barber shop at the New York Hospital. “Jo Jones always said, ‘When you put it up there on the meat counter and order them pork chops, the guy ain’t going to say, I don’t want that money because it’s shoe-shine money. He’s going to take it – just like he takes the guy’s money from Wall Street.’ Dr Jo gave me some great lessons about living.”
Locke’s first big-time job was at the Metropole. He recalls that all the great jazz players used to come in there – “Miles and Sonny Rollins and Coltrane. Those guys weren’t close minded; they were open to music. Those older guys passed something on, and they were willing to do it if you wanted to listen. And Roy hired me from there.”
Locke remembers Eldridge as “one of the sweetest guys – and I’ve never met a musician who loved to play as much as he did.” He learned a great deal from him – including one lesson he says he will never forget. Late one night, soon after he began working with Eldridge, the band was playing to a virtually empty club. Locke lost his focus on the music while Eldridge was playing, “and he turned around and looked at me and says, ‘What are you doing?’ I said, ‘Well, Roy, there’s nobody in here, man.’ And he leaned over the drum and right in my face, he said, ‘I’m here!’ That was a great lesson.
“A lot of people don’t realize that Roy never studied the trumpet; that’s what was so amazing about him. Trumpet players every place we played would come and marvel at him, because they couldn’t understand how he could do that without ever studying how to play horn. One guy, I’ll never forget, said to me: ‘Man, he’s pressing the wrong valves and playing the right notes!’
“I don’t know why promoters think they can just throw a bunch of musicians together and you’re going to have great music – that’s not what jazz is about, and never was. Jazz is a feeling music, it’s a chemistry. Coleman had a quartet that we made all those great records with, and we never rehearsed one day. There was no arranger; they just passed out song sheets and we made up all that stuff as we went, because we loved each other – and you can hear it in the music. When the feeling’s good, the music has got to be good. That’s the thing that makes jazz great.”
Locke played with Coleman Hawkins and Eldridge through the ’60s, most often with Hawkins until his death in 1969. In the 1970s, he worked with Eldridge at Jimmy Ryan’s. He was the house drummer at Ryan’s for the better part of 15 years, until the club closed in the early ’80s. Among the other musicians he has worked with are Ray Bryant, Red Allen, Teddy Wilson, Tyree Glen, Kenny Burrell and Earl Hines. His work is heard on many recordings, and his television credits include The Tonight Show, Dial M for Music and The Mike Douglas Show.
Eddie Locke has been a member of the AFM throughout his working life. In Detroit he was a member of Local 5 and, when he came to New York, Jo Jones steered him toward 802. But today – despite decades of work in some of the city’s major clubs – he does not receive an AFM pension.
No one from the union ever came around to the jobs he was working, Locke recalls, and no union representative ever gave him any advice. And the older musicians he worked with never discussed the union. “I don’t know if it was because they came from that period when they had two locals in most cities – one Black and one white. I think those guys had such bad memories that they never talked about the union.”
He recalls once going onto the Exchange Floor to see if he could get some club date work, but “they didn’t even look at me. My feeling about that, afterward, was that they didn’t care anything about the jazz community, because it was predominantly Black.”
The entrenched leadership of Local 802 was not displaced until 1983. One of its policies that has had a devastating impact on musicians, to this day, was its failure to bring work at many of New York’s most famous clubs under contract. Much of Eddie Locke’s career was spent in places like the Metropole, the Embers, the Round Table and Basin Street East. “They were making millions in those joints, but I found out later that they never paid anything toward my pension,” he says.
Determination that today’s generation of jazz artists will be able to count on a secure retirement is fueling efforts by the Jazz Advisory Committee and Local 802 to win justice for jazz artists, and to find ways that performers and educators can become vested in the pension plan.
Today Eddie Locke continues to perform and he tours Europe regularly, but “I choose my gigs now. My kids are all grown and it doesn’t take much for me to live. I’ve never been materialistic in the first place. I still like to play but I’m not going to play for nothing. And I’m going to have fun when I play.”
Jo Jones and his other mentors are very much alive, as Locke thinks back on his career. And mentoring is now part of his own legacy. Locke has been teaching at the Trevor Day School for almost 20 years. “The headmaster, Dr. Jack Dexter, loves jazz – that’s my reason for being at the school for that many years,” Locke told Allegro. “And through him, we’ve been able to develop a great jazz program.” In 1985 he was the first jazz teacher ever awarded a certificate of excellence as a distinguished teacher, by the Presidential Scholars in the Arts program. The award was made in conjunction with the presentation of a Presidential Medallion to one of his students, Justin Page, then a 17-year-old high school student and jazz drummer.