In Memoriam Didier Lockwood

tekst: Storm Bakker

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One week after his 62th birthday, after gigging the jazz club Le Bal Blomet in Paris, French jazz violinist Didier Lockwood suddenly passed away. Lockwood is regarded as one of the most prominent improvising musicians in nowadays jazz, rock, fusion and swing manouche (a.k.a Hot Club de France).

Didier Lockwood was born in a musical family in Calais in 1956. He took up the electric violin after hearing Jean Luc Ponty’s album King Kong: the Music of Frank Zappa (1969/1970). In the book ‘Eurojazzland: Jazz and European Sources, Dynamics, and Contexts’, the authors Luca Cerchiari, Laurent Cugny and Franz Kerschbaumer quote Lockwood about this album: “I dind’t even imagine it was possible to do that on a violin. Furthermore, the contribution of electricity completely changed the perspective on the instrument with regards to the sound. I began to work on these bases”. In 1972, young Didier was awarded with the first prize at the Conservatoire de Calais and the SACEM First National Prize of contemporary music, for his compositions for prepared violin. Young Lockwood was studying classical music, also serial and dodecaphonic music (Arnold Schönberg), next to swing manouche (Gipsy jazz), bebop and (ofcourse) the Slonimsky inspired theories and playing of John Coltrane. His main influences as a violinist were Zbigniew Seifert, Stéphane Grappelli and Jean Luc Ponty.

Two years after -at the age of 17- together with his brother Francis on piano, Didier auditioned with legendary French rock group Magma, led by visionary drummer/composer Christian Vander. Francis didn’t make it, but Didier starred as the band’s main soloist in the seventies, with an impressive lead role on the album ‘Magma Live ’75’ (a.k.a. ‘Hhaï’). His solo on the 7/8 piece ‘Mekanïk Zaïn’ is regarded as legendary among the many ‘zeuhl’ adepts around the world. Although barely 18, his playing was already strong, subtle, unique and dynamic, taking the music of Magma to its next mindblowing level. Although joining the extensively touring group reportedly was at the expense of his studies at the Conservatoire National Superieur de Musique (Paris), Lockwood grew in a short period of time into a phenomenon in French jazzrock and fusion. He played at Montreux in 1975, at the Castellet Festival in 1976 (where he met Tony Williams), in 1978 again at Montreux, Antibes and Donaueschingen. After Magma, Lockwood played and recorded with French groups and artists like Zao (ex-Magma François ‘Faton’ Cahen, 1976), Pierre Moerlen’s Gong (1979), and in jazz with Aldo Romano, André Ceccarelli, François Jeanneau, Didier Levallet, Henri Texier and Jean-Paul Céléa. Stéphane Grappelli invited the then 20-year-old as his protégé, to join him on a European tour. Lockwood was soon included in the illustrious circles of French Jazz violinists, which became “something of an institution” (Steven A. Cerra, Lockwood was considered the next in a line of great French violinists after Grappelli and Ponty, passing the ‘baton’ to Didier Lockwood. In fact, it was the Michel Warlop violin, once given by Warlop to Grappelli and since given on to the most pro­mising French jazz violinist. In 1979, Ponty and Grappelli decided that Didier Lockwood would be the violinist most worthy of owning Michel Warlop's instrument. Grappelli presented it to him during a concert at the Theatre de la Ville de Paris.

Like Ponty, who went to the United States to play with Zappa and the Mahavishnu Orchestra, Lockwood took his career to a next level by releasing his first album as a leader on the other side of the ocean. ‘New World’ was released in 1979, with a line-up of topcats like legendary drummer Tony Williams, double bass virtuoso Niels Henning Ørsted Pedersen and pianist Gordon Beck. The name of Lockwood was definitely established in the world of jazz and fusion. Since, Lockwood worked with artists like Dave Brubeck, Miles Davis, Elvin Jones, Marcus Miller, Herbie Hancock, the Marsalis brothers and pianist Michel Petrucciani, delivering a legendary duo improvisation on ‘Someday My Prince Will Come’. (watch) But the list goes on: Lenny White, Philip Catherine, Jim Beard, Peter Erskine, Dave Holland, Uzeb, David Kikoski, Dave Liebman, Alphonso Johnson, David Sancious, Joey DeFrancesco, Claude Nougaro, Billy Hart, Manu Katché, James Genus, Steve Gadd, Martin Taylor, also fellow violinists John Blake and Michal Urbaniak. In 1980 he played with Magma’s jazzrock offspring ‘Fusion’, with Christian Vander (drums), Jannick Top (bass) and Benoît Widemann (keys), resulting in an album containing one of the most inspired jazzrock music of Europe. Later on, this material has also been released by Jannick Top on the album Paris 80 (live). Lockwood also returned in Magma for the so-called ‘Retrospektïw’ concerts in 1980 (resulting in three memorable albums released in 1981). In 1982/1983 Lockwood toured with the mindblowing all star band Allan Holdsworth (r.i.p.), Jack Bruce (r.i.p.), David Sancious and Billy Cobham ‎(Gathering Of Minds / Montreux). In 1985 he was awarded with Victoire de la musique. He reunited with Magma in 1992 for a television show, (calling his friend Vander “the Coltrane on drums”). This reunion resulted in the resurrection of Magma, albeit without Lockwood as a regularmember. The same year, he reunited again with Fusion (live at Talence).

With Biréli Lagrène and again Niels Henning Ørsted Pedersen, Lockwood released a highly recommended album called ‘Tribute to Stéphane Grapelli’ in 2000. The album received many awards since its release: Diapason d’Or, Choc Jazzman and Selection FIP. The next year, he set up a school for teaching improvisation in music in Dammarie-les-Lys, southeast of Paris, called Centre des Musiques Didier Lockwood, based upon his own developed methods. That same year, 2001, Didier created, along with Indian dancer Raghunath Manet and percussionist Ri Murugan, the show ‘Omkara’, a musical encounter between jazz and Indian music. In 2003 Lockwood released an album called ‘Globe Trotter’, also featuring the virtuoso on mandolin. “His qualities have remained intact: vibrant lyricism, melodic ease and virtuosity never turning empty make him a seductive soloist here at the party”, said Hervé Comte. After touring with guitarist John Abercrombie (and bassist Victor Bailey), he reformed the Didier Lockwood Group (DLG), with Jean-Marie Ecay, Paco Séry and Linley Marthe. Besides, he toured with American heavy cats like Mike Stern, Dave Weckl and Tom Kennedy in 2011. He participated with (Bela)Russian musicans at the international open-air jazz festival in Minsk in May 2014, playing some of his most notable improvised solo’s on baritone violin. Lately he was working with pianist Tigran Hamasyan (and bassist James Alfred Conrad Cammack Jr. known from Ahmad Jamal) on a new album.

Didier Lockwood became known for his use of electric amplification and experimentation on different sounds on the electric violin, globally acclaimed as an adventurous virtuoso in all genres of music. Lockwood subsequently recorded more than 20 albums, crossing musical genres, from jazz, jazzrock to classical, gipsy and world. “Lockwood is an immensely gifted player, combining a virtuosic technique with an attractive musicality.” [Richard Cook and Brian Morton, The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, 6th Ed.] “Jazz violin in a new dimension, a sampling of Didier’s music is a ticket to a thrilling and innovative series of adventures”, according to Steven A. Cerra, Lockwood was honored with the l’Académie du Jazz and Knight of the Legion of Honor and Officer of National Merit and Arts and Letters. In 2013 he celebrated his 40 years on stage anniverary concert at Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris and among the many invited artists were his friends of Magma/Fusion (Vander, Top and Widemann). Zeuhl fans were happy to hear Lockwood introduce monsieur Christian Vander as his “maître”. (Arte.TV re-releases this concert on the website as an hommage to “der Französische Geiger”, one of the “Meistern des zeitgenössischen Jazz.”) Finally, Lockwood appeared two times as a guest soloist with Magma and Le Mëtalïk Orkestraah in a sold out Olympia, Paris, early 2017.

It’s reported that Lockwood died after suffering a heart attack. His death came as a total shock and thousands of admirers are left devastated on his passing. “Renowned French jazz violinist Didier Lockwood, whose eclectic career spanned more than four decades with thousands of concerts in the most prestigious festivals and concert halls around the world, died Sunday Feb.18, 2018. ( Fellow jazz violinist Scott Tixier calls him on Twitter "a grand master of jazz violin who has influenced an entire generation of violinists." Francoise Nyssen says: “Immense violoniste de jazz français, qui a sans cesse exploré de nouveaux horizons musicaux, et s’est investi avec passion dans la promotion de l'éducation artistique et culturelle. On the website Francis Lockwood says: “My brother Didier has “gone”… he reached the energy of the sun that he had inside!” On the same website Christian Vander states: “Didier, compagnon de route depuis toujours, pour toujours. Tu es resté ce jeune adolescent que j’ai connu lorsque tu avais 17 ans. Ton archet incandescent déversait des lames de feu et de sensibilité. Avec le temps, ta joie, ton plaisir de jouer sont restés intacts. Emporte avec toi ton violon magique et continue de délivrer ce message d’amour dans ces sphères inconnues. A vie, à mort et après…” (translation: "Didier, companion since always, forever. You stayed this young teenager that I knew when you were 17 years old. Your incandescent bow poured blades of fire and sensitivity. With time, your joy, your pleasure to play have remained intact. Take with you your magic violin and continue to deliver this message of love in these unknown spheres. For life, to death and after ... "