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MEMORIES OF YOU: THE EDDIE LOCKE MEMORIAL AND HOT STOVE REVERIES

I have always loved the Eubie Blake/Noble Sissle classic song “Memories of You” with its lyric about “a rosary of tears.” On Sunday night November 22, there were some tears yet happily more peals of laughter when the jazz drummer Eddie Locke was memorialized at St. Peter’s Church in the Citicorp Center on Manhattan’s East Side. I’m a latecomer to jazz appreciation – never really got into it until the 1980s - and I have learned so much about the music and the people who played it from the memorials at St. Peter’s. The late John Garcia Gensel was the longtime pastor of the congregation known widely as the “Jazz Church” and Duke Ellington memorably dubbed him “The Shepherd of the Night Flock.”

Eddie Locke, who died on September 7 at the age of 79, was a great practitioner of the craft of jazz drumming. He lived by the mantra, “Enjoy your life,” said his his friends, family and musicians who adored him. Born in Detroit in 1930, Eddie lost his father when he was 2 and was raised with “an iron hand” and occasionally “an iron belt” by his mother, Eddie’s two sons remembered. He received a solid music training in Detroit, a vibrant town whose fine public schools produced many jazz legends – the late pianists Tommy Flanagan and Sir Roland Hanna and bassist Major Holley to name only a few. “I wish you all could have grown up with us in Detroit,” pianist Barry Harris exclaimed at the memorial. “We didn’t know about segregation until they started to talk about integration.”

Eddie came to New York in the early 1950s with the late Oliver Jackson as part of a drum and tap dancing duo, Bop and Locke. In August 1958 Eddie was the youngest musician to be photographed in Art Kane’s classic shot, “A Great Day in Harlem,” featured in an early 1959 Esquire story that later became the focus for Jean Bach’s marvelous documentary of the same name. Jazz and kids were the linchpins of Locke’s life.

He loved teaching young people, pianist Bill Charlap and alto saxophonist Jon Gordon attested at the memorial before playing one of his favorite tunes “For All We Know.” Eddie also composed an original tune based on a lament he heard from one of his young students, “Wishes Are Starting To Don’t Come True.” Pianist Larry Ham and alto saxophonist David Glasser ably played some of that haunting music.

Another highlight of the evening was a spontaneous piano trio of Marty Napoleon, Bill Crow and Ray Mosca, giving homage to Jimmy Ryan’s late lamented West 54th Street jazz club where Eddie played for over 10 years with the late jazz legends Coleman Hawkins and Roy Eldridge. Papa Jo Jones, Count Basie’s marvelous drummer, was another mentor of Locke who once asked Jones why he never seemed to practice. “I’m practicing now,” his mentor with the infectious smile replied, a thought Eddie never forgot.

Eddie Locke was my neighbor on the Upper West Side near 106th Street (aka Duke Ellington Blvd.), He loved his sports so we had much to talk about. He went to Miller High School in Detroit where Gene Lipscomb was one of his schoolmates. But the man that became the fearsome “Big Daddy” Lipscomb of the NFL didn’t play much football because he wasn’t yet in shape.

Eddie played non-aggressive and joyous tennis and I had the good fortune to play with him from time to time. Bassist Murray Wall shared a wonderful story with the packed house at the memorial about going to a US Tennis Open with Eddie and Richard Williams, the father of Venus and Serena, was sitting nearby. “Hey, you did a good job with those girls!” Eddie exclaimed to a total stranger who nodded his approval. Eddie, your good job at living will always be an inspiration. As his special friend Mary Ellen Healy expressed it, “A great soul is like a great music that never leaves.”

HOT STOVE LEAGUE THOUGHTS
**The Cy Young award winners in both leagues amassed the fewest win totals in history: Zack Greinke with 16 for the Royals and Tim Lincecum with 15 for the Giants. Both played for teams with bad offenses so the lack of wins is not surprising and both are very good pitchers. The reasoning of the some of the voters, however, reflects our over-analyzed, over-quantified times. Wins and losses “cloud judgment,” said one voter. Oh yeah? Winning games or at least not losing them is the sign of a good pitcher regardless of all the new-fangled stats that all sports are drowning in these days.

Don’t get me wrong. More knowledge of how games are played and athletes contribute to them is always welcome but never forget the importance of being out there on the mound and pitching to win and making the pitch that you need to make at the right time. “God had a scout in mind when he designed the human head,” Bryan Lambe once said. “He gave us two eyes, two ears and one mouth. Listen and watch twice as much as you talk and you have a chance to learn something.” A tip of the cap to “Murray Chass on Baseball,” Nov. 23 edition, for that quote. IMO Chass over the years has overdone his reliance on salary information but this quote from Lambe, a mentor of the 32-year-old new Toronto general manager Alex Anthopoulos, is a keeper.

**The MLB TV network has been running the 1969 World Series between the Mets and the Orioles. I caught most of the rerun of Game 2, the great pitchers’ duel between Jerry Koosman and Dave McNally that was decided by three two-out singles in a row in the top of the 9th inning by three of the less noted Mets, Ed Charles, Ron Swoboda and Al Weis, the latter a .215 regular season hitter who had the Series of his life. I had forgotten that in the bottom of the 9th with two out and nobody on and Koosman one out away from a complete game two-hit 2-1 victory, Mets manager Gil Hodges moved second baseman Weis to left field, moved Cleon Jones to left-center as part of a four-man outfield to thwart the Birds’ great future Hall of Famer Frank Robinson.

Turned out that Koosman walked Robinson and then Boog Powell and Ron Taylor had to get the last out, inducing Brooks Robinson to hit a 3-2 grounder to Ed Charles. Ah the little things in baseball that can play with your coconut, to use the vivid term of Dick Groat in his interview for my Branch Rickey biography. Brooks fouled off a 3-1 pitch that would have been ball four and then he hit the weak grounder to Charles. Though the Mets third sacker had miscalculated by running to tag third and pinch-runner Merv Rettenmund was almost there, Charles had enough time to throw to first to nab the slow-footed Brooks.

Ah the things one forgets because memory is such a fascinating but evasive creature. I was a Mets fan in 1969 and attended Game 2 high up in the right field stands at Baltimore’s late lamented Memorial Stadium. But I don’t remember who I went with and had forgotten that Frank Robinson had a bum enough leg that he needed a pinch-runner Rettenmund (who after the 1971 World Series became the Orioles right fielder when Frank was traded to the Dodgers, not the best move in Oriole history but compared to today’s low standard not the worst either even if Rettenmund’s role in baseball history became more as a renowned batting coach than top-notch player.)

**Check out the November 30 New Yorker magazine. Roger Angell has a characteristically lovely piece on the end of the 2009 season and except for the one lapse of referring to the Red Sox championship season as 2003 it is as always wonderful writing and reading.

HAPPY THANKSGIVING ALL and back to you before Chanukah/Hanukkah, whatever spelling fits your taste. Ciao for now!
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