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Joe Locke at 54 Below, Ahmad Jamal at Rose, Sista’s Place

Ron Scott | 9/12/2013, 2:38 p.m.
Vibraphone Joe Locke

When Joe Locke steps to the vibraphone, he energizes, soothes and swings. On Sept. 17, the Joe Locke Group, featuring pianist Ryan Cohan, bassist David Finck, drummer Jaimeo Brown and special guest vocalist Kenny Washington, will hit the stage for one night at 54 Below (254 W. 54th St.).

Locke and the group will be celebrating his Motema Music release, “Lay Down My Heart: Blues & Ballads Vol. 1.” There will be shows at 7 p.m. and 9 p.m.

The first time I saw Washington, he was Locke’s special guest vocalist, and wow, this man can sing. Some jazz singers make a good attempt at scatting, but Washington has the papers. Maybe he is under the radar because he is based on the West Coast. If that is the case, New York clubs need to get hip and book this man. There is a very small group of male jazz vocalists, and after you hear him sing just one song, you’ll realize he is one of them. He’s that good.

Jimmy Rushing, aka “Mr. Five by Five,” a vocalist with the Basie Band, was rather wide and about 5 feet 5 inches tall. Washington is about 5 feet 2 inches, but he has the “big deal voice” like Rushing that kicks butt. Washington and the Locke Group are worth seeing.

The first jazz record (45 rpm) that caught my attention was “Poinciana” by Ahmad Jamal. At the time, I was only in junior high school, but those opening beats mesmerized me. Even today, I get the same feeling—maybe it’s his unique tone or the way he enunciates his phrasing.

One day, my father walked by my room and asked, “What are you playing?” I responded, “Ahmad Jamal,” to which he replied, “Aha who?” We both had a big laugh about that one. He didn’t remember the name, but he knew the song. It was his record.

Jamal’s version of “Poinciana” has since become a jazz classic. During his career, he turned jazz into a hip art form in a class all by itself. He has a most beautiful tone; his spacing and riffs just bring listeners into his zone.

On Sept. 19-21, Jamal will open the Jazz at Lincoln Center 2013-2014 season in the Rose Theater at 8 p.m. He will be leading his well-rounded quartet, featuring bassist Reginald Veal, drummer Herlin Riley and percussionist Manolo Badrena. This is his supporting cast from his most recent CD, “Blue Moon” (JazzVillage, 2012).

The group will make some inroads together before being joined by the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis. Members of the orchestra will debut new arrangements of songs from Jamal’s canon, and the two bands will perform them, all while employing Jamal’s creative style.

A free pre-concert discussion will take place nightly at 7 p.m. in the Irene Diamond Education Center.

“I get all my inspiration from Ahmad Jamal,” stated Miles Davis. That quote sums it up. If you have not seen Jamal in performance, wait no longer. For more information, go to www.jalc.org.