Didier Lockwood R.I.P.


Didier Lockwood, who has died suddenly at the age of sixty-two, was violin virtuoso whose musical interests spanned the worlds of jazz, classical music, opera, progressive rock and indigenous folk music from around the globe.


He was a musician whom France took to its heart and who had admirers all over the world. On learning of Lockwood’s death from a heart attack on the morning following a concert in Paris, the French president, Emanuel Macron said, “We will miss his radiance, his openness and his immense musical talent.” Almost forty years earlier, another notable Frenchman, the great jazz violinist Stephane Grappelli had told his young British guitarist, Martin Taylor, “You must meet Didier, he’s a genius.”


Lockwood was born in Calais into a musical family. His father taught violin at the local conservatoire. His uncle Willy played bass and Didier’s older brother, Francis, who would become an influence and playing partner, played piano. The musical gene had been handed on by Didier’s grandfather, who gave the family their Scottish name and had settled in France after the First World War. Didier, knowing Scotland’s tradition for fiddle music, once told the Herald that he was a bit disappointed that his Scottish grandfather had played the clarinet rather than the fiddle, thus robbing him of a connection to a Scottish musical legacy. 


He was six when his father began teaching him to play violin and within seven years he was playing regularly with a theatre orchestra in Calais. His parents’ plan – his mother was an artist - was for Didier to become a concert violinist. However, in his mid-teens, Didier he heard fellow Frenchman Jean-Luc Ponty playing electric violin with Frank Zappa and instead of following his first prize at Calais Conservatoire with further classical studies, he caused some consternation at home by joining the French prog rock band Magma at the age of seventeen.  


By this time his brother Francis had become a very fluent jazz pianist and after Didier had spent three years touring and recording with the unique Magma, whose music suggested a fusion of Frank Zappa, Richard Wagner and Karl Orff, the brothers put a band together, Surya, which followed in the style created by guitarist John McLaughlin’s Mahavishnu Orchestra. Didier also worked with the Magma spin-off, Zao, and went on to record with another legendary French band, Gong, and somewhere along the way he came to the attention of French composer and bandleader Michel Colombier.


It was while Lockwood was playing with Colombier that Stephane Grappelli heard him and pronounced him his “spiritual son”. Grappelli invited Lockwood to tour Europe and the manouche style of swinging jazz that Grappelli had finessed with guitarist Django Reinhardt stayed close to Lockwood’s heart for the rest of his life.


Lockwood released his first album, New World, in 1979 and moved easily between the swing style and jazz-rock as Surya finally released its first album in the early 1980s. Opportunities then came to play and display his incredible vitality with not just most of the leading European jazz musicians – pianists Martial Solal, Gordon Beck and Michel Pettruciani, bassists Niels-Henning Orsted-Pedersen and Henri Texier, drummers Daniel Humair and Aldo Romano among them – but also top Americans including Miles Davis and Herbie Hancock.


As well as continuing to work with Martin Taylor after their meeting on the Grappelli tour  (they later discovered that their Scottish grandfathers served in the same regiment), Lockwood played manouche style jazz with guitarists Christian Escoudé and Biréli Lagrène and co-led an equally energetic jazz-rock band with former Miles Davis guitarist Mike Stern for some years. Their extraordinarily vital gig at the Blue Lamp in Aberdeen in 2010 won’t easily be forgotten. Nor will Martin Taylor’s duo concert with Lockwood in Perth Theatre in 2004, when the violinist roamed the auditorium while playing with superb agility and real depth of expression behind his showmanship.


In 1996 Lockwood had shown another side of his creativity by composing and performing a concerto for electro-acoustic violin with the Orchestre National de Lille. He also composed other orchestral works, including a piano concerto and a piece for symphony orchestra and jazz big band as well as a jazz opera and the classical-jazz fusion project, Jazz and the Diva with his then wife, soprano Caroline Casadeus. He had recently recorded an album with his second wife,Patricia Petibon, also a soprano, featuring music from around the world, and he released what will now be his final album, Open Doors, in January.


Lockwood’s energies weren’t restricted to playing music. He taught, too, and in 2000 he founded the Didier Lockwood Music Centre in Dammarie-les-Lys, southeast of Paris, to teach improvisation in music from methods he developed himself. The school gained national accreditation and hosted the Russian virtuoso Maxim Vengerov, who described Lockwood as “a legend of our time”, as a student in 2005.


Lockwood’s many awards included the Victoire de la Musique, the Golden Django, the Grand Prix of Sacem, and the Django Reinhardt Prize. He was also awarded the Légion d’honneur and appointed Officer of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. He is survived by his second wife, Patricia Petibon, and three daughters.


Didier Lockwood, violinist, born February 11, 1956; died February 18, 2018.


From The Herald, February 28, 2018.



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