Jazz Vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson, 1941-2016, RIP

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Bobby Hutcherson, a superb vibes and marimba player and star of the Blue Note roster, passed away on Monday, August 15, at his home in California. He was 75, and had suffered from emphysema since 2007.

Bobby Hutcherson in 2007. Photo by Nadja von Massow via Wikimedia Commons. (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

Saxophonist Dexter Gordon once said, “Bobby’s the baddest,” referring to the edge and modern style that characterized Hutcherson’s compositions and improvisations. Bobby fell in love with the vibes after hearing the music of vibraphonist Milt Jackson wafting out from a Pasadena, California record store when he was 12 years old. The song that captivated Hutcherson was the 1953 recording of Thelonious Monk’s “Bemsha Swing” by Miles Davis and the Modern Jazz Giants, which was recorded by a very young Rudy Van Gelder in his parents’ living room while the famous recording engineer was going to optometry school by day and recording for Prestige records at night. Whereas Milt Jackson was the soulful bluesy vibes in the Modern Jazz Quartet, Bobby took the vibes in a new direction, relying less on blues and soul and exploring a new, more angular style.

Bobby Hutcherson was featured in and recorded many of his own Blue Note albums, including Happenings, Oblique, Stick Up!, Total Eclipse, Components, and the superb album with saxophonist Harold Land, Medina. Songs like “Little B’s Poem” became standard jazz repertoire and was recorded many times. As leader and in-demand sideman for top jazz artists, he recorded more than 250 albums over a fifty year period beginning in the early 1960’s. In 1999, Verve released his album Skyline, and it became one of my favorite albums.

The vibraphone has a sound that is refreshing and cool. Bobby made it sound beautiful as well.

Here is Bobby in 2007 at Germany’s Jazz Baltica Festival:

…and the original version of “Delilah” from the album Skyline where he plays marimba:

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