Encyclopedia of Jazz Musicians

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Hutcherson, Bobby (Robert)

Vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson has helped bring his instrument's sound to new generations of jazz listeners since the 1960s. Building on the achievements of Lionel Hampton and Milt Jackson, he has developed a personal, and harmonically fluent four-mallet technique, which can be heard on his dozens of releases both as a leader and a sideman.

Robert Hutcherson was born into a musical family on January 27th, 1941 in Los Angeles, California and grew up in nearby Pasadena. His brother, who was fifteen years older, went to high school with tenor saxophonist Dexter Gordon at Jefferson High School in Los Angeles.

Hutcherson started off studying the piano as a child, taking instruction from an aunt who was a preacher at his church, but the boy disliked formal lessons. His sister was a singer who performed with Eric Dolphy, and dated the saxophonist for a brief period of time. In his teens, Hutcherson was captivated by the sound of the vibes on a Milt Jackson record, purchased his first set of vibraphones with money saved after working with his father for a summer doing brick masonry.

Hutcherson started performing in junior high school with his friend bassist Herbie Lewis. He studied informally with Dave Pike, but didn’t have a formal teacher growing up and was for the most part self-taught. In 1961, Hutcherson began playing with Al Grey at the Jazz Workshop in San Francisco. He had previously worked with saxophonist Charles Lloyd and bassist Scott LaFaro, though both engagements were brief. Hutcherson first came to New York City in 1961 with Grey to play for a week at Birdland. The young vibraphonist’s technique incorporated four mallets which allowed him to be more expressive, both melodically and harmonically. Hutcherson recorded with Grey for his 1962 albums Snap Your Fingers and Night Song. Hutcherson performed with Al Grey until 1963.

Despite these musical successes, times were lean for a vibes man, and Hutcherson took on work as a taxi driver. It was alto saxophonist Jackie McLean who introduced Hutcherson to Blue Note Records founder Alfred Lion, which led to his first album as a leader for the label in 1963, entitled The Kicker. He also appeared as a sideman on albums by McLean, Eric Dolphy, guitarist Grant Green, and Grachan Moncur III.

In 1964, Hutcherson appeared on Out To Lunch,Eric Dolphy’s highly influential album for Blue Note. This recording was a watershed for the avant-garde movement, as Dolphy's angular, intervallic approach marked an important departure from the approach of Ornette Coleman, the movement's founder. Important songs from the album include “Straight Up and Down," “Out to Lunch," “Something Sweet, Something Tender" and “Gazzelloni." Unfortunately, Dolphy died that June from diabetic shock, ending any further possibility of collaboration.

Hutcherson recorded with drummer Tony Williams in 1964 on his album Life Time, and with pianist Andrew Hill for his albums Judgment and Andrew!!! Hutcherson relocated back to his hometown of Los Angeles in 1965 but he continued to record for Blue Note.

In 1965, Hutcherson recorded Components for Blue Note, which included one of his most recognizable compositions, the subtle jazz waltz “Little B’s Poem." This proved to be a busy year for Hutcherson as a sideman as well. He recorded and performed with a plethora of jazz artists including trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie, saxophonists John Coltrane, Dexter Gordon, and Archie Shepp.

In 1966, Hutcherson appeared with tenor saxophonist Joe Henderson on his breakthrough album Mode for Joe. Hutcherson’s solo, which followed Henderson’s on the title track, exhibited his beautiful and soulful take on melodic ideas. Also from the album is the Cedar Walton tune “Carribean Fire Dance."

Hutcherson released two albums as a leader in 1966, Happenings and Stick Up! For the remainder of the 1960s, Hutcherson performed extensively with the Gerald Wilson Orchestra. He appeared on the pianist’s 1967 album The Peace-Maker, which featured the song “Out of this World, and his 1968 album California Soul.

In addition to maintaining an active role as a sideman, Hutcherson released seven albums of his own before the end of the decade. These included 1967's Oblique, 1968's Patterns and 1969's Medina. Also in 1969, Hutcherson appeared on the album Jungle Grass by the group the Aquarians. Much of the material contained within the album was light instrumental pop music and it featured guitarist Joe Pass as well.

Hutcherson appeared on trumpeter Donald Byrd’s 1971 album Ethiopian Nights. Through the mid 1970s, he released several albums as a leader which included 1972's Natural Illusions, 1973's Live at Montreux, and 1974's Cirrus. Also, Hutcherson began a working relationship with tenor saxophonist Harold Land, of Clifford Brown-Max Roach fame. Hutcherson appeared on his albums A New Shade of Blue and Choma.

The vibist also made a memorable appearance on pianist McCoy Tyner’s 1974 album Sama Layuca, which also featured the work of drummer Billy Hart and alto saxophonist Gary Bartz. In 1977, Hutcherson teamed up with Dexter Gordon, his brother's old classmate for the album Sophisticated Giant. It featured the Woody Shaw song “The Moontrane."

As traditional jazz began to make its way back into the mainstream in the 1980s, Hutcherson found more opportunities to work, as he had never embraced the trends of fusion as strongly as his contemporaries. In 1981, he released the album Solo/Quartet. It featured the song “For You, Mom and Dad," which has become familiar to radio audiences, as it is frequently used to segue between segments on National Public Radio broadcasts. Hutcherson has continued to record prolifically as a sideman, and has appeared on albums by Freddie Hubbard, McCoy Tyner, Woody Shaw, Cedar Walton, Dexter Gordon, and Joe Sample. Hutcherson is also featured in the historic 1985 Town Hall concert honoring the 40th anniversary of Blue Note Records. He performed along with Freddie Hubbard, Herbie Hancock, and Ron Carter.

In 1991, Hutcherson released Mirage, which featured the Cole Porter song “I am in Love." He appeared on albums by Kenny Barron, Donald Byrd, and McCoy through the rest of the 1990s. In the new millennium, Hutcherson was a member of the San Francisco Jazz Collective from 2004 to 2006 along with saxophonist Joshua Redman. He currently resides in California with his wife, where he continues to expand the creative perceptions of the vibraphones in jazz music.

Select Discography

as Bobby Hutcherson

The Kicker (Blue Note, 1963)

Dialogue (Blue Note, 1965)

Components (Blue Note, 1965)

Happenings (Blue Note, 1966)

Total Eclipse (Blue Note, 1968)

Medina (Blue Note, 1969)

with Eric Dolphy

Conversations (FM, 1963)

Out to Lunch (Blue Note, 1964)

with Joe Henderson

Mode for Joe (Blue Note, 1966)

with McCoy Tyner

Time for Tyner (Blue Note, 1968)

with Andrew Hill

Judgement (Blue Note, 1964)

Andrew!!! (Blue Note, 1964)

Contributor: Jared Pauley