Bobby Hutcherson - Biography
By Nick Castro
Bobby Hutcherson is one of jazz's premiere vibraphonists, along with Lionel Hampton, Red Norvo, Milt Jackson and Gary Burton. Hutcherson was born in 1941 in Los Angeles, CA and was raised in Pasadena. Hutcherson was introduced to jazz music at a young age by his older brother, who went to high school with saxophonist Dexter Gordon. Later on in life Hutcherson's own sister would briefly date another Los Angeles saxophonist, Eric Dolphy. By age nine, Hutcherson was studying piano, an instrument closely related to the vibraphone in layout. It was vibraphonist Jackson that would inspire Hutcherson to pick up the instrument himself. Once Hutcherson became a teenager he was studying, albeit briefly, the instrument with Dave Pike. Mainly though, Hutcherson translated his knowledge of the piano over to the vibes and went from there on his own. It was this self education on the instrument that undoubtedly led to Hutcherson's identifiably unique and singular sound.
By his mid teens, Hutcherson was playing in clubs around Los Angeles with his friend and bassist Herbie Lewis. Once out of high school Hutcherson got gigs with saxophonist Charles Lloyd, prior to Lloyd's big successes in the jazz world. By 1960 Hutcherson began working on an album for the Pacific Jazz Label but the four tracks he recorded got shelved and were never released. He then got a job playing in the group of saxophonist Billy Mitchell, who had just finished a four year stint with the Count Basie orchestra. It was with the Mitchell group that Hutcherson got his first national experience when the group got a gig in New York at the famed Birdland club, which was named after saxophonist Charlie Parker. Once the gig was over, Hutcherson stayed in the city to further pursue his career. He had, by this time, developed a four mallet style, not unlike Gary Burton, and was getting notoriety for playing with the Mitchell sextet. He continued to record with this group until 1963. One notable album Hutcherson did with Mitchell was the album This is Billy Mitchell Featuring Bobby Hutcherson (1962 - Smash), which was Mitchell's second as a leader. All of this would lead to many more opportunities for Hutcherson as word spread quickly about this burgeoning young vibraphone player. He got a job playing with saxophonist Jackie McLean. Together they recorded an album which has garnered a classic status in the pantheon of the modern jazz world, One Step Beyond (1963 - Blue Note), which also featured drummer Tony Williams, who was only 17 years old at the time, and trombonist Grachan Moncur III.
Another notable session of Hutcherson's was the Out To Lunch (1964 - Blue Note) by the Eric Dolphy group. This album revolutionized, in no small part by Hutcherson, the genre of jazz. It also laid the foundation, and created the template, for free jazz albums to come. This album has made many top ten lists by jazz critics and reviewers over the years and Hutcherson's sparse playing is often noted as one of the reasons. Other top musicians on this session were trumpet player Freddie Hubbard and bassist Richard Davis, who played briefly with John Coltrane, as did Dolphy. One of the revolutionary maneuvers of this session was the absence of piano. This move freed up a lot of sonic space for Hutcherson, which he would strategically occupy, while leaving just enough of a void to provide space for Dolphy and Hubbard's sheets of sound. Hutcherson also utilized a mix of wide chords with short bursts of close dissonant sounds as well.
Hutcherson was now considered a top player in the genre and received many requests for his unique style of playing. He got jobs working with Moncur III, guitarist Grant Green, Andrew Hill, McCoy Tyner, Archie Shepp and many more. While on the sessions with McLean, Hutcherson was offered a chance to record his own albums, as a leader for the Blue Note label, by Alfred Lion, head of the label. Shortly after the release of Out To Lunch, Hutcherson offered the world the album Dialogue (1965 - Blue Note), which would bring onboard players like multi-instrumentalist Sam Rivers, pianist Andrew Hill, drummer Joe Chambers, bassist Davis and trumpet player Hubbard. All of the songs on this album were written by Hill and Chambers and the group makes the most of them. Many, to this day, consider this first outing to be Hutcherson's masterpiece. On this album the group takes many of the foundations of modern jazz, such as latin rhythms, marching band drumming and blues, and turns them into futuristic interpretations unmatched at the time of their release. Hutcherson would continue to record a number of albums for Blue Note and, in point of fact, was the second longest running artist on the label, next to Horace Silver. It was only the demise of the label in 1977 that discontinued Hutcherson's relationship with the company. One of the albums he did was Components (1965 - Blue Note), which was the first solo album to feature Hutcherson compositions, such as "Tranquility" and "West 22nd Street Theme". On this album Hutcherson was accompanied by Ron Carter on bass, Herbie Hancock on piano and James Spaulding on saxophone and flute.
For the remainder of the 60's Hutcherson remained a staple on the jazz scene and for a while he steadily collaborated with another California native, saxophonist Harold land. Hutcherson made his move back to the warmer climates of California and began recording with Land on such albums as Medina (1969 - Blue Note), which was unfortunately not released for nearly a decade. On this session the two are joined by drummer Chambers, pianist Stanley Cowell and bassist Reggie Johnson. Another album by the Land/Hutcherson group was the album Now! (1969 - Blue Note), which featured vocalist Right Reverend Eugene McDaniels, who was at that time still called Gene McDaniels. Hutcherson would also collaborate on the writing for this record. Guitarist Wally Richardson can be heard making an appearance with some sweeping psychedelic guitar.
As the years have progressed, Hutcherson has remained a mainstay on the jazz scene and has always kept up a furious live schedule, even after his album releases have slowed in recent decades. In recent years Hutcherson has worked on a number of tribute projects, which included endeavors that covered music by John Coltrane and Ornette Coleman. He is one of the last living legends of the golden period of Blue Note records.