Another Jazz Giant Gone: Bobby Hutcherson, Master Vibraphonist

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The jazz world lost another of its giants Monday, August 15, with the passing of vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson. He was one of the premier players of his instrument, working with a true Who’s Who of jazz, from Dexter Gordon and Freddie Hubbard to Eric Dolphy and McCoy Tyner.

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Hutcherson built on the legacy created by Lionel Hampton, Milt Jackson, Gary Burton and others, but he took the instrument to the next level in terms of harmonics. From 1963 to 1977, he recorded for the Blue Note label and with musicians on other labels as well. He had 40 albums under his name and more than double that as a sideman.

Bobby Hutcherson, Berkeley Jazz Festival, Berkeley CA 1982

Bobby Hutcherson, Berkeley Jazz Festival, Berkeley CA 1982

Hutcherson first played piano but was attracted to the vibraphone and marimba. His first recordings in 1961 were with the Les McCann Trio on Pacific Jazz. It wasn’t long before he became one of the true giants of the instrument, in constant demand.

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His Blue Note output as a leader included 11 albums in the ’60s and another 11 in the ’70s. In addition, he recorded on such important dates as Grachan Moncur III’s Evolution, Duke Pearson’s The Phantom, McCoy Tyner’s Time for Tyner, Tony Williams’ Life Time, Grant Green’s Idle Moments, and Lee Morgan’s The Procrastinator.

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He played with Eric Dolphy on Iron Man, Out to Lunch, and Conversations. With Jackie McLean, he recorded One Step Beyond, Destination… Out, and Action Action Action. He also played on the 1964 Dexter Gordon album Gettin’ Around, then teamed up again in 1985 with Gordon, Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter and other jazz greats in the movie Round Midnight, performing as ex-patriot musicians in Paris.

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More recently, he recorded with Pharoah Sanders, Kenny Garrett, and the SFJAZZ Collective.

Every young vibes player on the scene today acknowledges the enormous influence Bobby Hutcherson had in the approach to the instrument.


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