Bobby Hutcherson: A Retrospective

  1. LJC-Michael-Caine- Professor Jazz fastshow30When Horace Silver left us, for posterity, LJC posted a series of his main Blue Note albums.   It is a couple of weeks overdue now to give Bobby Hutcherson the same respect, so over forthcoming posts, some of those titles not previously covered will be given a closer look. Bobby recorded prolifically so it won’t be everything, nor does it need to be.

So, a tribute to Bobby Hutcherson, starting with the NYT official obit’ (they come out so promptly you have to figure they have a whole drawer-full of artists, marked “pending”)

Bobby NYTobit - opener

More here:

LJC Tribute

Bobby Hutcherson, one of the most advanced exponents of the jazz vibraphone, died August 15, 2016, at the age of 75. Jazz critic Bob Blumenthal said of Hutcherson: Bobby “would probably be more widely recognised as one of the ’60s finest musicians if he hadn’t played the vibes“.

The  vibraphone – vibraharp, or just plain vibes – is one of a family of instruments classified as a “struck idiophone”. (I challenge anyone to find a better description of being surrounded on mass-transit by people engrossed in their hand-held devices)

Lionel Hampton, Milt Jackson, and Bobby Hutcherson are arguably the most distinctive voices of this family of instruments. Not to forget Red Norvo,  Gary Burton, Roy Ayres, Cal Tjader, Walt Dickerson and many others of note, but the sheer versatility and adaptability of Hutcherson ensured he remained  the vibes-man of choice over many decades.

The vibraphone is a hybrid keyboard-percussion instrument, with some of the qualities of both. The use of multiple mallets, two in each hand,  enable chords in addition to linear patterns.  This permits the vibist an unusual opportunity to shape his contribution to the jazz ensemble. At the percussion end, it offers percussive rhythmic metre, complex polyrhythms or free counterpoint. The cool ringing tremolo/vibrato of metal offers dense sustained tonal colourings and textures. At the melody end it holds a fine lyrical solo, or  harmonies against other instruments.  Hutcherson mastered all these opportunities in a way which enabled him  to blend seamlessly with the demands of many styles, artists and moods.

He was introduced to the Blue Note roster of artists in the mid ’60s, recording three outstanding titles as leader. For me, Dialogue (Idle While) is peerless, however his contribution to other artists titles was no less enthralling. Try to imagine Dolphy’s Out to Lunch, McLean’s One Step Beyond, or Grant Green’s Idle Moments without Bobby Hutcherson. His was a core contribution to those momentous  ground-breaking recordings.

His choice in artist pairings was also a key strength, given his pendulum career between east and west coast.  For tenor, on the East coast, collaboration with Joe Henderson, and on the west, a long-term collaboration with Harold Land. Given the similar musical territory occupied by piano and vibraphone, his keyboard collaborations were all the more audacious, with Andrew Hill, McCoy Tyner, Herbie Hancock and Stanley Cowell  and new kid on the keyboard, Chick Corea on the west. Joe Chambers was frequently behind the drum kit, point man on the avant-leaning works, a drummer who knows what to play when others didn’t, while Billy Higgins adds delicious propulsion more than just timekeeping.

Into the Liberty years, and beyond into the United Artists years, amidst Blue Note’s sea of reissues,  Hutcherson was one of the few artists providing the label with new titles. What followed was a changing roster of artists, electrification of piano and bass, venturing into avant-leaning post-bop, modal, latin, atmospheric soundscapes, and a soupcon of funky swing.

Album covers showed Hutcherson’s grin disappearing progressively under a funky woolly hat, beard, and shades.

Hutcherson-and-hats-1920Liner notes were deemed redundant: the hat now spoke for itself, though quite what the hat had to say remains unclear, something about the music perhaps, not at all funky, something altogether more cerebral. Methinks perhaps the hat miss-spoke.

My shelf includes both Liberty and United Artists Blue Note Hutcherson titles. Many are Van Gelder recorded, some are Van Gelder mastered, some should be Van Gelder mastered but are not, typical of the promiscuous manufacturing practices of these years. Hutcherson’s talents were not always well-served in manufacture, a fact of life for the vinyl collector, but not a financial hardship.

Through the ’80s and 90’s Hutcherson  went on to record a considerable body of work for Landmark and other labels, was awarded national recognition with NEA Jazz Master Fellowship, and toured with his own quartet.  His major work had however already been largely accomplished, as a crucial part of the vanguard of new jazz developments in the 60’s and ’70s. That, indeed, is enough contribution from any one. The rest is a bonus.


Selective DiscographyThe Blue Note Years

The Blue Notes, as leader, full posts here:

4198 Dialogue (1965):


4213 Components(1965):


4231 Happenings (1966):


Bobby Hutcherson: The Liberty Years and beyond

We pick up Hutcherson’s discography on the cusp of the sale of Blue Note to Liberty Records Inc., with 4244 Stick Up, first released by Liberty.

Bobby-Hutcherson-Stick-Up-cover-1920x-LJCSelection: Verse (Hutcherson)


Joe Henderson (tenor sax) Bobby Hutcherson (vibes) McCoy Tyner (piano) Herbie Lewis (bass) Billy Higgins (drums) recorded Rudy Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, July 14, 1966


The selection Verse is the veritable son of Idle Moments, and compliments don’t come  any higher from me. Hutcherson generously gives plenty of space to everyone, Joe Henderson delivers his gruff squawking solos to order as you would expect, but the magic here is  Tyner and Higgins playing off each other. Higgins snare-kicks and accents maintain propulsion through a piece that is simultaneously dreamy and spacious, a languid modal undertow, with backbone. Outstanding.

The other tracks are all on their own ways something special: Ornette Coleman’s Una Muy Bonita gets a muscular workout, the angular  Black Circle offers shades of Out To Lunch, Summer Nights an ethereal ballad tiptoeing over misty ground, McCoy Tyner in lyrical melodic mood while Hutch floats featherweight over the harmonic soundscape, 8/4 Beat an intelligent piece with modal swing, and I assume from the title, something playful with time signatures, and not Brubeck.

I consider this album essential, and but for chance, the timing of the sale of Blue Note, it would have been Hutcherson’s fourth original Blue Note. Musically it belongs within the fold, but  it is not a Liberty/ NY Blue Note (All Disc) manufacturing-wise, my copy fell hostage to later practices.

Vinyl: BST 8244 Division of Liberty.

This should be  Van Gelder master, but my copy isn’t.  Copies exist with Van Gelder master stamp (Popsike confirms),  but the majority of sales make no mention of Van Gelder, some note its absence, only the minority claim the master stamp. This could be an east coast/ west coast manufacture thing, where Rudy did a master but a west coast engineer was  thrown a tape to master it for himself.

The label is not from Keystone Printed Specialties (original Blue Note’s house printer). It has the characteristic yellow/cyan bias of later Liberty “mongrel sourcing”, no pride of production engineer or plant  hallmark, just a matrix catalogue number hand written, jobbing manufacture. The music is great, it deserved better.

The vinyl has indications of being bulked up with a little recycled vinyl, though not to the degree of being obtrusive like some Prestige New Jazz. At the time I’m not sure anyone knew or cared.



Collectors Corner

This was an early purchase, I knew little when I acquired it, and to be truthful it remained un-played for a number of years. That is the humbling lesson of obituary-jazz: your musical palate changes over the years, you are not hearing the music you first heard those years ago. You now have a better informed palate, you will notice and appreciate things you didn’t get first time around. Things connect in a new way, because there is more available to connect with.

It is suitably humbling to go back to something you didn’t think that much of, and rediscover what you have missed first time around. You have a brilliant record you didn’t know you had, and it hasn’t cost you a dime. My only regret is the manufacturing shortcomings, but I didn’t understand that then either.Anyone with a Van Gelder copy out there?

Any thoughts on Hutcherson’s legacy?  Call out your favourites. There is more to follow!

17 thoughts on “Bobby Hutcherson: A Retrospective

  1. Regarding your opening comment about pre-written obituaries, a mate used to work for the BBC, where at least one of the news programmes he worked on had something known as ‘the box’. This was a place where obituaries of those who were known to be in ill health were moved to ready for instant retrieval. ‘In the box’ was an in-house euphemism for those considered to be not long for this world. At least one well known figure had been in and out of the box like Curtis Fuller’s trombone slide over a 10 year period. I guess most media operations have got that sort of resource.

  2. I saw Bobby many years ago @ the Village Vanguard for a very memorable and intimate concert with a bottle of champagne……All the resident NY jazz musicians were there on the sidelines “Bobbing” their heads to the beat. I even met Lorraine Gordon (Alfred’s former wife) on my way to the bathroom, she was very down to earth and friendly. Such artistry and passion was to be felt that night in that little room that I will never forget it. An unbelievable performance and afterwards he was such a gracious person posing for photos with us after his two hour performance!…..Bobby’s musik was so influential in my life, a real artist.

  3. I purchased my own copy of Stick Up in Tokyo in 2010, on a holiday detour in search of then currently harder to find Blue Notes on CD. I came back with Horace Parlan’s ‘Movin’ & Groovin’; Street Of Dreams; Fred Jackson’s Hootin’ & Tootin’ amongst others, having deliberated hard to decide on my final purchase list. Despite being on it, Stick Up has been somewhat neglected on my system- perhaps because it is a more complex listen.
    My introduction to Bobby Hutcherson was via the wonderful ‘Mode For Joe’ from Joe Henderson’s album of the same name, which I heard on a Gilles Peterson broadcast sometime in the ’90s. I love that track and have been seeking a Hutcherson contribution to match it ever since, without success.

  4. He played on Big John Patton’s “Let ‘Em Roll”, the only organ-jazz record I own and a supremely satisfying listen.

  5. OK, LJC, another Bobby Hutcherson StoneColdClassic ™

    except its not a Bobby H. record

    McCoy Tyner, @ the peak of his early ’70’s acoustic fusion powers

    Astonishing: powerful instrumental voices, intense modal performances, lush arrangements, irrestibile rhythm grooves. ‘Over the Rainbow’, the McCoy: Bobby duet: worth getting for this alone

    The whole thing kills, e.g. the front line of Azar Lawrence vs Gary Bartz. But check out the way Bobby is always adding to the music without getting in McCoy’s way, in particular his harmonic knowledge & use of space in his playing. He makes everybody sound better, especially McCoy. Like Miles, he ‘opened up’ the music, airing it out.

    This, ‘Enlightenment’ & ‘Atlantis’ were McCoy’s apogee in the ’70’s – but Bobby Hutcherson MADE ‘Sama Layuca’ – one of McCoy’s v best [&, not as exhausting as the other two]

    Check it out.

    [final post in this thread-apologies-I’m the biggest Bobby Hutcherson fan in the Southern Hemisphere]

  6. My favorite Hutcherson’s contributions:

    Jackie Mclean – Destination Out (a killer! My first proper introduction to vibes, but what a revelation)
    Grachan Moncur – Evolution
    Eric Dolphy – Out to Lunch

    To be honest I am not familiar with his work as a leader (oops).
    Which of his Blue Note albums (mentioned above) is in the same league?


    • And don’t forget Andrew Hill’s JUDGEMENT. Hill wrote three of the tracks on Hutcherson’s DIALOGUE and played piano. Hutcherson returned the favour and played vibes on Hill’s record. They were recorded a year or so apart — but belong together in anyone’s collection.

  7. The loss of Bobby Hutcherson is a great loss to improvised creative music. His albums have been on my turntable even more than usual since hearing of his passing. Last week I made a nice score of Grant Green’s Street of Dreams on an original Liberty RVG mono and I fear damaging it for how often I’ve been playing it. It arrived on my door step the day of Rudy Van Gelder’s passing. Having only had that album as part of the Larry Young Mosiac set on cd, the difference in sound quality is amazing. A great tribute to the folks playing and recording, now all in heaven.

  8. Sadly, another Hutcherson I don’t have but would like. I also have a secret hankering for HAPPENINGS.

    To the best of my knowledge I have never even heard STICK UP in its entirety. Henderson sounds in superb form. His Rivers-esque use of overblowing and accidentals on the sample you provide is masterful.

  9. Only recently I acquired his album ‘Enjoy The View’, which was his final recording unless I am mistaken, which features organist Joey Defrancesco. It is a fine album and got me thinking about how wonderful his career has been and how many treasured albums in my collection have his playing on them. ‘San Fransisco’. ‘Spiral’ and ‘The Kicker’ get many spins in my household, as do the McLean LPs he appears on. His unique contributions to ‘Out To Lunch’ and Moncur’s ‘Evolution’ are no less than visionary. ‘Stick-Up’ is another example of the man’s versatility and supreme musicianship. His place among the giants is assured.

  10. Andy, you’ve scooped me because I too was planning Stick Up! as a tribute posting on my blog. Maybe I’ll stick to plan A or maybe I’ll choose another.

    My copy also has the Van Gelder stamps. This was the Hutcherson record I choose to put on the turntable when I heard the news of his death and your selection of Verse is my favourite track from the LP. That’s not to say that other cuts on the album aren’t excellent – I like the rollicking version of Coleman’s Una Muy Bonita and 8/4 Beat has a melody that is really hard to get out of your head once you’ve heard it.

    But you already know that I’m a huge Hutcherson fan. For me he dragged the vibes into the 1960s and beyond with his only latter day competitor on the instrument being Gary Burton. Moreover, he wasn’t just a vibes player because some of his most haunting work was done on marimba. The run of Blue Note LPs from Dialogue through to later outings like San Francisco and Montana was of a consistently excellent standard. And that’s true even if you miss out the unreleased at the time sessions like Spiral, Patterns and Oblique.

    My parting shot is that Hutcherson’s partnership with Harold Land was one of the jazz high points of the late 1960s and the latter’s Argo LP The Peacemaker is a forgotten classic.

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