Music Interviews
4:36 pm
Sat June 21, 2014

Bobby Hutcherson's Good Vibes For Fiery Times

Originally published on Sat June 21, 2014 5:19 pm

The vibraphone is a special instrument. That spooky, smoky, sparkling sound — there's nothing like it. And there's nothing like hearing the vibes played by Bobby Hutcherson.

Hutcherson has covered a lot of ground on his instrument. In the 1950s he was already playing professional gigs, as a teenager. In the '60s, he was a leading light of jazz's avant garde, breaking new ground on some of the most revered LPs issued by Blue Note Records.

Now 73 years old, Bobby Hutcherson has a new album on Blue Note called Enjoy the View. His history with the label goes back to his landmark 1965 debut as a bandleader, Dialogue. The radical music on that album both thrilled and infuriated jazz fans — but Hutcherson says the sound of it came almost naturally from the New York jazz scene in the '60s.

"In New York, you know, there was a big influx of new musicians. There was a lot of history being presented at that time. I mean, you could stop on a street corner and hear Malcolm X," Hutcherson says. "At that time, the music was almost like a newspaper of what was going on in the street."

Especially, Hutcherson says, because restrictive "cabaret card" system for New York performers at the time was driving unlicensed players out of the nightclubs — and into loose, massive jam sessions at the lofts where they lived. Hear the full interview with NPR's Arun Rath at the audio link.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

ARUN RATH, HOST:

Again it's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR West. I'm Arun Rath. The vibraphone. It's a special instrument - that spooky, smokey, sparkling sound. There's nothing like it, and there's nothing like hearing the vibes played by Bobby Hutcherson.

(SOUNDBITE OF BOBBY HUTCHERSON SONG)

RATH: He's covered a lot of ground on his instrument. In the 1950's as a teenager, he was already playing professional gigs. In the sixties he was a leading light of jazz's avant-garde breaking new ground on some of the most feared LPs issued by Blue Note Records.

(SOUNDBITE OF BOBBY HUTCHERSON SONG)

RATH: Now 73 years old, Bobby Hutcherson has a new album, "Enjoy The View," and he's back with Blue Note. His history with the label goes back to his landmark 1965 debut as a bandleader, "Dialogue." The radical music of that album both thrilled and infuriated jazz fans. But Hutchison told me the sound came almost naturally from the New York jazz scene of the 1960.

BOBBY HUTCHERSON: In New York, you know, there was a big influx of new musicians, you know, there was a lot of history being presented at that time. I mean you can stop on the street corner and hear Malcolm X, you know.

RATH: And that's it has this kind of revolutionary sort of feeling to it.

HUTCHERSON: Yeah, well, you know does the revolution that was going on, you know - the Black Panthers. There was of riots and things going on. There was an awful lot of things going on. For the music to describe, you know, because at that time the music was almost like a - it was like a newspaper of what was going on in the streets.

(SOUNDBITE OF BOBBY HUTCHERSON SONG)

HUTCHERSON: And then at that time also a lot of the musicians didn't have what was called a cabaret card, which was a card to be able to play in all the famous nightclubs. So everybody played in the loss that they lived in. Everybody would be standing around waiting to play. You know, those things to happen anymore. You know, is a huge jam session where everybody is waiting to play. And everybody sharing ideas and thoughts. Everybody is listening to the music that they wrote - describing what was going on in the streets.

RATH: So skipping ahead, more than a couple of decades, to the new album. It's called "Enjoy The View." And you're playing with - you have Joey DeFrancesco on organ. One of the tunes on here, "Teddy" is a tune you played in the past. Why is it you two play so well together?

HUTCHERSON: Joey knows how to let the organ surround the vibraphone without overstating it or without drowning it out. He embraces the instrument. He knows how to make the two instruments sound somewhat the same.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TEDDY")

RATH: Another tune on the new album, "Hey Harold" that's a tune that you wrote over 40 years ago. I never heard this officially but I'm assuming that's a shout out to Harold Land, the great saxophonist you were working with at the time.

HUTCHERSON: Yeah. You know, I've always just loved Harold so much. I always wished that he would have got the command and respect from a lot of people that he really deserved. He could play a note and you can say oh that Harold Land right away.

RATH: Having written that tune with Harold Land in mind, what's it like now - now he has passed, to hear David Sanborn playing the tune?

HUTCHERSON: Just because of the tune, it can cause different memories to come up where you say hey remember playing like this. Or hey, I remember feeling this thought, you know. I remember what it felt like when the sun hit me and it was hard and sweat rolled down my face. How it felt having that piece of Apple cobbler with some ice cream on it and the ice cream was stripping down the side of the cup - little bit drip dripped out of the corner of your mouth. Ooh, ooh, boy.

RATH: (Laughing) You're making me hungry.

HUTCHERSON: I going to have go get some cobbler after that. I just described that one so good that I want some myself.

RATH: Me two.

(SOUNDBITE OF BOBBY HUTCHERSON SONG)

RATH: Could I ask you to tell - this is kind of a random story, but this funny story I read about - you had kind of an interesting introduction playing the electric vibes. I think this is in Italy. Can you tell that story?

HUTCHERSON: Yeah. Harold and I were playing one of the first gigs we had was us playing in Verona. And digging company had just given me this electro-vibe. So as we were walking to the soundtrack, Harold and I looked up and I saw a big puff of black smoke over the stage. I said, wow I wonder what that is Harold. And as we walked up to the stage, the electricians and the sound men, you know, they were saying to me they said oh Bobby we're so sorry. We forgot you are 110 and we hooked or 110 up to 220. And it's...

RATH: Higher voltage for Europe.

HUTCHERSON: Yes. And we got a fire here. He said but we put the fire out and forget the soundcheck. We are going to fix your instrument so that it will work and make sure that everything is fine. Just come back for the concert. So we went back to the hotel, and then we come back that night. And in those days I was always full of pranks. And so Harold turns to me and he says Bobby, he says this is some really important concert. He says no pranks, OK. Just let's play the music. I said don't worry. You can count on me. So sound man says, ladies and gentlemen the Bobby Hutchison Harold Land quintet. And he opens the curtain. They plug the instrument in, and the biggest spark and electricity and a huge puff of black smoke goes off. Well, they thought that it was part of the act. And they all went crazy. When crazy. And Harold turns to me says, you said you wouldn't do anything.

(LAUGHTER)

RATH: That's vibraphonist Bobby Hutchison. His new album is called "Enjoy The View". Bobby, it's been a thrill speaking with you. Thank you.

HUTCHERSON: Take care, Arun.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

RATH: And for Saturday that's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR West. I'm Arun Rath. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.