Bobby Hutcherson (born 27 January 1941) is a jazz vibraphone and marimba player.
Hutcherson helped modernize the vibraphone by redefining what could be done with it – sonically, technically, melodically and emotionally – and became one of the defining voices in the so-called ‘new thing’ portion of Blue Note’s 1960s roster.
Born in Los Angeles, Hutcherson took up vibraphone at the age of 12, after abandoning piano lessons. In the 1950s, he started gigging with Eric Dolphy (his sister’s boyfriend) and Charles Lloyd at Pandora’s Box on the Sunset Strip.
In 1960, he joined the Billy Mitchell/Al Grey group and after they played the legendary Birdland club, he remained in New York. There he jammed with some of the best up-and-coming musicians – both hard-boppers like Hank Mobley and Herbie Hancock, and experimentalists such as Jackie Archie Shepp, Andrew Hill and reed player Eric Dolphy.
Hutcherson soon became in demand at recording sessions, mainly for Blue Note, first as sideman then as leader. His recordings included Dolphy’s 1964 masterwork Out to Lunch. His first record as leader was Dialogue in 1965– a classic of modernist post-bop. The 1966 Blue Note session, Stick-Up!, featuring saxophonist Joe Henderson, is also notable, as it was his first recorded session with McCoy Tyner on piano – a partnership that continues today.
In 1967, Hutcherson left New York and returned to the West Coast where he started a quintet co-led by tenor saxophonist Harold Land. They recorded seven albums for Blue Note, featuring a rotating line-up of pianists such as Chick Corea, Stanley Cowell and Joe Sample, and usually Joe Chambers on drums. The quintet disbanded in 1971.
By 1973, Hutcherson had returned to modal bop and formed a new quintet with trumpeter Woody Shaw, which played at the Montreux Jazz Festival that summer. In 1974, he rejoined Land and over the next few years, continued to record for Blue Note. He finally left Blue Note in 1977 and signed with Columbia, where he recorded three albums from 1978 to 1979.
Hutcherson and Land reunited again in the early 1980s for several recordings as the Timeless All Stars, a sextet featuring Curtis Fuller, Cedar Walton, Buster Williams and Billy Higgins. Adding the marimba to his repertoire, Hutcherson remained active throughout the 1980s as both a sideman and leader.
He spent much of the 1990s touring rather than leading sessions. In 1993, he teamed up with McCoy Tyner for the duet album Manhattan Moods, and towards the end of the decade, he signed with Verve and debuted there with Skyline in 1999.
In 2004, Hutcherson became an inaugural member of the SFJAZZ Collective and toured with them for four years. He then led his own quartets later in the decade.
Hutcherson also had brief acting career, including an appearance as the bandleader in They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? (1969) and playing Ace in Round Midnight (1986).
In 1964, he won the DownBeat readers’ poll as Most Deserving of Wider Recognition on his instrument. In 2010, he received the lifetime Jazz Master Fellowship Award from the National Endowment for the Arts.
In this clip, Hutcherson plays one of his best-known compositions – ‘Little B’s Poem’ from his album Components – with Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter and Tony Williams at the 1989 Mount Fuji Jazz Festival.