Jazz vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson died on August 15, 2016, at age 75. Vibist Stefon Harris has referred to Hutcherson as “by far the most harmonically advanced person to ever play the vibraphone.”
Hutcherson was born in Los Angeles on Jan. 17, 1941. He took piano lessons as a child, but after hearing a recording of Milt Jackson he bought a vibraphone. His early work included gigs with Eric Dolphy and Charles Lloyd, and he made his recording debut with Les McCann in 1961. In 1962 he went to New York with a band led by tenor saxophonist Billy Mitchell and trombonist Al Grey. After that group broke up Hutcherson stayed in New York. For a while, he made his living driving a taxi, but after appearing on saxophonist Jackie McLean’s album One Step Beyond, on which the vibes were the only chordal instrument, he was able to make his living as a musician.
Besides playing and recording with other artists, he began releasing albums as a leader, including Dialogue in 1965 and Stick-Up! in 1966. He eventually released more than 40 albums and appeared on several albums now regarded as classics, including Out to Lunch by Dolphy, Mode for Joe by Joe Henderson, and Ethiopian Knights by Donald Byrd. Hutcherson was affiliated with Blue Note Records from 1963 to 1977 along with such artists as pianist Andrew Hill and McLean. He also worked with such hard-bop players as saxophonist Dexter Gordon, and he later delved into jazz-funk and Afro-Latin tunes.
He returned to California in 1967 and began working with tenor saxophonist Harold Land. Among the recordings they made was “Ummh,” a funk shuffle that became a crossover hit in 1970 and was later sampled by rapper Ice Cube. After his tenure on Blue Note, Hutcherson released albums on Columbia, Landmark and other labels, working with McCoy Tyner and Sonny Rollins. He appeared onscreen in the 1986 film Round Midnight with Gordon and pianist Herbie Hancock. Hutcherson was a founding member of the SFJazz Collective, for whom he played, composed, and arranged from 2004 to 2007. He was named a National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master in 2010 for his lifetime of contributions to the art form. He returned to Blue Note in 2014 to release a soul-jazz album, Enjoy the View, with saxophonist David Sanborn and other collaborators.