Bobby Hutcherson, a vibraphonist whose improvising and composition helped to define modernity for jazz as a whole, has died. He had long struggled with emphysema. He was 75.
As a mallet percussionist, he expanded the scope of what was possible on his instrument. And the sound he created was widely influential.
It was a far cry from his first public performance. Inspired by pioneering jazz vibraphonist Milt Jackson, a teenaged Hutcherson formed a band with his friend from school, bassist Herbie Lewis. Hutcherson hadn’t taken any lessons, but Lewis marked up the vibraphone with which notes to play and when.
It was a system that worked great in practice — but then they entered a contest … in front of people. Here’s how Bobby Hutcherson told the story to NPR in 2001.
And the stage manager comes out and he says, ‘Oh Bobby, by the way, I saw a bunch of black stuff all written all over your bars, so I took a nice wet cloth, and I wiped it.’ I said, ‘No you didn’t! You didn’t do that!’ ‘Yes I did!’ The curtain opens, you know, and there’s my parents looking, ‘That’s our son!’ I think I hit the first two notes and the rest was complete chaos.
He signed up for lessons after that.