As Bobby Hutcherson’s all-star band lays a sizzling foundation behind him, the vibist hits a delightful three-note blues lick, and likes it so much that he plays it again and again. The last time, he hits it so hard that he sends one of his red mallet tips flying into the crowd, which loves it.
The 43-year-old seems to spread his entire upper body over the vibes in fashioning his full-flavored sound. The momentum of his solo grows as he rumbles some quick, octave rolls. At times, it seems as if he ’s going to fall over the front of his instrument as his arms come sweeping across his body in a broad follow-through and he appears to leave the ground completely. Sometimes he’ll have his mallets in the air, poised to play, but will then decide
Hutcherson ’s eyes are soft and gentle, but they focus in sharply on everything going on around him on stage. He accepts applause from the crowd with a sheepish nod, like, “Yeah, I know, but
don ’t cheer too much or you’II miss part of the next solo. ” He steps back from the vibes as he ﬁnishes his choruses, yet keeps his eyes on the bars, seeming to savor the musical terrain he’s just traveled.
Bobby Hutcherson refers to himself as a “street musician, ” although it’s obviously been years since he’s had to pull his vibes out on the sidewalk. He was walking down a Southern California
sidewalk at the age of 13 when he heard some hip jazz coming out of a record store, and fell in love with the sound of Milt Jackson’s vibes. Any hope of getting Bobby to be a doctor, lawyer, or
preacher vanished as he heard the beautiful, wavering vibrato of Jackson’s Deagans. The fact that Hutcherson has been one of the most innovative and elegant vibists in the business since the early ’60s sort ofmakes you believe that fate had something to do with him hearing that record.
Hutcherson recorded his ﬁrst Blue Note album as a leader in 1965, titled Dialogue. That was also the year he took to doubling on marimba, an instrument that hadn’t been brought out in jazz, previously, but that Bobby made ﬁt so well. He recorded 15 albums as leader with Blue Note over a 12-year span. His two-year partnership with tenor saxman Harold Land resulted in the albums San Francisco and Total Eclipse (with Chick Corea). He contributed to McCoy Tyner’s Time for Tyncr and Sama Layuca, Dexter Gordon ’s The Sophisticated Giant, and Eric Dolphy’s Out To Lunch and Iron Man. He was signed to CBS records and continued putting out albums showing off his masterful rhythmic and melodic improvisation skills, including Highway One, Conception: The Gift Of Love, and Un Poco Loco.
The ﬁrst album Bobby released after sustaining a serious injury to his right index finger in 1981 was one of his most adventurous, Solo/Quartet. Side One features only Hutcherson, accompanying himself with vibraphone, marimba, bass mariinba, chimes, xylophone, bells, and boobam. Side Two features McCoy Tyner Billy Higgins, and Bobby ’s friend since junior high school on bass, Herbie Lewis. Hutcherson can also be heard performing with longtime associate Herbie Hancock on the I983 release Jazz At The Opera House, and is featured on the Timeless Allstars release of the same year with Harold Land, Curtis Fuller, Cedar Walton, Buster Williams and Billy Higgins.
When we met, Hutcherson had just finished assembling some of the world ’s ﬁnest jazz musicians in the San Francisco area to do the premiere release on a new jazz label. Having recorded some 20 albums as leader over a 20- year period, Hutcherson remains one of
the freshest and mosl contemporary players on the scene—one who truly is timeless.
RT: Tell me about the recording you’re doing with your new band.
BH: Orrin Keepnews and l have been working on an album for about a year, talking about it and slowly working up to it. We finished it last week. We had Philly Joe Jones come out, who at his
age… No, I’m not even going to say at his age, man. He’s the greatest drummer. You know, I’ve worked with a lot of drummers, and l have to say right now that Philly Joe is the baddest drummer on the scene today. He’s unbelievable. He coils like a snake, and all of a sudden, he’ll strike and do some of the most unbelievable things. He can play real soft, and he can play loud when he wants to. People think he plays loud, but it‘s not the loudness; it’s the dynamics that he moves from. Ray Drummond was on bass, George Cables was on piano, and Branford Marsalis also played. I wasn’t aware that Branford was into playing as much tenor as he is. I thought he was always playing alto. But he sounds pretty good on tenor saxophone and soprano. So we did some Monk things, a tune that I wrote, and some standards. Musically, it was a well-rounded situation. We recorded for two days at Fantasy, and it’s going to come out on a new label that Orrin is about to start called Landmark Records. He plans on putting out about seven albums this year. It’s going to be good.
At the same time that I was doing my album, John Hicks was in town. John is signed with Theresa Records, which is run by Allan Pittman over in the Oakland hills. John came out with ldris Muhammad on drums, Walter Booker on bass, and Elise Wood. who manages him and also plays ﬂute. I went down and worked with them at Hop Sing‘s in Venice [California], then we went to Las Vegas and played, and then we came back here. While I was recording my album at Fantasy, they were working here in San Francisco at Kimballs. Then I joined them, and we recorded here in town at Bear West Studios. So we did that album. and now I‘ve got a day off. [laughs] Actually, John Hicks and I went up to Sacramento on Saturday and performed at Sacramento University. That was recorded, and then on Sunday we recorded at Bach Dynamite
And Dancing Society, so part of John‘s album may be live from some of those things. I haven‘t heard the tapes but I know some of them turned out pretty well. Who knows? So things have been very, very busy for me, which is good. Jazz musicians aren‘t usually busy.
RT: Speaking of Philly Joe again fora minute, I had never seen him play live before, He doesn’t play like anyone else.
BH: No, no, no. He’s gorgeous. He‘s as relaxed as anyone I‘ve ever seen behind the drums, and anything comes out of him at any time. The hippest thing is his groove on that cymbal. The cymbal is just going “sssss shlihhhhlihhhhh.” And within that. you hear the stick contact the cymbal. That’s slick.
RT: He mixes up so many rhythms inside of one phrase, but it still ﬂows.
BH: lf you don‘t count while he’s playing, you’ll be in such a hole. A lot of times, when a drummer plays a solo, the construction of the tune is dropped. The drummer just plays a solo and then does something to bring you back into the tune. You don‘t do that with Philly Joe. He‘ll turn to you and say, “I’ll take two choruses.” or “I‘ll take three choruses.“ And whatever you do. you better count, because when he comes out of it, there’s the tune. And that’s what makes it sound so good, because he’s ended his phrase and the band all comes in and hits it together. Very few drummers play like that,
RT: You’re exciting in a similar way to Joe, because you take chances. Do you ever get nervous before you play?
BH: Sure. That’s part of the excitement of playing–gets that adrenaline flowing, you know. And you never know what you might do; you might mess up or something. It’s always exciting, so you always get nervous about that.
RT: People don’t really care if you always play the “right notes.” They like the adventure of hearing somebody go out on a limb.
BH: And that’s the scary thing–going out there and then getting back in. Yeah, I really enjoy it. Every time I play, I get nervous, because I want it to go well. I think I you don‘t get nervous, then
it’s no fun anymore.
RT: I really like those last two albums I u did with Woody Shaw on Elektra/Musician.
BH: A lot of that happened at a time when we were real tired. We were getting ready to go to Japan. We recorded live at this really nice club, that has since closed down. The club had a nice brick wall. That‘s really important. As soon as I walk into a club, I always look to see how it‘s built, so I can ﬁgure out what‘s going to happen with the sound, because my sound is so light. I don’t have much volume; I‘m not a loud player.
RT: Are you electronically hooked up?
BH: No. I know a lot of vibists are doing that, butt l have a hard time really doing that. Even though I don‘t have much volume, you always hear me hitting the note, before you hear the note. I hold the mallet on the end, so it builds up velocity as it‘s going to hit. You hear the “thump,” and then you hear the note. So because of that, the pickups always catch the contact of the mallet.
RT: You hold the mallets further down than most vibists.
BH: Yeah, and I use long mallets. They‘re 13 or 14 inches from the end of the ball.
RT: Are those made specially for you?
BH: Well, the Musser company puts out a mallet that‘s endorsed by me—the Bobby Hutcherson mallet. But the guy who originally started the Good Vibes company, Bill Marimba, sold his company to Musser and Ludwig. I think he‘s living in India. He’s one of those cats who will go up on the mountain and pray for a while. So when the Musser company took it over, they made the heads of the mallets too hard, I still use a lot of their stuff, but I‘ll switch the balls over to make sure they‘re irom the old Bill Marimba days. I just started a new endorsement with a company, and they‘re going to give me a new Vibraphone and a new marimba. I‘ll get the mallets corrected the way they’re supposed to be.
RT: You like the mallets with some ﬂexability in them.
BH: Yeah, they have to bend.
RT: I saw one of the heads break off, and it ﬂew out into the crowd.
BH: [laughs] “Wow. look at that guy! He‘s really playing hard.“ That happened twice that night. That‘ the danger of putting another head on the mallet. I didn‘t glue it with really good glue. You could really hurt somebody. Those balls could kill you. There‘s a round piece of hard rubber under there. and it‘ it gets to be a really fast-moving projectile, you‘re in trouble.
RT: Maybe you should warn people when you play. [laughs]
BH: Back! Everybody a hundred yards back!
RT: Are you at liberty to say what kind of vibes you’re going to be playing:
BH: Yeah, I‘m going to be playing Musser, if they‘ll hurry up and send them. It seems like it‘s taken a year to work out the paperwork on the endorsement.
RT: Are you switching from Deagan?
BH: Well, for now. I really like the Deagan people. They‘re the ones who’ve given me the instruments. The only thing is, it usually takes me about six months to start to get the sound out of a new instrument. It‘s like taking a girl out. You might not even kiss on the ﬁrst date. You have to get to know her lirst. And this is how the vibes are.
RT: But the Mussers are a little better?
BH: You’ll get more sound at first, butt you still won‘t get exactly what you want. You‘ll get a little more volume. The notes of each one are made differently. The Deagans are thick and long, and the Mussers are wider and thinner. I think that has something to do with it. Mr. Musser used to work for Mr. Deagan. He saved a few bucks and started his own company. Then he sold it to Mr.
Ludwig. William Ludwig Ill is now running Ludwig, and he‘s trying some new ideas.
RT: Leonard Feather once described your playing as “Freedom judiciously aligned with discipline.”
BH: I think that‘s good, because I do try a lot of different things. but within a structure. I‘m trying to keep my mind constantly on the song. My ﬁrst responsibility is to the song—to the tune we‘re
playing. Whatever I play must have something to do with the melody of the tune. I think it’s good for people who play mus to have several ideas going in their mind at the same time. A lot of people will say, “Hey, that sounds hard.” But actually they‘re usually doing several things at one time: They‘re listening to me. they’re moving their legs, they‘re eating some food, they’re breathing. . . you know what I‘m saying? They‘re natural doing several things. So the thing is to put these things into one category: music. Get up on the bandstand and concentrate on all the musical things at one time. It’s really not that hard. We‘ve got to learn to use our minds more, and be tuned in to all the things going on that the mind is picking up. So when you‘re playing, you want to think about disciplining yourself to a phrase; you want to think about a harmonic structure; you want to think about an idea that you‘re going to explore; you want to think about keeping the time together; you want to think about your dynamics; you want to think about tension and release. All these thoughts should be coming through you. Also, if you noticed, Philly Joe was talking to me a lot on the bandstand. That means that all those thoughts have to
be going through you, and at the same time you have to be able to help somebody else if that person asks you a question.
Always keep your eyes open I hate to see musicians play looking down at the ﬂoor, especially it they’re in the rhythm section. I‘ve had so many musicians come tip to me and say, “Hey so-and-so was rushing. It wasn‘t my fault; it was is fault.“ Well, first of all, I don‘t think tempo should be counted off. Symphony conductors do not say “One two three four.” They just bring up their hands and the orchestra starts. When they bring up their hands, that gives you the tempo. If they raise them slower, it’s a slower tempo, you know. I think it’s very childish for a band to say, “One, two, one two three four.” When I have to, I have to. But I’ll just start playing, and expect the band to come in. I’d love for them to come in on the second beat, but if not, then they should come in by the end of the bar because they should definitely hear where the tempo is by that point.
If you remember Miles’ later bands, Miles never counted the tempos off. He’d just play, and the tempo would vary from night to night. It’s the immediate thrust out of the gate that shows where the tempo should be sitting. But if the band is so locked into playing this one tune at the same tempo, that stops a whole lot of freedom. They lock themselves into this thing: “Okay, here’s this tune. We play it at this tempo and that’s how it’s going to be.” No. What decides the tempo is the tune that happened before, because everything is tension and release. To release the thing that happened from the last tune, you have to either take a deep breath in, or let a deep breath out. If the last tempo was tension, then this next empo is going to be release. You’ve got to understand that everything is tension and release. A tune goes faster and slower. It’s like a race. A horse starts a race, and at the start he’s going fast. As he hits the backstretch of the track, he settles into a groove; the tempo has changed. And as he’s coming down the homestretch, he’s giving it all he’s got. That’s just how a song should be, man. And people don’t understnad that, as you’re coming into the last eight bars of the tune, you’re kicking down the track with all you’re worth. So the tempo does not stay steady. Musicians who sit down and look at the floor and play “one, two theree, four” –they blow it.
RT: They’re not allowing the human thing to happen.
BH: Right. They’re not allowing the humaness to play a apart in the music. Everything that grooves does that. I mean, look at the way the earth revolves around the sun: One part of the day is long and one part of the day is short. If we’re in tune with our universe, then music is certainly in tune with that. So we should be checking that out, in order to be able to understand how to play tempos.
RT: What was Philly Joe saying to you up on the bandstand?
BH: Several things. We had made a program of what we were going to play, but he said, “Bobby, you’re going to have to change it right now, because I’m going to have to work on my hi-hat cymbals; I messed them up. I was to fix my cymbals so we’ll be ready for this song after that.” Also he was remarking about one time when I was getting ready to hit a lick on the vibes and I telegraphed it with my foot. I played the lick with my foot, so he played the same lick with me after he saw it. Then he noticed one place where the tempo had accelerated. it had sped up too much on one song, and it didn’t settle back down to the other tempo. At that point, he was telling me the reason why it happened, and how he was going to fix it. “On the recording date, to stop that from happening, I’ll do this and I’ll do this.” He said that if the tempo just kept getting faster, he would have to play with heavy accents on the bass drum. Then everything would get together.
He said. “Now watch, on the next tune I‘ll play a little louder on my bass drum, and the tempos the rest of the night won‘t go faster.” I said, “Okay Joe, let me see.” So I could hear his bass drum a little bit louder. After the tempos settled back down again he said, “Now I don‘t have to play my bass drum the rest of the night.” He‘s like a doctor. He knows what to do in that sort of situation.
RT: I‘ve heard the story about you walking by a music store, hearing a Milt Jackson record, and falling in love With the Vibes.
BH: That‘s true. That’s how I started.
RT: What was it about Milt Jackson‘s playing that inspired you so much?
BH: I never heard anyone so flawless, who grooved so heavy. I mean, he could get such a heavy groove out of one note that it was unbelievable. His sound was unbelievable He wouldn t even be playing any really hard stuff. It would just be so logical and beautiful, you know. Plus, he made me feel like I had money in my pocket. I felt rich when I heard him. I said, “Hey, that’s cool. I told my friend Herbie Lewis that I was going to get some vibes, and he said, “Well, if you get some vibes, you can be in our group. So I worked with my father, who was a brick mason, every summer and bought a set of vibes. Then I started playing in their group. We started playing school assemblies and talent things. Next, we started playing dances. Then we met this kid from Glendale named Terry Trotter, and he told us, “You guys have got to start learning
your chords.” We were only playing from remembering what note was next—this note, then this note. We would play, really, by ear. So he started teaching us our chords and stuﬂ‘, and we started practicing real hard in the garage. The next thing we knew, Charles Lloyd was playing with us in the band. We played at a little coffee house called Pandora’s Box. This was back in the ’50s, during the beatnik era. Then we would leave there after the club closed and go out to a jam session that would start at 2:00 AM. After that jam session, we‘d go to one that would start at six o‘clock. In order to get up on the bandstand and play, you had to know a whole lot of tunes. You had to have at least 100 tunes that you could play, because anybody might call any tune. My sister had a boyfriend named Billy Mitchell, who used to play with Count Basie‘s band.
Billy and Al Grey had just left Count. They came out to Los Angeles and were looking for a piano player to play with their group, but they couldn‘t ﬁnd one, so Billy asked me ifl could comp on the vibes. I said yeah. So we played at the Workshop in San Francisco. Then I went back to Los Angeles and he went to New York. He called me about a week later and said, “Listen, we‘re
going to open at Birdland opposite Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers. Do you want to come to New York?” And that was it. Then it started sailing.
RT: I recently saw Terry Trotter playing with Larry Carlton.
BH: Terry Trotter sure did teach me a lot. I love that guy. I used to get together with Herbie Lewis in my garage to play. Also, Spencer Dryden from the Jefferson Airplane, a guy named Terry Jennings, and Charles Lloyd all used to come over to my garage. Terry Trotter taught me all my chords and scales. We used to go over to his house and listen to records. He taught me how to sit down quietly, put the music on, and listen to a musician‘s personality.
RT: How old were you then?
BH: That started when I was 15, and went on until I was about 18. Terry Trotter had a lot to do with my studies. He really gave me a good approach: Think music all the time, and live it. Go to as many places and buy as many records as you can. That is very important. I really feel weird that Terry didn’t go out into jazz like he could have, because he was remarkable. I haven’t seen him in years. Herbie Lewis and l were always trying to help him not feel intimidated. He was always trying to be serious, but he was silly. You know the type of cat; he was trying to be serious, but underneath it all, he was laughing at the whole scene. But he did have a lot to do with my career, and Herbie Lewis’. He really taught me how to enjoy practicing. You know, sometimes practicing fora few hours can really be boring, but he showed me how to enjoy it. He talked to us like he was our father: “You‘ve got to do this and this.“
RT: Do you consider yourself a good reader?
BH: Horrible reader. I learned how to read from doing it. If I read all the time, my reading would be great. But in my musical situations l don‘t come across reading that much. If I was back in New York, I would have to read more. Just the other day, John Hicks handed me a tune he had written. I mean, every chord had a thousand notes in it. He handed it to me and said, “Well. Bobby, you‘ll get right through this.” I said, “Looking at all these lines and dots, the music‘s just going to come out in spots.“ But I read it. Vibes is a difﬁcult instrument to read on too, so you have to recognize phrases and rhythms right away.
RT: l read that you had studied vibes “informally” with Dave Pike. What does that mean?
BH: That‘s what I want to know. What does that mean? [laughs] Well. when Herbie Lewis and I first went out and started listening to music, we saw Dave Pike at the V.F.W. hall in Pasadena. In
fact. that was the first time I ever heard Billy Higgins. Billy was just a teenager. Paul Bley was in the band, and Charlie Haden was too. Dave became my hero because he had all the hip guys in the band, he wrapped his own mallets, he could play on the chord changes, and he had a nice set of vibes. I thought that was hip. Then I went over to his club in LA. called the Hillcrest, and Dave would be over there playing with Billy and Charlie Haden. Ornette Coleman would come in, and Don Cherry would play—all the cats. So finally walked up to Dave and said, “Hey Dave, I play vibes too.“ He said, “Well.” After that warm reception, we really became friends. [laughs] So I started hanging out with him, and I went over to his house. He started showing me some things. I started driving him to gigs and stuff.
RT: It was probably worth it, wasn’t it?
BH: [laughs] Well, Dave said it was.
RT: I‘ve heard people say that you play less like Milt Jackson than any other contemporary vibist. Do you agree with that?
BH: Sometimes I do and sometimes I don‘t. I did an album with John Lewis that came out about a year and a half ago. That was when everybody had broken away from the Modern Jazz Quartet. So the band was called the New Jazz Quartet. Milt and Percy Heath had left, but John Lewis was still getting these offers for these $20,000, $40,000, and $80,000 concerts. He called me up and said they needed someone who could do things like Milt, and that they would pay me $20,000 per concert. I said, “I’m your man. Don‘t worry, I’ll be there. Say no more. I’m practicing his licks right now.”
RT: So you can sound like Milt.
BH: Oh yeah. If you hear this record you won‘t believe it. Every now and then I break away, because I can‘t control that train of thought the way he can. I mean, what he does is amazing. He has a thing where he’ll play a line that goes up this far, then he‘ll answer the line and play exactly what he just played backwards. It’s not until you dissect it that you can really check it out. “Wow, that’s what he did.“ He‘s got perfect pitch and a remarkable memory. He answers his lines, and that‘s why he sounds so lyrical. So lots of times I can get into it, but you really have to be him to do that completely. Everybody’s an individual, but I can, at times, do something close to what he does. So we did the album, and after that, John Lewis‘ wife said, “Hey John, Bobby can make these concerts, and we don’t have to turn this money down.“ So he said, “Yeah, hey.“ A year and a half ago when the MJQ played at Davies Hall here, I was supposed to make that. But Milt got word of this and decided to cancel a few of his other gigs so he could make that $20,000. And I don’t blame him. That’s big bread. man.
RT: You studied piano when you were very young, but that didn‘t last too long, did it?
BH: My aunt was a Baptist preacher/mystic/piano teacher. Now her son plays organ and does a lot of singles things in hotels. So I used to study with her. I went to Sunday school after a couple of lessons, and my mother told the people at Sunday school that I could play. They made me get up on the piano, but I couldn‘t play. That really stopped me from wanting to learn to play. I was all embarrassed. [laughs] But we always had a piatio in the house. My sister was a singer, and she used to date Eric Dolphy. She also went out with Gerald Wilson.
RT: You played on Eric Dolphy‘s Out To Lunch album.
BH: I had known Erie for a long time. I had an older brother who went to school with Dexter Gordon. Dexter used to babysit me, and he was playing then. So I had music all around me. When my sister started singing. Sonny Clarke was in town playing piano. My father rented an auditorium in Pasadena and she gave a concert. Oscar Pettiford was on bass, Sonny Clarke on piano, and Bill Douglass played drums. There was music around us all the time. I just didn‘t take to the piano because it was forced on me. but the piano was there. After my big traumatic experience at church playing piano, I started just sitting down and playing a little, listening
to all the things that were going on. And that really got me into it.
Then I heard the record “Bemsha Swing.” with Monk, Percy Heath, Kenny Clarke, Milt Jackson, and Miles Dayis. l was walking down the street, heard that, and that did it. I said, “That‘s what I want to do.“ It was weird for a kid of 13 to buy a record like that. It was dtiring the summertime, and I just sat in my room playing the record all day for days and days. I just couldn‘t believe that somebody could make me feel like I was walking down the street. l could just sit there and trip. They released that song again on the album called The Giants Of Jazz. That’s what started me getting into it—really catapulted me.
When I started playing with Eric, that‘s when the music started getting free. At that point Andrew Hill was recording ti lot for Blue Note, and Andrew wanted me to start doing some stuff with him. I was doing some different things with Jackie McLean, and with Eric. So I had become the new avant-garde vibist in town. Still my roots were in bebop. but I was enjoying playing this freer music. So l met Archie Shepp and started working with him. That‘s when we went to Newport and did The New Thing there with Archie Shepp and ‘Trane. Everything just started blossoming and falling into place. I started recording my own albums on Blue Note. I met Herbie Hancock in New York. Herbie played a few gigs with Al Grey and Billy Mitchell’s band. Donald Byrd was in the band a few times. Once you got back there and started working, you could meet everybody. So it was the perfect situation for me.
RT: When did you sign with CBS Records?
BH: In 1977. I was there for four years. I was released right when everybody got released. They only kept a few people. Freddie Hubbard, Stan Getz and Tony Williams were released. So many people were released, and it happened at the same time as the crunch in this country. Money became so tight that they couldn’t hold everything together.
RT: I think the last album you did for CBS, Un Poco Loco, was one of your best albums.
BH: Yeah, I thought it was a great album, but that doesn’t mean anything. The president of Columbia might have that album on a tape in his car and he might listen to it in his bathtub. But unless that album sold 100,000 copies . . . Those stockholders want to see some bucks, and 35,000 albums sold don’t mean a thing compared to how much those rock albums sell. So goodbye Bobby Hutcherson. And it’s a great album. There are all kinds of different music on that album–old bebop, new bebop, all kinds of different time signatures, different combinations. That doesn’t mean anything. I like going with smaller record companies. Those are the people who really do it because they love the music, not because they’re looking to make a million dollars.
RT: This may not be a good memory for you, but I know a couple of years ago you had an accident.
BH: When I cut my finger off? Yeah. It was during the weekend I was working at the Keystone. I got up that morning to cut the grass. Freddie Waits, the drummer, was over at the house. I was out there cutting the lawn and some grass got on the side of the lawn mower. I stuck my hand down there and saw the tip of my finger fly through the air. I took it in the house, washed it off, jumped in the car and went to the hospital. They sewed it back on, man! The guy in microsurgery sewed it back on. And that’s when I did this album here [Solo/Quartet], because the cat said I’d be lucky if I ever played again. he said that I wouldn’t be able to feel where I hold the mallet. So I wanted to do something that would be really hard just to show my appreciation for my finger being back on. So I tried something all by myself on side one. I want to do something like that side again. That album was one of the crossroads in my life.
RT: Do you work with four mallets much?
BH: I used to play with four mallets when I first went back to New York with Al Brey and Billy Mitchell. They asked me to take the place of the piano. That’s how I was going to get the job. So at 19 I went back to playing four mallets. I played four mallets with Jackie McLean and with Eric. Then I became involved again in just playing two mallets, because of the swinging part of it. I enjoyed that. I still play four mallets every now and then.
RT: Is it easier to swing just playing two mallets?
BH: Yeah. Swinging is a swing. Swinging is a pendulum, and a pendulum is a pendulum in each hand–one pendulum.
RT: Does playing with four mallets make you think more technically?
BH: Sure, because you’ve got to think about the other mallet that’s going to come down.
RT: How do you decide whether you’re going to play vibes or marimba on a certain song or with a certain artist?
BH: The tune; the situation.
RT: Your marimba playing on Larry Vuckovich’s stuff sounds great.
BH: Yeah, that worked out real well. You’ve got to be aggressive on that instrument or else it sounds really corny. You’ve got to think of your attitude–of what you’re doing. It just happened that my type of playing on the marimba fit in with what he was doing. I didn’t have to think about it; I just heard the music and it went right in. I’m lucky like that. I think a lot of time I can adapt myself to different situations, maybe because of the way I was brought up–listening a lot. It’s very important to listen when you’re coming up. You have to learn how to listen, to understand the different nuances that are contained within a certain thing that creates that feeling. You have to understand how to create an attitude. That’s why you hear a lot of people play music, but even though you hear them play a certain style, it still doesn’t sound right. They might play all the notes, but for some reason that attitude isn’t there. You’ve got to learn how to listen, and then you have to live that style. Say you hear some people who have an urgency in their playing. They’re not just playing fast; playing fast isn’t urgency. It has to come from inside. And the person who masters all those things is really a great musician. Thew people who master how to e subtle, the people who master how to be ferocious, the people who master how to have that humility–those are the great players because they understand those different emotions within themselves. It’s not just the note; it'[s the way that note comes about, because each note becomes a concert itself. Then it’s the space between the notes.
RT: I enjoy listening to players who know how to use space when they play.
BH: yeah. Space gives you , as a listener, a chance to imaging. You say, “Hey, there are a lot of possibilities in that.” When you’re listening to somebody, you’ll find yourself almost playing the solo in your mind. You’re playing the different possibilities of what might happen. So the space gives you a chance to breathe, relax, and think about what might happen. You know, it’s a little guessing game there.
RT: Do you have certain ideas about working with pianists–of staying out of each others way?
BH: Well, if you’re going to stay out of the way, you shouldn’t be up on the bandstand. The thing is to get together. If you have to stay out of the way, then there’s something wrong. Staying out of the way means that there’s something there that you don’t want to bet into, or you have no thought about that, or you don’t enjoy that thought. It should be where everything you hear makes you feel, “Ooohh, I’ve just got to get some of that,” you know. It’s all about relating, communication, desire, respect, honesty, and being willing to change–being willing to say to yourself, “Maybe I’m not right about everything. Let me see if I can do something else.” Give a little bit; don’t take so much. Being able to say, “Well what do you think I should do?” Being able to say something like that helps in playing with somebody.
RT: Is the vibes a very physical instrument?
BH: Oh yeah. It’s nice that it’s physical. We’re making love up there and everybody gets to look.
RT: It’s that personal a thing?
BH: Oh yeah.
RT: Rosemary helped set up the interview today. Is she helping you with your business affairs?
BH: She’s my friend, my wife, my lover, the person I talk to, the person I laugh with, and the person I get mad at. This whole thing is shared. She’s my manager; she takes care of the family; she helps me get ready; she makes me feel good when I’m down. We share this whole experience together, and that’s nice, because a lot of musicians don’t get a chance to share the whole thing with their spouses. She can tell me what’s going wrong, and she can speak honestly with me. If I don’t like it I get mad, but we share everything. I don’t say, “Okay, I’m going to party now. I’ll see you later.” We go together. She can tell you what I’m going to be doing every day for the next two months. She’s a real good friend, and that’s the most important jthing. That makes the love really great. We have so many things in common to talk about, and it has to do with pushing ahead and going forward with what we’re dealing with. And we have great kids.
RT: To me, you’re one of these players who always sounds so current–so contemporary.
BH: It’s important to keep things fresh. You can’t live on looking back, that’s for sure. See the thing is, it’s got to do with my surroundings. You play your environment, so it’s got to be contemporary. You are what you are, so it’s got to be that way.
RT: Are there any young players who really excite you with their playing?
BH: I’m going to be honest. Not yet, no. There’s something that they must go through that I will have to hear before I can get excited. I enjoy hearing players who have their own signature on it. I like that. That’s very important. It’s very important to have your own sound. That way, you have your own product for sale that nobody else can duplicate.