SAN FRANCISCO—Vibist Bobby Hutcherson seems to belong to no particular era—or, actually, quite a few eras. He is as creative as he is prolific, and after 20 albums for a variety of record companies that‘s saying a lot. His new record, Good Bait, ropes together three generations of jazz musicians and celebrates the arrival of a new jazz label, Orrin Keepnews’ Landmark Records.
It was the sound of Milt Jackson‘s vibes that first enticed the 15-year—old Hutcherson. After a few years of gigging around Los Angeles with the likes of Curtis Amy, Charles Lloyd, and the Al Grey/Billy Mitchell Combo, Hutcherson moved to New York in 1961. He was soon in demand, performing with such cutting-edge stylists as Jackie McLean, Archie Shepp, Andrew Hill, and going Out To Lunch with Eric Dolphy. He signed as a solo artist with Blue Note in 1965, recording with the label until a late ’70s move to CBS.
The vibist was forced out of action in 1981 after a nearly tragic lawn mower accident. Reaching down to clean some grass off the side of his mower, he saw the tip of his right index finger whiz through the air. “I took it in the house, washed it off, jumped in the car and went to the hospital,” the cool—headed one says, “and they sewed it back on with micro—surgery.” A year later he released one of his most ambitious albums, Solo/Quartet. “I wanted to do something really hard to show my appreciation for being able to play again,” he says.
The 44—year-old began working on Good Bait over a year ago, talking to producer Keepnews about concept, personnel, and material. They chose Philly Joe Jones (“The baddest drummer on the scene today,” according to Hutcherson), the ever-underrated George Cables on piano, Ray Drummond to anchor bass, and Branford Marsalis on saxes. “I wasn’t aware that Branford was into playing as much tenor as he is,” says the leader. “He sounds good on tenor and soprano on the record.”
Keepnews, who had worked with Hutcherson on several McCoy Tyner records in the ’60s, was pleased to feature the vibist on his label’s debut. “I feel that Bobby’s growing stature as a jazz musician is expressed in this way—that the more you are aware of someone as a musician expressing himself, even if his choice of instrument is terribly meaningful and turns out to be the ideal way for him to express himself, he’s still much more an extension of himself than of the specific instrument.”
While starting to formulate thoughts for a follow-up on Landmark, Hutcherson has been performing in San Francisco with an acoustic band led by drummer Tony Williams, and with longtime musical partner, tenor saxist Harold Land. As for his own musical quest, the elusive Hutcherson puts it like this: “The person who masters how to be subtle, how to be ferocious, how to have humility, those are the great players. They understand those different emotions within themselves. It’s not just the note, it‘s the way that note comes about.”
— Robin Tolleson