Tag: jazz icons

California Sunshine: Remembering Bobby Hutcherson (1941-2016)  

1963 black and white Blue Note Records photo by Francis Wolff of Bobby Hutcherson playing vibraphone during a recording session.

[Ed. note: Los Angeles-born composer and vibraphonist Robert “Bobby” Hutcherson passed away from emphysema in his home in Montara, California, on August 15, 2016. He recorded a total of 43 albums as a leader, 23 of which were released on Blue Note Records, and appeared as a sideman on more than 100 others, among them many of the seminal 1960s Blue Note LPs, including Out to Lunch (1964), Eric Dolphy’s landmark final recording as a leader in the United States, Joe Henderson’s Mode for Joe (1966), Grant Green’s Idle Moments (1963), Grachan Moncur III’s Evolution (1963), and three albums by Jackie McLean. His own albums ranged from numerous sessions for small combos to a live Hollywood Bowl performance featuring the Los Angeles Philharmonic. One of his most unusual recordings was a 1982 Contemporary album, Solo/Quartet, which juxtaposed a quartet session—featuring pianist McCoy Tyner, bassist Herbie Lewis, and drummer Billy Higgins—with a series of multi-tracked original compositions in which Hutcherson performed on vibes, marimba, xylophone, bells, chimes, and boo-bam. In his later years, Hutcherson appeared on Lou Rawls’s At Last (1989), Donald Byrd’s gospel-tinged A City Called Heaven (1991), Abbey Lincoln’s Wholly Earth (1999), and two albums by Kenny Garrett—Happy People (2001) and Beyond the Wall (2006). He was also a founding member of the SFJAZZ Collective, playing with them from 2004 to 2007 and appearing on their first six albums. On his final recording as a leader, Enjoy the View (2014), he was joined by saxophonist David Sanborn, drummer Bill Hart, and Joey DeFrancesco who performed on both trumpet and organ in a collection of eight original compositions by various members of the group. In 2010, Hutcherson was named an NEA Jazz Master.

In Andrew Gilbert’s August 15 obituary of Bobby Hutcherson, he quotes an earlier interview he did with Hutcherson in which the musician credited Joe Chambers, a percussionist and composer who appeared on ten of Hutcherson’s records as a leader, with “encouraging him to start generating his own music as a vehicle for documenting creative evolution—‘in order to complete your cycle you have to write.’” The second of those Hutcherson albums featuring Chambers, Components (released in 1966), juxtaposes a side of Hutcherson originals (including what is perhaps his most famous one, “Little B’s Poem”) with a side of Chambers originals. So it seemed most appropriate for us to approach Chambers, who is currently writing his autobiography, to share his thoughts about his long-term collaborator and friend.—FJO]

It is with a heavy heart, and a feeling of hesitation and great loss, that I approach this essay. In fact, I decided to pause writing to look at a video of Bobby with a quartet just sent to me.

Bobby arrived in New York around 1961, before me, touring with the Al Grey-Billy Mitchell group. I first met him in the summer of 1962 when he was performing with the Jackie McLean Quartet at the Bohemian Caverns in Washington, D.C. The group was Jackie McLean, Eddie Khan, Tony Williams, and Bobby Hutcherson. The absence of piano placed Hutcherson in the role of accompanist as well as soloist. To perform that role as a mallet player requires the skill to manipulate four to five mallets.  He was the first vibist I ever saw do this, well before Gary Burton appeared on the scene.

Another observation: Hutcherson had his own distinct tone and sound on the instrument, very different from the prominent mallet players of the day Lionel Hampton and Milt Jackson.  When I made the move to New York from D.C. in the fall of 1963, I crossed paths with him again. Eric Dolphy assembled a group consisting of Hutcherson, Freddie Hubbard, Richard Davis, and myself on drums.  We did a concert at the Brooklyn Academy of Music that was recorded live.  Several producers are, to this day, looking for those tapes; I have no idea where these tapes are.

I became a kind of house recording drummer for Blue Note Records after joining Freddie Hubbard’s group in 1964 and recording Hubbard’s Breaking Point. After that, Bobby and I were teamed on recordings led by Joe Henderson (Mode for Joe) and Andrew Hill (Compulsion), then subsequently nine Bobby Hutcherson-led recordings for Blue Note. After the albums Components, Dialogue, and Now, a working group consisting of Harold Land, Stanley Cowell, Reggie Johnson, and myself was formed around 1968. Alfred Lion and Frank Wolf at Blue Note did not care what you played, as long as they could extract a song from the program that could be put on the jukebox. The jukebox industry of the 1950s and ’60s is part of what kept jazz very prominently in the public eye, way more in those days than now.

We used to call Bobby “Tranquil,” he was so easy going and even tempered—completely opposite of what was going on in the country and the world in the 1960s.

We used to call Bobby “Tranquil,” he was so easy going and even tempered—completely opposite of what was going on in the country and the world in the 1960s. And working with him was just as I described his personality. It was at this time, well before the inception of the percussion group M’Boom, that I began to consider learning and performing on mallets. I attribute this to Bobby Hutcherson. He often asked me for drum exercise books; I wondered why.  He said it was “to strengthen his wrists and fingers.”  He also suggested we form a group of just drums and mallets, a precursor to the concept realized by Max Roach five years later, in the group M’Boom. He relocated to San Francisco around the “flower children” time. It’s a wonder he stayed in New York as long as he did; he was truly California sunshine.

A lot has been written and said about his playing but not enough about his composing and musical philosophy. To me, he is one of the most important conceptualizers of music in the last half of the 20th century. His compositions are a marvel of sophistication, harmonic and melodic innovation, and imagination. Bobby Hutcherson was a visionary musician.

The last time I was in touch with Bobby was last year when I was in San Diego. Even in 2015, Bobby was not in good shape; he was barely able to talk, suffering from Alzheimer’s as well as emphysema. We just talked about the old days, as best as he could. But it was not good for me to see him like that.

Goodbye, Bobby. Someday we will meet again.

1965 black and white Blue Note Records photo by Francis Wolff of Joe Chambers playing drums during a recording session.

Photo of Joe Chambers by Francis Wolff taken during the 1965 recording sessions for Wayne Shorter’s Blue Note LP, Et Cetera, released in 1980.(Courtesy of Mosaic Images.)

2016 NEA Jazz Masters Announced


The National Endowment for the Arts will honor four jazz leaders–three musicians and an advocate–with the 2016 NEA Jazz Masters award for their significant accomplishments in the field. The 2016 honorees are: jazz fusion progenitor and educator Gary Burton whose four-mallet technique on the vibraphone has given the instrument a fuller, more piano-like sound than the traditional two-mallet approach; Grammy Award-winning saxophonist and composer Pharoah Sanders who is known for his distinctive sound marked by overblowing, harmonic, and multiphonic techniques; saxophonist, composer and educator Archie Shepp, best known for his Afrocentric music of the late 1960s, whose long career as an educator has focused on history of African-American music from its origins in Africa to its current state; and Wendy Oxenhorn, executive director and vice chairman of the Jazz Foundation of America, an organization that is committed to providing jazz and blues musicians with financial, medical, housing, and legal assistance as well as performance opportunities, with a special focus on the elderly and veterans who have paid their dues and find themselves in crisis due to illness, age, and/or circumstance.

The NEA Jazz Masters award is the highest honor that our nation bestows in the field of jazz and includes a cash award of $25,000 and an award ceremony and celebratory concert, among other activities. As part of the National Endowment for the Arts’ 50th anniversary events, the annual NEA Jazz Masters celebration will take place in April 2016 in the nation’s capital, in collaboration with the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. More details are available on the NEA’s website.

(–from the press release)

Unsung Heroes

a variety of jazz history books commonly used in the classroom
On March 8, 1914, women all over Europe rallied against the pending war and requested the right to vote. March 8 was declared International Women’s Day and has become a global day of recognition and celebration. Many countries treat it as a national holiday, and in some places people give gifts to their wives and mothers similar to Mother’s Day. Much has changed in the last 100 years and some argue that the battles have been won for women’s rights. Unfortunately, there are still many instances in which women earn less than their male counterparts, and the number of women in business and politics is still not equal. Similarly, there are a fair number of successful female jazz instrumentalists in the contemporary jazz scene and role models for every instrument. But in reality, participation is still in the single digits and many doors stay closed to women.

In my second post for NewMusicBox, I’ll trace some of the history of women in jazz. The above pictures are the covers of a variety of jazz history books commonly used in the classroom. Please take a moment and compare the pictures. Now formulate a description of “the jazz icon.” How does the picture below fit the description?

Kaytee Esser's painting "Kansas City Jazz"

“Kansas City Jazz” by Kaytee Esser. Reprinted with the permission of the artist and available directly from her.

It doesn’t, and it’s certainly not an image found in jazz history books. Were there no female musicians playing instruments or do we just not know about them? The truth is that there were plenty of capable and talented ladies, but social expectations for the household matriarch did not include frequenting dance halls at night and touring around the country for weeks in a bus full of men. In addition, most of the instruments in a jazz combo—such as the drums, bass, or brass—were perceived as more suited to male players due to physical requirements. For some brave women, the attraction to this exciting new music was stronger than social barriers. Their stories are mostly untold and they remain in the shadow of the “jazz giants.” In recognition of International Women’s Day, let’s celebrate some of the instrumentalists who joined the bands.

May Aufderheide (1888-1972) was born in Indianapolis and became quite successful as a Ragtime composer in the first decade of the 20th century. Her 1908 “Dusty Rag” was one of the first important rags to emerge from the Indiana-Ohio region. Her last success was her “Novelty Rag” in 1911, before marriage and family duties ended her composing career.

Lilian Hardin-Armstrong (1898-1971) played piano and worked at a music store in Chicago. Fascinated by the sounds of this new music called jazz, she learned the style and started playing with a variety of groups and was eventually invited to take over the piano chair in King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band in 1921. The second trumpet player in the band became her husband in 1924 and she convinced him that he should become a leader in order to showcase his incredibly strong sound and talent for improvisation. And thus Louis Armstrong started his own groups. One of the recordings that Louis Armstrong’s Hot Five and Hot Seven became well known for is “Struttin’ With Some Barbecue”—a Lil Hardin original. After their divorce in 1938, Lil remained active in the music business for the rest of her life and passed away two months after Louis when playing the “St. Louis Blues” during a Louis Armstrong memorial celebration.

A variety of performers emerged from musical families. Chattanooga-born trumpeter Valaida Snow (1904-1956) was one of them, and she was working as a professional entertainer by the age of 15. She performed in musical reviews and as bandleader, recording for Derby, Apollo, and Chess Records. The role model for trumpeter Dolly Jones (1906 or 1907-c. late 1970s) was her mother, trumpeter Dyer Jones. Dedicated to her instrument and the music, Dolly performed with bands in the Chicago area and earned the respect of her peers, such as Roy Eldridge and Doc Cheatham. The Hampton Sisters—Aletra Hampton (piano, vibes), Virtue Hampton (bass), Carmelita Hampton (saxophone), and Dawn Hampton (vocals), were part of the Hampton Family band, which was best known for their youngest brother, trombonist Slide Hampton. (Two of the surviving sisters—Aletra and Virtue—continue to perform together to this day; Carmelita died in 1987.)

During the Great Depression all-female groups first became popular—roles shifted due to the need for diversion in difficult times. But players were often acknowledged for reasons beyond musical ability.

“[W]omen are never hired because of their ability as musicians, but as an attraction for the very reason that they are women, and men like to look at attractive women. Consequently, the manager is continually reminding the girls not to take the music so seriously, but to relax, to smile. How can you smile with a horn in your mouth? How can you relax when a girdle is throttling you and the left brassiere strap holds your arm in a vise? If we quaver a little on the high notes, it’s because we are asked to do a Houdini … On the other hand, men’s orchestras are usually hired because of their ability as musicians. Their good looks, their presentability other than neatness, will rarely enter the question.”

Jeannie Gayle-Poole, Peggy Gilbert & Her All Girl Band, Scarecrow Press: 2008, p. 84.

The tradition of all-female orchestras continued during the Second World War and women were employed in men’s bands to fill the gaps. The most popular of these groups, The International Sweethearts of Rhythm, traveled on many USO tours. Among other groups from that era were Ada Leonard’s All American Girls, Ina Rae Hutton and Her Melodears, Helen Lewis and her All-Girls Syncopaters, The Parisian Red Heads, Ivy Benson and her All Girl Orchestra, Clara De Vries and Her Jazz Ladies, Gloria Gaye and Her Glamour Girls Band, and Gracie Cole and Her Orchestra, to name just a few. Obviously there was no shortage of capable musicians, but as soon as the men returned from war duties they reclaimed their jobs in the entertainment business.
Trombonist, composer, and arranger Melba Liston (1926-1999) played with and arranged for Randy Weston, Dizzy Gillespie, Quincy Jones, Count Basie, Billy Holliday, and many others. At the age of seven, she picked the trombone as her instrument of choice because she thought it was the most beautiful thing she’d ever seen. Eventually the hardship of life on the road and the abusive environment in all-male bands caught up with her and she quit performing. Nevertheless, she wrote arrangements for Randy Weston up until her death at the age of 73.

There are many more examples of outstanding musicians who, despite all obstacles, followed their passion and prevailed in a male-dominated environment. But unfortunately, as music educator and author Janis Stockhouse noted, they received little credit for their contributions.

“The main problem in the public perception of women in jazz is not a resistance to their potential future roles, but a failure to recognize the profound impact those musicians have already had on the game.”

Janis Stockhouse, Women Jazz Musicians: Conversations with Twenty One Musicians. IU Press: 2004.

As we celebrate Women’s History Month, let’s rewrite history and include many of these daring and dedicated role models. And more importantly, let’s give them the credit they deserve for their contributions to the music. There is a wonderful resource to get started over at the NPR website.