Bobby Hutcherson, the bricklayer’s son who became one of the greatest, most inventive jazz vibraphonists to pick up a pair of mallets, has died at age 75.
Hutcherson died Monday at his family home in Montara, a small seaside community south of San Francisco. The cause was complications related to emphysema, longtime family friend Marshall Lamm said.
Best known for his post-bop recordings for Blue Note Records in the 1960s and 1970s, Hutcherson played with a litany of jazz greats as both bandleader and sideman during a career spanning more than 50 years.
Among them were Herbie Hancock, Sonny Rollins and Dexter Gordon, the latter a childhood friend.
When “Enjoy the View,” the last of his more than 40 albums, was released in 2014, JazzTimes magazine declared it “a worthy addition to an era-defining discography.”
Among Hutcherson’s last performances was a four-night run of shows two years ago at San Francisco’s SFJazz Center, where he played alongside saxophonist David Sanborn, organist Joey DeFrancesco and drummer Billy Hart, who had recorded “Enjoy the View” with him.
Noted for an eclectic approach that was at once colorful, powerful, cool and melodic, Hutcherson came of age musically as jazz was moving into a cerebral, more avant-garde era that matched his playing style.
“Bobby Hutcherson’s sound and innovative style on the vibraphone helped revitalize the instrument in the 1960s, adding an adventurous new voice to the free jazz and post-bop eras,” the National Endowment for the Arts, which honored him with its prestigious Jazz Master award in 2010, said Tuesday.
Robert Hutcherson was born Jan. 17, 1941, in Los Angeles and raised in Pasadena.
He studied piano as a child but switched to vibraphone after hearing Milt Jackson play the instrument on a recording of Thelonious Monk’s “Bemsha Swing.”
Captivated by the sound, he recalled spending the summer working for his father so he could save enough money to buy his own vibraphone.
As soon as he acquired it, jazz bass player Herbie Lewis, a junior high school buddy, allowed him to join his band and almost immediately got the group a small local gig. Unfortunately, Hutcherson hadn’t yet had time to learn to play his instrument.
He said, “Don’t worry. We’ll take a black felt pen and write down on each bar which note to hit next,” Hutcherson told JazzTimes in 2014.
Just before he was to go on, however, a stage manager erased all the marks.
“Well, I hit the first note; I remembered that. But from the second note on it was complete chaos. You never heard people boo and laugh like that.”
Afterward his father told him he wanted his son to become a bricklayer.
Within a few years, however, Hutcherson was playing with greats including saxophonist Billy Mitchell, trombonist Al Grey and the others, appearing at New York City’s fabled Birdland and other clubs.
He released his first album, “The Kicker,” in 1963, going on to appear on numerous recordings by other artists as well. He also appeared with Hancock, Gordon and others in the 1986 jazz film “ ‘Round Midnight” and composed “Little B’s Poem” and other musical pieces.
He is survived by his wife, Rosemary, and sons Teddy and Barry, the latter a jazz drummer and inspiration for the song “Little B’s Poem.”