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Spirited Away

music_Bobby_HutchersonBobby Hutcherson on spontaneity, technique and music as prayer
With all the records under Bobby Hutcherson’s belt—about 70, if you include his recordings as a sideman—you’d think he would spend the occasional day sitting at home, listening to his music and reminiscing about old times. Not so, says the legendary post-bop/free jazz/hard bop vibraphonist.

“If you listen to yourself, then you program yourself, and you say to yourself, ‘Oh, I like what I just played right there,’” the musician states. “And every time you get to that spot in that song, you play that! Music should be like the wind: You don’t know where it came from; you don’t know where it went. It only passes through once.”

Hutcherson, who appears at Kuumbwa Jazz on Monday, Jan. 24 (three days after his 70th birthday), has an unusually linear playing style for a vibraphonist. He notes, however, that it’s possible to “flirt around with the harmonics” even while playing a horizontal melodic line.

“You can still do arpeggios and play vertical; you can all of a sudden spell the chord, or you can spell the substitutes,” he says, adding that in many situations, intervals of minor thirds and fourths are always agreeable. “Like, pentatonic scales or pentatonic chords are all contained within everything,” he observes. “But it’s gotta feel natural [to use such devices]. You just don’t do it to do it, because otherwise it becomes a lesson, you know? If you do it the wrong way, it’s just going to sound like a bunch of notes. You have to do it as though you’re talking; as though words can be put to it.”

Hutcherson, a deeply spiritual person, believes that the bandstand should be an altar where one comes to pray. “The more you understand that, then the more you understand that it has nothing to do with you,” he offers. “Because only when you understand that can you understand the eternity of it.

When you think about someone after they’ve passed away, you think about their spirit, and the spirit is forever. And contained in that spirit is the note and the sound that truly gave them the reason to be here to play. And it won’t be a group of notes; it’ll be just this one sound that they had.” He adds, “The spirit stays with all the people who had the chance to hear this person play. The spirit stays forever; the soul is gone. So, it’s like the soul can play all the trickier stuff!” He stops to let out a hearty laugh.

The vibraphonist stresses the importance of being able to make a single note sing. “Sometimes the most basic stuff is the most important,” he says. “Is the note gonna be proud? Are you gonna play it at the top of the beat, the middle of the beat or behind the beat? Is this note gonna be sassy? Is it gonna be nasty? Is it gonna be quick? Is it gonna be long? Is it gonna have a sharp edge? Is it gonna be dull, sad, happy? Sometimes it’s worth forgetting about all the other slick stuff and just going back to the first note and working on that.”

And if the performer should hit a sour note? “There are no wrong notes; it’s only the look on your face,” Hutcherson opines. “You can hit the same note, and to the audience, whether it was right or wrong depends on the look on your face.”


The Bobby Hutcherson Quartet plays at 7 and 9 p.m. Monday, Jan. 24, at Kuumbwa Jazz, 320-2 Cedar St., Santa Cruz. Tickets are $25 in advance or $28 at the door for the 7 p.m. show, $20 in advance or $23 at the door for the 9 p.m. show. For more information, call 427-2227.

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