Bay Area Beats: Bobby Hutcherson

Jan 22, 2013

For more than 40 years, Bobby Hutcherson has lived a life most artists can only dream about. After making his name in the 1960s in New York as one of the youngest stars on the iconic jazz record label Blue Note, Hutcherson returned to his native California. He and his wife Rosemary settled into a new house near the San Mateo coast and raised a family, as Hutcherson built his international reputation and toured the world as one of the great jazz vibraphonists.

Hutcherson turned 71 last week. And he’s still playing – whether it’s vibes, marimba, or something else. He’s an innovator whose work has extended jazz theory. And, as a composer, Bobby’s titles reflect where he lives and where reporter David Ross talked with him for this edition of Bay Area Beats, in the bucolic seaside community of Montara.

BOBBY HUTCHERSON: You hear that? There’s a scale outside that’s going on right now. There’s wind blowing through the trees, the sound of the ocean, the colors in the spectrum on this sunny day. As each plant grows, there’s a song that’s being played right now.

That’s one of the reasons why I like to be here and just be quiet, because there’s so much music going on, but you gotta just listen, listen with all the music that’s going on around us right now. You listen to your loved ones, the inflections of their voice. There’s a lot of birds around here. They’re calling, telling you they’re getting ready to fly into the backyard. You can hear that airplane go over. It’s funny hearing the motor on one side of you be at one pitch and as it goes past, the pitch goes down.

Highway 1 is right when I was writing a lot of fourths and a lot of fifths and intervals of a minor third and a half step.

At the time when I wrote it, there weren’t many people writing, technically, that style. You put something else different, then you come up with something new. That’s what seemed to happen, especially as I thought about riding up and going back and forth from this town, Montara, to San Francisco, the feeling of driving up Highway 1 to get to there, because of the movement. It kind of gallops, but at a slow pace. I have two tempos going on at the same time. The 6/8 gallops, and melody – that’s moving in fours. So, against that, against these two things, you put these two things together to see what happens and they kind of start a little ways away, but they end up together at the end of the paths, at the fork in the road.

A lot of people weren’t writing this way. And so when I did this, a lot of people who were reviewing stuff, I always got this thing: “Ah, Hutcherson, he’s trying something new again. There he goes. How come you don’t do something simple, man?” [laughs]

This story originally aired on January 31, 2011.