The Aardvark Speaks : essence, effervescence, obscurity. Established 2002. A weblog by Horst Prillinger. ISSN 1726-5320

October 15, 2007


Wolfgang Lackerschmid playing vibraphone with Chet Baker in the backgroundWhy somebody would learn to play the vibraphone is completely beyond me. For one, in the category of non-portable instruments, it probably comes right after the grand piano and the glass harp. A vibraphone is big, and it's heavy. Second, for some reason I'm pretty convinced that it's one of the more difficult instruments to play, especially if played with two mallets per hand. As for the reputation, I don't know. I don't think that a vibraphone is universally useable in any kind of ensemble.

That said, I must say I love the sound of the vibraphone. Bobby Hutcherson is one of my heroes, one whose music I almost never get tired of. As far as I'm concerned, he put the "6" in "1960s". If I visualize a really cool room with Verner Panton chairs in them whenever I listen to Grachan Moncur's Evolution, it is mostly due to Bobby Hutcherson's vibraphone.

Granted, Hutcherson was not even remotely the first, nor the best vibraphone player. There was Lionel Hampton of course, and then there was Milt Jackson. Both were good, virtuoso even, but for some reason, even though Hampton was firmly 1940s and Jackson firmly 1950s, neither of them was able to turn his instrument as consistently into a signature sound of the decade as Hutcherson did in the early 1960s.

This is partly a reason why the vibraphone went pretty much out of fashion around 1967. The times changed, and the 1960s were no longer the 1960s. Hutcherson himself began to struggle, and while his sound remains pleasant throughout his late 1960s and 1970s recordings, the substance just doesn't seem to be there, and they sound like recordings made at the wrong time.

It took the next generation of vibraphone players, like David Friedman or Wolfgang Lackerschmid, until the early 1980s to find a new, convincing context for their instrument. On Horace Silver in Pursuit of the 27th Man (1972), Friedman sounds unbelievably cool, but also torn between a late-Milt Jackson and a late-Bobby Hutcherson style. It is mostly due to Horace Silver's refusal to acknowledge that this record was totally out of style at the time that it works so well.

What can I say? I think Verner Panton chairs are cool. I think vibraphones are cool. I have no idea why somebody willingly learns to play an instrument like that, but I'm glad they're doing it.

Posted by Horst on October 15, 2007 11:18 PM to creatures great & small | Tell-a-friend
ssp said on October 16, 2007 12:28 AM:

Kulturzeit inspired? (

Horst said on October 16, 2007 10:06 AM:

Nope. I was listening to 'Horace Silver in Pursuit of the 27th Man' on my iPod when the idea for this came up.

nora said on October 16, 2007 01:19 PM:

ah...get it. they have arrived!

laura said on October 19, 2007 04:46 AM:

Interesting article--has a lot of info (especially about Hutcherson)--that's not in Wiki. Time for one of your additions?

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