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Sound Ideas #31 - Good Vibes
Welcome to some good vibes, the sound and role of the vibraphone in the jazz idiom.
Artist Track Album
Johnny Lytle Unhappy Happy Soul The Village Caller
Dexter Gordon Shiny Stockings Gettin' Around
Bobby Hutcherson Waiting Waiting
Joe Henderson Mode for Joe Mode for Joe
Benny Goodman Quartet Avalon Live in the late 1930s
Johnny Otis Double Crossing Blues Complete Savoy Sessions
Australian Jazz Quintet + 1 I'll be Around Australian Jazz Quintet + 1
Milt Jackson and John Coltrane Three Little Words Bags and Trane
Johnny Lytle Blues Time Swingin' at the Gate

The vibraphone is one of the first electrically powered instruments in jazz, yet if one forgoes the tremolo, it is a completely acoustic affair. Vibes have generally not been seen as one of the standard lead instruments a la the trumpet, alto sax, or piano, yet there are plenty of players including Lionel Hampton, Terry Gibbs, and Bobby Hutcherson that serve notice otherwise. While not laying claim to the top answer to question, "What is the most popular jazz instrument?", the vibes have played and continue to play an important role in the jazz idiom. If nothing else, vibes prove that drummers can in fact be musicians. OK, I take that back, my percussive friends. The vibes give drummers the chance to play melodies and harmonies, that they can only imply with their trap sets.

Leading off we hear from Johnny Lytle, one vibraphonist who is probably better known for his soul-jazz if not soul/R&B sounds of later years, in a more straight ahead, yet soul-jazz context. Johnny played with feeling, no matter the stylistic consideration.

Our second set features one of the most important vibes players in latter 20th century, namely Bobby Hutcherson. In this trio of Blue Note recording dates from the 1960s and 1970s, two as a sideman, and one as a leader, we hear the multifaceted styling of Bobby's Hard Bop and later post-bop/fusion sound. A dynamite player who could run lines and harmonize with the best of them. With mallets in hand, Bobby proved that the vibes and occasionally the marimba were lead instruments that could stand their own, even in the presence of saxophone greats such as Dexter Gordon and Joe Henderson.

The second quarter of the 20th century was heavily influenced by the music of Benny Goodman, and several other big band leaders. But Benny had musical success in trio and quartet settings that were years ahead of many in his swing-era cohort. The Quartet featuring Benny, Gene Krupa, Teddy Wilson, and Lionel Hampton integrated swinging clarinet, bombastic rhythm, delicate tinkling of the ivories, and the futuristic sound of the vibes into a musical force that would have long lasting influence. Johnny Otis was another pioneer, paving the way to wider acceptance of R&B and later Rock 'n Roll, but in this date we hear some classic blues with vibes, a relative rarity. Closing out the set we hear the vibes work of Jack Brokenshaw within the context of the relatively rare instrumentation of the Australian Jazz Quintet+1.

One early Bebop and later Third Stream and Hard Bop innovator was Milt Jackson. In this set we hear Milt swinging with Ray Charles, just one of the many styles in which Milt excelled. Closing out we hear once again from Johnny Lytle, this time from a live date drenched with soul, swing, and a rhythmic drive that will certainly have your fingers snapping, and toes tapping, as the hour comes to a close.

In a way, the vibes can be thought of as a drummer's piano. All of the "keys" are plain to see, and like the piano, is an excellent tool in visualization musical composition. And hopefully from this hour you have seen just like with the piano, the vibes can actually take on most any role in the jazz idiom. In fact, they are even one step closer to the drum kit than the piano. Perhaps the vibraphone is due much greater recognition, and might just be the unsung quintessential jazz utility instrument.