Become a member and get exclusive access to articles, live sessions and more!
Start Your Free Trial

George Cables Remembers Bobby Hutcherson

1.27.41 – 8.15.16

Bobby Hutcherson (photo by Scott Chernis)
Bobby Hutcherson (photo by Scott Chernis)

You know, I really don’t remember when I met Bobby Hutcherson. In some relationships it just seems like you’ve known them forever, and that was certainly the case with Bobby. I can remember being in the Bay Area and seeing Bobby on the scene in the early 1970s. Our paths may have crossed earlier, when we were both living in New York in the late ’60s and I was working with Joe Henderson. But I definitely remember being around the Both/And Club in San Francisco, seeing Bobby hanging outside, and just saying hi to him in passing.

I was living out West at that time, but I wasn’t living in San Francisco yet. I was living in Los Angeles and working with Freddie Hubbard between ’71 and ’76. I’d go on the road with Freddie and we’d play at Keystone Korner in San Francisco on our way back to L.A. So on our way out, [club owner] Todd Barkan would say, “George, what are you doing next week?” I’d say, “I’m going home!” He’d say, “Well, you busy? Want a gig?” I was already working so much at Keystone Korner that I was like a house pianist, and I was definitely working with Bobby in that capacity. He would call me up when I was living in L.A. and his band needed a pianist. So we had worked together for quite a while by the time we made our first recording together, which was [1976’s] Waiting. I was great friends with him by then.

Bobby loved to play with people. He was a collaborator throughout his career, with Jackie McLean, Grachan Moncur, Eric Dolphy, Grant Green, Andrew Hill and more. He was a great foil, and great at using other people as foils. I think they gave him different inspirations. He’d be the captain of the ship, the bandleader, and certainly his concept was the one that shaped the direction of the band. But playing with Bobby was just so much fun because you were almost on equal footing when it came to responsibility within the band. We could mix and match melodies, and we had a chemistry in terms of composition. Bobby recorded more of my music than anybody I ever worked with through the years. He loved having that musical conversation, that musical dance.

And he was so high-energy. He’d be playing the vibes and the marimba, but he’d line them up next to each other and play them as one keyboard. He’d run up and down the bandstand playing them together! That was his kind of energy.

Our personal relationship fed into that, too. Bobby and I had, I think, a very special, very close relationship, even when we were just hanging out. He was a great storyteller and had a great sense of humor. We could tell stupid jokes back and forth, just to see who could be the silliest—tell one of those jokes that you laugh at because it’s so bad.

And it wasn’t just me. Bobby was very social. He would relate to so many people, and so many people would be able to get close to him. What developed around him was a sort of family—the Keystone family, as it was in those days on the West Coast. We were all very close, and because of that it’s hard to even remember who told me about Bobby’s passing. But I remember that just before he passed away, when he was in the hospital, he said to me, “This is the end of an era. This music we did, nobody’s doing this anymore.” I think Bobby’s accomplishments, the things that he did and the music that he made, they’re not really known as well as they should be. I don’t think his name is said enough; it’s not on our lips enough. Not nearly enough.

Bobby took us on a trip somewhere that I don’t think anyone can touch. Nobody can reach the places, the corners that he reached and explored—certainly not with the energy and the impact that he had.

Originally Published