Monday, February 6, 2012

Lewis Nash & Bobby Hutcherson - Solar

It's Monday...and here we go with another great drum and vibraphone combination/conversation between Lewis Nash and Bobby Hutcherson:

I've said it before and I'll say it again: Bobby Hutcherson is the reason that I play the vibraphone! For some reason I had never really considered the vibes as even an option when I was a young percussionist or during my entire university career as a drum set major at McGill, but after seeing Hutcherson's performance at the 2006 Sasktel Saskatchewan Jazz Festival in Saskatoon (and his band that night included Renee Rosnes, Dwayne Burno and the tasteful Eddie Marshall on drums) I was hooked.

Up until that point I had written and arranged quite a bit of original music and the piano was always my main vehicle for developing that. While I had a functional knowledge and skill at the keyboard, I never really got to the point where I was comfortable soloing, comping in time or playing with an ensemble...and frankly I was a bit frustrated with that.

So after I witnessed the power of Bobby Hutcherson's music and mallet work from the front row of the audience, I said to myself: "Now why haven't I tried this???" So I proceed to purchase a set of mallets and rented a nice set of vibes once I returned to Calgary that summer. Local vibraphonist and percussionist Arnold Faber (who has since returned to Toronto) was nice enough to get me started and give me a few pointers over the course of a couple of lessons to get me going.

Well, it's almost six years later and I'm happy to report that I'm still at it! My two years in Toronto was a great experience with regards to my development on the vibraphone. I studied formal technique with percussionist John Brownell, played duets on a weekly basis with pianist Gary Williamson and workshopped arrangements and tunes with the infamous "Goat" Band (featuring Tom "Killer" Van Seters behind the drums!)

I'm trying to take this instrument seriously in addition to my studies on the drums and I've definitely come along way in the past few years. Currently I'm working with New York percussionist Allan Molnar through an on-line distance-learning arrangement thanks to a grant from the Canada Council for the Arts. Besides practicing on a regular basis, I'm also playing sessions with many talented (and patient!) local musicians and have enough gigs spread out to keep me motivated and give me some musical goals to work towards.

Last week's hit with the Jazz Winds Composer's Collective at the Cliff-Bungalow Jazz Concert Series was a great experience in that regards. We played some pretty interesting and diverse material that challenged my comfort zone and I think I did okay. The highlight for me was an improvised duet between myself and drummer Robin Tufts (in true 60s Hutcherson fashion!) that eventually morphed into Wayne Shorter's "Footprints". I had never done anything like that before but I think I pulled it off.

At the moment I'm really trying to develop my functionality and harmonic/melodic clarity while improvising over standards. Not only am I trying to learn all those tunes that everyone plays - or should play - (ie. Stella, All The Things You Are, etc.) but I'm also trying to play them correctly and really nail the changes. It's a real learning experience trying to master a new yet related musical language. I'm also finding that it has really helped my playing from behind the drums as well in terms of expanding my functional awareness of melody and harmony.

I'm also checking out a lot of recordings of great vibraphonists these days (in case you haven't noticed!) but I always seem to go back to the likes of Bobby Hutcherson, Milt Jackson, Gary Burton, Steve Nelson and, more recently, Stefon Harris and Warren Wolf.

Having said this all, thank you Mr. Hutcherson for inspiring this drummer to pick up a pair of mallets and hit the vibes!

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