Corey Mwamba

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Way In to the Way Out - ten vibraphone picks

As part of the talk Alexander Hawkins and I did over London Jazz Festival, we were asked to give a list of ten great tracks with our respective instruments on. The site is now dead: with luck Alex will post his piano choices up! But here's what I originally wrote for the vibraphone.


Leading up to the couple of days where Alex and I sit on a stage and talk—excitedly—about the course of jazz, we've been gathering lots of music to share with you on the day! But ninety minutes wouldn't do justice to the amount of music we really wanted to play; so we've each compiled lists for you to delve into, and chat with us about on Twitter (using the #twittwo hash tag) if you like!

Alex has explored the piano—and it's my turn to take a brief look at the vibes: ten tracks and players that I love. I'm going to focus more on video, so they'll be You Tube links; there are some great old playing to watch, as well as music to listen to!

  1. Red Norvo's Quartet: In a Mist (1933)

    Norvo's starting instruments were xylophone and marimba, and it's the marimba he uses here on an atmospheric rendition of Bix Beiderbecke's piano composition, with Benny Goodman on bass clarinet.

    Notice though no improvisation in this—and there's none in Beiderbecke's original version either. Is it jazz?

    Norvo used the same instrumentation on his famous Dance of The Octopus (you'll hear it if you come along on Saturday) about which there is plenty to talk about... Also notice here that he's using four mallets in a pianistic style several years before the superb Gary Burton.

  2. Adrian Rollini Trio: The Girl With The Light Blue Hair (1948)

    Rollini was a highly skilled multi-instrumentalist, playing bass saxophone, vibes, piano—and pretty much anything else he turned his hand to—but he also kept up with the fashions of the time. By the Thirties he focussed more on the vibraphone and gravitated towards dance and variety music, which is where this video sits; a sparkling display of light music. Notice here that he's using also four mallets in a pianistic style several years before Burton.

  3. Teddy Charles: Bobalob (1953)

    As both a composer and player, Teddy Charles is woefully underrated. Charles is a "loud" player, with a stronger attack than most, and tireless imagination. Along with Charles Mingus, Hall Overton, George Russell and others, Charles was examining the form of jazz at the time.

    This piece, from the album Collaboration: West, prefigured the new sounds of Miles Davis' Kind Of Blue by six years.

  4. Lionel Hampton and Oscar Peterson: Stardust (1954)

    This is the version of the song that literally stopped me in my tracks and made me seriously weigh up whether I could create something beautiful. It's also one of my favourite Peterson recordings.

    I remember sitting down and listening to this on tape: I think it was on an Atlantic compilation. There was Gary Burton, Eddie Costa, Red Norvo—a stunning cut of Seven By Eleven—and then THIS. This is the song.

    Hampton pushes the beat forward, drives it on, mixing bop and swing vocabularies and then—he's fearless!—some highly chromatic language. He's a polymath, open to everything. It always makes me stop. If it was up to me, there'd be a lot of Hampton on this list.

  5. Emil Richards: Emerald {May} (1966)

    Emil Richards taught Gary Burton pitch bending, played with Harry Partch, George Shearing and Marvin Gaye (among hundreds of others) and is a percussion legend. His experiments and melding of electronic sounds was a real eye-opener for me when I started getting into making music. Everyone should listen to Emil Richards at least twice!

  6. Bobby Hutcherson/Harold Land Quintet: Herzog (1968-9)

    Bobby Hutcherson is one of the leading stylists on the instrument, and this band (and the one before it with the great James Spaulding) created really influential music for me, including this song from the album Total Eclipse. Hutcherson's solo is monumental!

  7. Dave Pike and Volker Kriegel: Slums 'n' Wheels (1969)

    Dave Pike is not talked about enough: he possessed a heavy, tough tone and a musical language influenced by bebop but with rougher edges. His sound takes us from bop/mainstream through jazz-rock (shown here) to the dance floor with Latin rhythms and funk, and his constant explorations as well as his playing were really inspiring. This tune has an irresistible groove for me!

  8. Khan Jamal: Pure Energy (1974)

    Khan Jamal is an awe-inspiring force. He's stayed away from the limelight successfully over the past five decades, but his is a vital, open voice in creative improvised music. This duo recording with Hassan Rashid (a trumpeter named Clint Jackson is on one track) really took me on a journey when I was first really getting into improvised music.

  9. Walt Dickerson and Richard Davis: Tenderness (1977)

    I first heard this master's music in 2009, and instantly recognised the connection which had previously been pointed out to me. Dickerson famously recorded with Sun Ra, but for me this duo recording fares better and taps into a spiritual realm like few other albums.

    For me this is pure vibraphone playing, the instrument's true voice; Dickerson's tone contains a universe. Wondrous.

  10. Modern Jazz Quartet: Woody 'n' You (1982)

    It's too easy to dislike the Modern Jazz Quartet for using song forms that are supposedly too long, apparently quiet volumes and supposedly minimalist playing. But all of those criticisms ignore the fact that although it was a relatively quiet band when required, in fact Milt Jackson was a louder player using softer mallets and he swung as hard as almost anyone in the bop era. With Percy Heath, Connie Kay and John Lewis behind him, he had solid grooves from which to fly.

    Also, the MJQ was a barrier-busting band: I was speaking to a man who saw them in Coventry on a school trip, and he remembered clearly how blown away he and his classmates were on seeing four black men in tuxedos (seeing black men in suits was actually commonplace in the Fifties) walk on to the stage and launch into a blistering version of Night in Tunisia. And which other group was covering Ornette Coleman's Lonely Woman near the time when he wrote it? No other group, that's who.