In the Rifftides posting about Joe Locke, I used poetic license in suggesting that without electricity the vibraharp, or vibraphone, amounts to a metallic marimba. Two readers who know what theyâ€™re talking about make it clear that my poetic license should not be renewed. The first is Charlie Shoemake, a veteran vibist of more than forty years admired for, among other things, his mastery of harmony and his ability to play with speed approaching that of light.
Sorry to correct you but Red Norvo,Gary Burton, and I do not use the
vibraphone with electricity. In other words: no motor. I don’t know
Redâ€™s or Garyâ€™s reason, but in my case it was my years with George Shearing.
When I first joined him he said that for his famous ensemble sound, he
wanted the vibes played with no motor but that I could turn it on when I took a
solo. Sometime during my seven year hitch I just forgot to turn it onâ€”permanently. The result was that I was now a Charlie Parker/Bud Powell-inspired vibes player with a different sound than Milt Jacksonâ€™s
because of no motor, and a different sounding vibes player than Gary
Burton and his students (Dave Samuels/Dave Freidman) because of the
different musical content.
That’s the jazz vibraphone instruction 101 for today.
Not quite. Now comes Gary Walters, a jazz pianist who teaches music at Butler University in Indianapolis.
For the first time, I felt compelled to write after your comments discussing electric vs. acoustic instruments. You had me until you suggested that a vibraphone without electricity was a marimba. I’m sure you know it’s not quite that simplistic. A vibraphone has bars made of soft metal alloys and a good marimba has bars made from rosewood or other extremely dense woods. That, combined with the appropriate length of resonator tube, creates a warm, woody sound that I think is beautiful and distinct from the warm, soft metal sound produced by a vibraphone with its motor turned off. Many great vibraphonists that you can name as easily as I play with the motor either on or off because it adds another texture to their means of expression. But the marimba, with a soft malletâ€”every bit as warm and “woody” as the “real” bass you favor!
Thank you for allowing me to clarify and please, keep up the great writing!
I promise never to oversimplify again.
Of course, thatâ€™s an oversimplification.