Bobby Hutcherson was born in Los Angeles, California on 27 January 1941. He grew up in Pasdena. Hutcherson was exposed to jazz from an early age, and his family had some connections to the local jazz scene. (His brother was a high-school friend of Dexter Gordon and his sister would later date Eric Dolphy.) He started studying piano as at age nine, but he found the formality of the training stifling. In his teens, Hutcherson decided to take up the vibraphone after hearing a Milt Jackson record. He studied informally with vibist Dave Pike, but, for the most part, he is self-taught on the instrument. Hutcherson's own musical career began when started playing local dances with his friend, bassist Herbie Lewis.
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