Friday, February 29, 2008


The vibraphone is a descendent of the xylophone and the marimba. It was invented in the U.S. toward the beginning of the 1900's and was introduced in the field of jazz by Lionel Hampton, who used the instrument for the first time in a jazz recording session with Louis Armstrong in 1930 as documented on Okeh 41463, Memories Of You (Eubie Blake / Andy Razaf), recorded 16 October 1930.

"The bars of the instrument are struck by mallets of varying hardnesses.The vibraphone looks similar to a xylophone and a marimba. The difference is that the bars of both the xylophone and marimba are made of wood. In general terms, the xylophone is a soprano or high register marimba (the difference being in the tuning and timbre). The bars of a vibraphone are made of metal. The vibraphone also has a sustain pedal like a piano that when depressed allows the notes to ring until the pedal is lifted again. The vibraphone originally got its name because it has a motor that turns metal discs, called pulsators, located under the bars at the openings of the resonators or tubes. The rotation of the pulsators gives a vibrato sound to the instrument. Without this motor the vibraphone could just as easily be called a metalophone because of it's metal bars." (Quoted info excerpted from Mike Freeman's web, see

To give you an impression of how the vibraphone is played, I found a great example featuring Marco Bianchi in a solo version of "Crazy Rhythm"

The technique of using four mallets when playing the vibraphone was reputedly first employed in jazz by another great vibe player, Adrian Rollini, who took up the instrument in the early 1930s.

Adrian Rollini (1903-1956) was known as a pioneer of the bass sax, taking part in hundreds of recordings with the New York white stars of jazz in the 1920s. He was a regular member of the famous California Ramblers (1922-27) and as memtioned took part in numerous recording sessions as sideman or leader with the likes of Bix Beiderbecke, Venuti-Lang, Red Nichols, Teagarden, Goodman et al. Listing the career of Adrian Rollini in the 1920s would need an extended blog, instead I'll point the reader to an overview, click here - If you would like to listen to some of the recording sessions featuring Adrian Rollini on bass sax, I recommend two radio programs from Jimmie Jazz Radio Shows, available in streaming audio on the web, click here

As mentioned above, Rollini began playing the vibraphone in the early 1930s, one of the earliest recorded examples featuring Rollini on that instrument is Vibraphonia by Joe Venuti's Blue Six. To hear this, click here

From around 1935 Rollini tended to specialise on the vibraphone and in 1936, he formed his Trio - this was the format he used in performance until the end of his life. The Trio became very successful and played long residencies at hotels in New York and Chicago. The shown cd above, released by Vintage Music (VPM 0171) in 2005, contains some of the sides by the Trio cut for Decca and Vocalion in 1936 and 1939 featuring Adrian Rollini on vibraphone (- and sometimes on chimes), Frank Victor (guitar) and Haigh Stephens or Harry Clark (sb). Further, the cd has some radio transcriptions made for World Transcription Service in 1938 featuring quintet and quartet recordings. Personnel listing has Rollini on vibes, Paul Ricci or Arthur Rollini (reeds), Al Duffy (vn), Carl Kress (g) and Haig Stephens (sb) for the quintet - the quartet features Rollini (vib), Al DUffy (vn), Frank Victor (g) and Harry Clark (sb). A couple of additional sessions from the 1940s are also featured on the cd, one of them has vocal by Sylvia Barry. Most of the material on the cd has not been reissued before and is recommended, if you like to explore this side of Adrian Rollini's genius as a musician. The repertoire of the cd is well known standards of the 1930s swing jazz (- click on cd-cover above to see tracklist). One of the tunes - first made popular by Benny Goodman's Quartet featuring Lionel Hampton on vibes - is Moonglow. Listen to the Adrian Rollini Trio playing this tune on the inserted video below.

The vibraphone has been used with great success by other jazz musicians as well, i.e. Milt Jackson with Modern Jazz Quartet and Gary Burton with Thelonius Monk, however, let's not forget the roots of this fascinating instrument - the marimba. During the 1940s marimba bands were popular in the U.S. as part of a latin wave in general entertainment. I found an enjoyable example of a female marimba band headed by a certain Reg Kehoe playing Larry Clinton's "A Study In Brown" c.1940 - watch the bass player going nuts, probably the first ever recorded example of another novelty in entertainment - headbanging!



Anonymous Anonymous said...

I guess your wrong Jo. The bass player wants to draw attention as otherwise all those beautiful ladies distracts the audience attention too much.

Thanks Jo for this great intermezzo.


7:41 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I have a personal spot in my heart for Adrian Rollini. My 1st Wife, Stage name Connie Howell was Adrian's only student and joined Frank Victor in his quartet playing 4 mallet Vibes in NY spots. In case this is not well known information, Dixie Rollini, Adrian's wife created the wound string mallets used by Adrain and Connie.
After we Married and moved to Miami she played some of the best hotels 0n Miami Beach as a single on Piano. She also teamed up with Guitar player, Harry Volpe in Miami in the late 50s, early 60s.
Those were great music years.
Russ Burke

1:13 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Hello Russ,

Any chance that your wife might of had some of Adrian's original compositions for the vibrphone/his trio?
I have just recently discovered Adrian's vibraphone playing and also just started a research project to try to collect his wonderful vibraphone compositions and share them with the percussive world.

Feel free to contact me at

Thanks for time and stay safe and healthy,


12:14 AM  

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