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Published: Thursday, 3/23/2006

Vibes artist's heart belongs to jazz

Steve Hobbs decided to give up the drums and focus on the
vibraphone and marimba. Steve Hobbs decided to give up the drums and focus on the vibraphone and marimba.

Expect some good vibes tonight at Murphy's Place.

North Carolina jazz artist and educator Steve Hobbs will be in concert, playing vibraphone and marimba, at the downtown jazz club.

Hobbs, who earned a bachelor's degree from the Berklee College of Music and a master's degree from the University of Miami, was working on his doctorate in music at the University of Northern Colorado when a professor challenged him to take a harsh look at where he was heading.

"I was getting straight A's but he said I needed to decide if I want to play jazz or get a doctorate in percussion," Hobbs said in an interview this week. "I thought about what he said and the next morning, I walked in and handed him all my sheet music and walked out."

It was suddenly clear to him, Hobbs said, that jazz was his first love and that he would never be happy in the halls of academia mastering other genres and teaching others how to play music that did not ignite his creative spirit.

So, at age 26, he devoted himself to jazz, giving up drums entirely and focusing on the vibes and marimba. "My best teachers, besides listening to records, were the old men on the bandstands," he said.

Too many jazz players look at vibes as a rhythm instrument, but its melodic capabilities should be paramount, Hobbs said.

"The role of the vibraphone is very different from that of the drums," he said. "The only thing in common with the drums is that you're holding sticks. You're not some drummer banging away on the vibes. A lot of my favorite vibes players started out as piano players, not drummers. I can hear the difference right off the bat. There's really no instrument that captures my soul as much as the vibraphone when it comes to playing ballads."

A native and current resident of Raleigh, N.C., Hobbs has released five CDs as a bandleader, including last year's "Spring Cycle" on the Random Chance label. That disc, which reached No. 3 on the Jazz Week charts, features a notable guest list that includes trumpeter Tom Harrell, flutist Dave Valentin, and saxophonist Bob Malach.

Jazz pianist Kenny Barron, with whom Hobbs has performed, said of the Carolina vibes artist: "You can expect to hear lots more from him in the future."

Steve Hobbs will be in concert at 8 and 10 tonight at Murphy's Place, 151 Water St. Tickets are $8, $10, and $15, or $6 for students. Information: 419-241-7732.

Contact David Yonke at: dyonke@theblade.com

or 419-724-6154.

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