L.A. Jazz Scene - February, 1998
An All Around Outstanding Percussionist and Super Cool Dude
by Mal Sands
Early in 1989 I went to the now defunct Alphonse's in Toluca Lake to see vibraphonist Emil Richards for the very first time. I'd been a fan for several years ever since hearing his work on a couple of old George Shearing albums from the 1950's and had wanted to experience his playing live and in person for quite some time. After witnessing his performance that evening I became an even greater admirer. I sat mesmorized, watching and listening in awe as he hammered out one exciting solo after another with incredible speed, skill and prescision. I was immensly impressed and looking forward to the second set. After about a twenty minute break the members of the rhythm section returned to their places. Richards was off somewhere talking to someone when all of the sudden this young guy with long hair, a cap and spectacles stepped behind Richards' vibes and two mallets in each hand began playing "A Night In Tunisia". After a breif solo intro, piano, bass and drums joined in as if on cue. My initial reaction was to say to myself "who the hell is this guy and does he have Emil's permission to be doing this". After gettung over the surprise, I really started to listen and began realizing just how good this young man was. Right at that very moment, Richards walked up, grabbed a pair of mallets and engaged this cat in a spirited battle of the vibes. They traded fours, tried to get in front of each other and also pushed and shoved one another out of the way in a playful game of one-upmanship. The crowd loved it and gave both vibists a big hand when it was all over. Richards then introduced the young dude as Billy Hulting and asked the audience to give him another big hand which they did. As it turned out, Richards had known Hulting for years and had given him lessons in mallet percussion for about a year. It was very apparent to me that Hulting was one of Richards' prize pupils. I had instantly become a fan of Hulting's and have more or less followed his career path ever since that first encounter at Alphonse's nine years ago.
Hulting, who turns thirty-five later this year began playing snare drums at age eleven then took up mallets a couple of years later in junior high school. It was not untill college that he started serious study on hand percussion instruments. All of the hard work, practice and woodshedding have definately paid-off. Hulting is now in very much in demand and has played with such well known artists as Maynard Ferguson, Clare Fischer, Natalie Cole andLou Rawls who he has been touring with for the past five years now. When he is not on the road with Rawls he may be seen here locally as a member of guitarist Bruce Lofgren's band. His contributions to that project are considerable and his playing really stands out. Hulting is also on the faculty at the L.A. Music Academy as a percussion instructor. I personally ran into him at this past November's Percussive Arts Society International Convention held at the Disneyland Hotel. He definately makes the rounds of all the performances, concerts, clinics and demonstrations having anything to do with percussion. Our Paths have crossed at such events many times.
When it comes to donating his time and talents to worthwhile causes, Hulting is very generous and also a good sport. He participated in Vibe Summit III which I put togetherback in April of 1996 at the Industry Hills Sheraton honoring the memories of the late Cal Tjader and also gene Estes who had just passed away a couple of weeks previously. He along with sixteen other vibists took part in this incredible extravaganza. This past September he and about a dozen mallet men also attended a surprise party that I organized honoring Emil Richards on his sixty-fifth birthday at Chadney's in Burbank. This was another outstanding evening of vibraphonic virtuosity.
This past December, Hulting performed at the Baked Potato in North Hollywood for the first timeas a leader of his own ensemble before a packed house filled with friends, fans fellow musicians and curious on-lookers. He was armed with a complete arsenal of hand, stick and mallet percussion instruments as well as various shakers and noise makers. He was accompanied by an excellent group of musicians consisting of Mark Hollingsworth on tenor and soprano saxophone, Craig Sharmat on electric guitar, Adam Cohen on electric bass and Dave Karasony on drums. All of these gentlemen know their respective instruments from the bottom up and performed their duties flawlessly. They all seemed to be musically comfortable and compatable with one another and appeared to genuinely enjoy playing together. Even though Hulting is the leader of this tight-knit organization, he by no means treats his men like mere back-up musicians. He realizes the important role each member plays and that all of their contributions to the music as a whole are of equal value and every bit as essential as his own. He is very considerate of each player and it seems to me has distributed solo time for everyone evenhandedly. However, Hulting feels that the music itself and also ensemble unity are far more important than emphasis on one particular player or soloist. This is anintelligent and sensible philosophy that I feel shows great maturity and humility on thepart of Hulting, who is such an all-around outstanding percussionist that he could probably be rather egocentric if he possesed that type of mentality and was so inclined to behave in that manner. Fact is his playing speaks for itself and he simply is not the kind of guy to brag about himself. This customary modesty coupled with his extremely likable personality is what makes him the super cool dude that he is.
Hulting's music I must admit defies adequate written or verbal description. The bottom line is you have to hear it for yourself and experience it first-hand to form your own personal opinion. It was to me some of the most refreshingly different, exciting, creative and origional sounding music that I have heard in quite some time. Each number had it's own unique and distinct personality. They all had catchy rhythms and melodies and it would not surprise me at all if at least a couple of them became hits in the not too distant future. They are simply that good. Hulting is not only an outstanding percussionist but is also an amazingly gifted and talented composer and arranger who is just filled with complex and innovative ideas. His group is no doubt well rehearsed because many of the things they play sound complicated and not at all easy to do. However, they all take on the task with great enthusiasm and pass it with flying colors. Hulting is the proud papa of a happy and harmonious musical family that I hope will play together and stay together for years to come.
Billy Hulting; an all-around outstanding percussionist and super cool dude will be again performing at the Baked Potato in North Hollywood on Sunday, February 22, 1998. Highly recommended.