Jazz Explorer does double duty as vibraphonist, pianist

By David Gobel

Jake Chapman ’12 orginally learned how to play piano but now also plays vibraphone in Jazz Explorers, the most advanced jazz combo at the school. 

“In sixth grade I auditioned to play the piano at the jazz band at [my] middle school for seventh grade,” Chapman said. “However there were three other pianists already, and instead of having to divide up the time for piano players even more, my jazz director asked me if I wanted to try out the vibes.”

Chapman had previously played in the percussion section at his middle school for a year and had played piano since he was six. The jazz director thought he would be a natural fit for the vibes.

The vibraphone is a metal percussion instrument that looks like a xylophone or a marimba and is played with mallets. It is almost a hybrid of piano and percussion, Chapman said. Each bar of the vibraphone has a tube with a motor-driven butterfly valve at the upper end.

“The butterfly valves are basically little plates that spin and are powered by a motor,” Chapman said. “When you turn the motor it spins and makes the vibrato effect, hence the name vibraphone.”

The vibraphone is primarily used for jazz music, and in his five years playing the vibes, Chapman has only played jazz. However, this spring he is plans to play a vibes concerto with the school orchestra.

“It’ll be my first time playing any classical, but I heard the piece is going to be jazz and improvisation based, so it’ll probably be a cool blending of classical and jazz,” Chapman said.

Recently, Chapman has been playing with the four-mallet style, holding two mallets in each of his hands, and plays the vibes almost like one would play a piano.

“I have four notes to choose from at any time,” Chapman said. “When you’re playing the piano, you have 10 fingers and you can mash out six or seven note chords. On the vibes your notes really have to count and it adds a sense having to be really melodic because you have to play a lot of single-note lines. The color and textural possibilities [on the vibes] are really unique.”

Although Chapman transitioned mainly to vibes back in seventh grade, he has not stopped playing piano. He also plays many other instruments as well. He sometimes plays the guitar in his spare time, has played the melodica and is a member of the Harvard-Westlake drumline.

In college, Chapman plans on continuing to play both jazz piano and the vibes. However, he doesn’t know if he will major in music or become a musician.

“Hopefully I’ll end up in New York, which is the place to go if you want to play jazz,” Chapman said. “I’ll see if I can study with Joe Locke, who is one of my favorite vibes players and teaches at the Manhattan School of Music.”