Johnny Lytle

Johnny Lytle (1932-1995) was one of the most promising young vibraphonists to emerge during the early 1960s. Influenced by Lionel Hampton and Milt Jackson, he had a particularly percussive approach and a distinctive brittle sound.

Lytle started out on drums, playing with his father’s band when he was only nine. He worked with Ray Charles in 1950 and with Gene Ammons’s band while also having a career as a Golden Gloves boxing champion. After switching to vibes in the mid-1950s, Lytle worked with Boots Johnson during 1955-1957. He led his own groups in various jazz clubs in the East and Mideast before he began to record. During 1960-1964 he led six albums for Jazzland and Riverside.

Nice and Easy finds Lytle in heavy company, leading a quintet also including tenor saxophonist Johnny Griffin, pianist Bobby Timmons, bassist Sam Jones, and drummer Louis Hayes. They form a strong group sound on standards, ballads and blues. Got That Feeling/Moon Child includes all of the music from two former LPs featuring organist Milt Harris. The vibes-organ front line is a bit unusual but also very appealing and it works well on the soulful period.

Most famous of Lytle’s record dates is The Village Caller!, another outing with Milt Harris that is most notable for the hypnotic title cut. Years later, in the early 1970s when Lytle recorded a pair of albums for Milestone, The Soulful Rebel record included “The New Village Caller.”

In addition to leading his trio (which appeared along the way with Wes Montgomery and Nancy Wilson), Johnny Lytle was very involved in community affairs, winning awards for the “good vibes” that he accomplished through public service.