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Herbie Hancock

Herbie Hancock

Herbie Hancock & Herbie Hancock Trio
Photography @ the Royal Festival Hall
14 November 2010 - 1996

Click an image to enlarge.

“Herbie was the step after Bud Powell and Thelonious Monk, and I haven't heard anybody yet who has come after him.”
Miles Davis

Herbie Hancock biography

Herbie Hancock is one of the most respected musicians of our time. His illustrious career spans five decades, he continually surprises his audience with his explorative musical journey and never ceases to expand the public's vision of what music, particularly jazz, is all about today.

Born in Chicago in 1940, Hancock was a child piano prodigy who performed a Mozart piano concerto with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra at the tender age of 11. He began playing jazz in high school, initially influenced by Oscar Peterson and Bill Evans. Also at this time, an additional passion for electronic science began to develop. As a result, he took a double major in music and electrical engineering at Grinnell College.

In 1960, at age 20, trumpeter Donald Byrd asked Hancock to join his group. Byrd also introduced Hancock to Alfred Lion of Blue Note Records, and after two years of session work with the likes of Phil Woods and Oliver Nelson, he signed to the legendary label as a solo artist. His 1963 debut album, Takin’ Off, was an immediate success, producing “Watermelon Man,” a big hit on jazz and R&B radio.

In 1963, Miles Davis invited Hancock to join his Quintet. During his five years with Davis, Hancock and his colleagues thrilled audiences and recorded classic after classic, including the albums ESP, Nefertiti, and Sorcerer. Most jazz critics and fans regard this group, which also included Wayne Shorter (tenor sax), Ron Carter (bass) and Tony Williams (drums), as the greatest small jazz group of the 1960s.

Simultaneous with his work for Davis, Hancock’s own solo career blossomed on Blue Note, creating such classic albums as Maiden Voyage, Empyrean Isles, and Speak Like a Child. In 1966, he composed the score to Michelangelo Antonioni’s film, Blow Up. This led to a successful career in feature film and television music, including music for Bill Cosby’s Emmy-winning Hey, Hey, Hey, It’s Fat Albert and many other film scores in following years.

After leaving Miles Davis in 1968, Hancock stepped full-time into the new electronic jazz-funk that was sweeping the world. In 1973, Hancock’s new band “The Headhunters” recorded the platinum selling album “Head Hunters”. The album spawned the widely sampled crossover hit single “Chameleon”.

By mid-decade, Hancock was playing for stadium-sized crowds all over the world and had no fewer than four albums in the pop charts at once. In total, Hancock had eleven albums in the pop charts during the 1970s. Much of which are still sampled today.

In 1980, Hancock introduced trumpeter Wynton Marsalis to the world as a solo artist and produced his debut album. In 1983, Hancock worked with the notorious musical architect Bill Laswell. This collaboration spawned the first “Future Shock” album with the single "Rockit" rocking the dance and R&B charts, winning a Grammy for Best R&B Instrumental. The follow-up to Future Shock, also received a Grammy in the R&B instrumental category.

In addition to his Grammy and MTV Award successes, Hancock won an Oscar in 1986 for scoring the film Round Midnight (in which he also appeared as an actor). He would also compose soundtracks for films such as Colors, Jo Jo Dancer, Action Jackson and Harlem Nights.

In 1984, Hancock signed to the Polygram Label. After an adventurous pop-oriented project for Mercury Records, Dis Is Da Drum, he moved on to Polygram’s Verve label, forming an all-star band to record the 1996 Grammy-winning “The New Standard”.

In 1998, the legendary Headhunters reunited, recording an album for Hancock’s own Verve-distributed imprint, and touring with the Dave Matthews Band at the arena-rock giant’s own request. But the crowning achievement of Herbie Hancock’s Verve years thus far has been Gershwin’s World. Recorded and released in 1998, this masterwork brought artists from all over the musical spectrum together in a celebration of George Gershwin and his entire artistic milieu. Collaborators included Joni Mitchell, Stevie Wonder, Kathleen Battle, the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, Wayne Shorter and Chick Corea. Gershwin’s World won three Grammies in 1999, including Best Traditional Jazz Album and Best R&B Vocal Performance for Stevie Wonder’s “St. Louis Blues.”

At the end of 1999, Herbie joined two partners - his manager David Passick and former Verve Records president Chuck Mitchell. They would form ‘Transparent Music’, a multi-media music company dedicated to the presentation of barrier-breaking music of all types, at all tiers of distribution including recordings, films and TV, concert events and the Internet.

Herbie Hancock also maintains a thriving career outside the performing stage and recording studio. Since 1991, he has been the Distinguished Artist in Residence at Jazz Aspen Snowmass in Colorado; a non-profit organization devoted to the preservation and performance of jazz and American music. Herbie also serves as Institute Chairman of the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz, the foremost international organization devoted to the development of jazz performance and education worldwide. He has taken on a number of roles on behalf of the institute, from competition judge to master class teacher, to guest performer with the Institute's prestigious college program.

Now in the fifth decade of his professional life, Herbie Hancock remains where he has always been: in the forefront of world culture, technology, business and music. Though one can't track exactly where he will go next, he is sure to leave his own inimitable creative style and imprint wherever he lands.

River the joni letters - album review

The words innovative genius could never be overused when describing a man like Herbie Hancock. He has influenced (and still influences) many generations of musicians, crossed genres and broken down musical barriers as though they never existed in the first place. However, Hancock’s recordings have not always hit the spot for me. I have also attended a few Hancock live performances over the past decade or so only to walk away scratching my head feeling somewhat disappointed. Hancock never seems to fail to get into his zone, but I have occasionally felt that I was completely excluded from his zone. Perhaps this was due to me just not understanding, or appreciating his technical prowess. Or perhaps I was (and possibly still) too immature?

Whatever the reason for my occasional disappointment, I could never ignore a new Herbie Hancock recording. The title “River” certainly caught my attention…after all, you do not have to be an aficionado of the ‘singer songwriter’ genre to recognise and appreciate the name Joni Mitchell. After carefully browsing the sleeve notes and personnel – And with eight of the ten tracks being Mitchell compositions, my passion to explore grew further.

Hancock’s beguiling interlude on “Court and Spark” was definitely a reassuring start and a fitting vehicle for the dulcet tones of Norah Jones who delicately dances and weaves vocal magic.

Initially it seemed as though the name Corine Bailey Rae seemed a tad out of place amongst a line up of artists’ who could possibly eat her alive musically, but after just seconds of listening to her innocent delivery and gentle caress on Mitchell’s “River”, I became completely absorbed and my heart simply melted. I realised the decision to feature her at this point was a master stroke. Joni Mitchell joins Hancock for an articulate session on “Tea Leaf Prophecy”. It is Mitchell who is obviously best equipped emotionally to deliver ‘her own words’.

Herbie Hancock is capable of many musical miracles. To entice Tina Turner out of retirement is just one of them. Ms. Turner sounds better than ever here - Adding her own unique sophisticated edge to the velvet lined “Edith and the Kingpin”. Hopefully this will be one of many projects Turner lends her voice too. Perhaps Hancock & co could entice the likes of Sade to perform at Glastonbury…you never know?

With other prized collaborators throughout this project such as Wayne Shorter, Dave Holland, Lionel Loueke, Luciana Souza and the authoritative spoken words of Leonard Cohen on “The Jungle Line”, you expect no less than absolute musical ‘magicianship’. And that is exactly what you get.

Hancock and fellow musicians have created an exquisitely crafted canvas for Joni Mitchell’s colourful timeless poetry to breathe. “River” the joni letters will certainly divide many established Joni Mitchell fans, but will also bring new praise for two inspirational geniuses – And let’s face it, Joni Mitchell and Herbie Hancock can never receive too much praise!

A final note to those of you who still prefer to listen to music on that warm, detail filled medium called vinyl. This album is available on vinyl… but at a whopping £54!

Robin Francis
© Michael Valentine Studio Ltd
April 2008

Herbie Hancock

Herbie Hancock

Herbie Hancock

Herbie Hancock

Lionel Loueke

Herbie Hancock

Jeff "Tain" Watts


Recommended
Listening

 

River - the joni letters Future Shock Head Hunters Monster
Lite Me Up Takin' Off The Blue Note Years (The best of) Thrust

 

Further
Recommended
Listening

Click Lionel Loueke's photograph to view his photographs and read his biography,
Click Patrice Rushen's photograph to view her photographs and read her biography,
Click Branford Marsalis' album to view his photographs and read his biography...

Lionel Loueke Trio 'GAÏA' (Click to go to this page) Patrice Rushen  (Click to go to her page) Branford Marsalis Trio - best of the Bloomington (Click to go to his page)

Go back to the London Jazz Festival 2010 home page.

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