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    Artist Profile: Herbie Hancock

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    Herbie HancockOne of my favorite musical artists of all time is the jazz legend, Herbie Hancock. Herbie began his music career in the early 1960’s when Miles Davis was putting together his “Second great quintet”. Prior to working with Miles Davis, Herbie was a piano prodigy with a good amount of playing and performance experience under his belt. Working with Miles Davis earned Herbie Hancock instant fame and notoriety. While Hancock spent much time in the 1960’s performing and recording with Miles Davis, he also recorded and performed several of his own albums with his own bands. One composition of his, “Riot” was recorded for the Miles Davis album “Nefertiti“, and a different version was released on Herbie Hancock’s “Speak Like a Child” album.

    Working with Miles Davis in the 60’s proved to be an extremely productive milestone in Herbie Hancock’s career. With his work in the early 1960’s, Herbie Hancock was regarded as one of the forefathers of the “Post-bop” sound: A style of jazz that is a blend of bebop, modal, and hard bop styles. Herbie Hancock’s greatest achievement during this time was his masterpiece “Maiden Voyage“, which is considered the quintessential post-bop recording. Other notable albums released during the 1960’s are “Takin’ Off“, “My Point of View“, “Inventions and Dimensions“, “Empyrean Isles“, “Speak Like a Child“, “Fat Albert Rotunda“, and “The Prisoner“.

    As the decade came close to an end, jazz was beginning to go electric. People like Sly Stone and Jimi Hendrix were a huge influence on forward-thinking jazz musicians, including Herbie Hancock and Miles Davis. Jazz musicians began to introduce electric instruments such as the Rhodes piano and electric guitars to their music, which in a few years would be known as “fusion”.

    In 1969, Miles Davis recorded “In a Silent Way” with Herbie Hancock on piano. This is considered one of the first fusion albums ever, and gave way to future Miles Davis projects such as “Bitches Brew” and “On the Corner”. Being in the presence of a musical visionary like Miles Davis proved to be magical for Herbie Hancock’s musical vision and career. In the early 1970’s, he composed and recorded a series of musically complex and highly eclectic albums known as the “Mwandishi” albums. The three albums are “Mwandishi“, “Crossings“, and “Sextant“. On these albums, Herbie places a soundscape before the listener. This type of music was not very approachable or easy to like, but these albums formed the basis for Herbie Hancock’s next project, which would go on to become one of the greatest selling jazz albums of all time.

    After the Mwandishi albums, Herbie Hancock put together a new band known as the Headhunters. In 1974, he released an album of the same name, which went on to become the greatest and most important fusion album of all time. Headhunters is a funky album with great melodies and beats, and has an amazingly wide appeal. Jazz people, R&B people, and Rock n’ Roll people will all appreciate the music on this album. The success from Headhunters gave way to a few more funky fusion albums including “Thrust“, “Man-Child” and “Secrets“. Later on in the 70’s, Herbie Hancock would produce more danceable, poppy, disco-y albums such as “Sunlight” and “Feets, Don’t Fail Me Now“. Unfortunately, many of these albums were not received well, but Herbie continued to write, record and tour.

    The early 1980’s brought another hit for Herbie, the classic song “Rockit” from his album “Future Shock“. Part of what made this song so famous was MTV. It was a favorite video for its innovative cinematography, and use of the record scratching sound. Of course, within the next few years, the record scratch sound would be prominently used in hip hop and rap. Again, Herbie Hancock proved to be ahead of his time, and a major musical innovator. During the mid to late 80’s, Herbie Hancock produced several more albums, played with many more musicians, and toured heavily. He even did some music for commercials.

    Being as famous as Herbie Hancock was, he continued to perform and record in the 90’s and 2000’s. He collaborated with many different artists during this period, including old bandmate Wayne Shorter, and longtime friends Joni Mitchell and Stevie Wonder. In the mid 2000’s, he released “Possibilities” which featured his collaborations with other famous pop and rock musicians. In 2008, his tribute to Joni Mitchell “River: The Joni Letters” earned him a grammy for album of the year, only the second jazz album ever to receive that honor.

    I had the pleasure of seeing Herbie Hancock perform in November 2007 in San Francisco, and I must say, he’s still got it! I remember in one song, he had 2 or 3 keyboards set up in front of him, and he was playing them all! He also did a great performance of “Actual Proof” from his fusion masterpiece “Thrust”, and it was as funky as ever. The bass was turned up so high, I could hear all sorts of things rattling in the auditorium. I remember him also using a keytar to perform. It was awesome!

    One of the most accomplished musicians in jazz, as well as one of its key innovators in the second half of the 20th century, Herbie Hancock is truly a musical legend. He has produced so much music that he definitely has something for everyone. I highly recommend checking him out if you haven’t already.

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    Topics: Artist Tributes, jazz, Musicians I Like | No Comments »