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Oscar- and Grammy-winning music legend Herbie Hancock played guitar as well as keyboards (above) while he was on a grand piano, electric piano, or state-of-the-art electronic equipment. He was shown above at the 2018 Los Angeles concerts with bassist Marcus Miller and the Gustavo Dudamel-led Los Angeles Philharmonic, whose jazz program Hancock directs.
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The Oscar- and Grammy-winning musician includes Miles Davis, Joni Mitchell, Lang Lang and Connie Francis among his many diverse collaborators.
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Herbie Hancock has nothing to prove to anyone, as an international veteran star who has inspired generations of jazz, funk, techno and hip-hop artists, sold many millions of records and received an Oscar, a Kennedy Center Honors, 14 Grammy Awards, six Doctor Special and five MTV Video Music Awards.
Along the way, this font-hopping innovator has collaborated with everyone from Miles Davis, Lang Lang, Joni Mitchell and Thundercat to Carlos Santana, Pink, former San Diego sitar great Anushka Shankar and several symphony orchestras. Then there’s Hancock’s unfinished new album, which sees him team up with Pulitzer Prize-winning rapper Kendrick Lamar, young sax sensation Kamasi Washington, as well as Flying Lotus producer and jazz sax giant Wayne Shorter, Hancock’s longtime friend and former friend in history The Miles Davis Quintet of the 1960s.
“Well, you answered part of the question because you talked about proving yourself to other people. And there’s one person I have to prove to myself, and that’s me,” said the legendary keyboardist, bandleader and composer. He performs Aug. 20 at Humphreys Concerts by the Bay with his four-man, one-woman band that includes acclaimed singer Vinnie Colaiuta, West African guitar wizard Lionel Loueke and 23-year-old flutist Elena Pinderhughes.
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“Well,” Hancock added, speaking Monday by phone from a tourist station in Toronto, “I have the confidence to know that all people have infinite potential, even though — in most cases — they don’t know the potential. I have been practicing Buddhism for over 46 years and this is part of what I have learned from my Buddhist practice. Any human being can do this. that and exploring that potential is a happy thing.
“It’s bold, but boldly made jazz! Because in jazz we improvise. And that means we live in time, creating something that hopefully we haven’t created before – borrowed sometimes from the past, but not in the past. It is very difficult to do this. And at the same time, it is very useful to feel like a musician. We bring out the bad, the new, the brave and the compassionate because we want them to feel that too. Because it puts us all on the path to becoming better people.”
In addition to the ongoing summer tour and the completion of the long-awaited new album, Hancock is busy with other things.
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He is a founder of the Artists for Peace International Committee, creative chair for jazz at the Los Angeles Philharmonic Association, and president of UCLA’s Herbie Hancock Jazz Institute (formerly the Thelonious Monk Jazz Institute). Since 2011, he has been the Executive Director of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, in his office he initiated International Jazz Day that year.
He was only 11 years old when he made his debut with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra as soloist in the first movement of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 5 in re op. He attended Grinnell College in Iowa, where he double majored in music and engineering.
Hancock was just 20 years old when he moved from Chicago to New York after being invited to join Donald Byrd’s band, and quickly became one of the hottest young pianists in the Big Apple. His debut solo album, aptly titled “Takin’ Off,” was released by Blue Note Records in 1962. It included the infectious jazz soul song “Watermelon Man,” one of Hancock’s early hits. became a Top 10 pop hit for Afro-Cuban percussion star Mongo Santamaria, in whose band Hancock played before joining Miles Davis’ quintet for five years in 1963.
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Davis partnered with Hancock along with Shorter, bassist Ron Carter and young drummer Tony Williams. Together, they built a long career with their appearances in films and TV shows, which included such classics as “ESP”, “Miles Smiles”, “Nefertiti” and “Miles in the Sky”. At the same time, Hancock also recorded a solo album. His reputation has grown as a highly gifted and talented pianist whose compositions are excellent in design and performance.
Each member of Davis’ band went on to become a solo artist in their own right, and Hancock credits Davis with teaching him important lessons, both in and out of the band. These tips included selecting the best musicians for a band, a formula Davis shared at a union conference in San Diego in 1985.
“They can’t be selfish, which means they don’t play too long,” Davis said at the time. “They don’t do inappropriate things; they don’t play – a friend of mine calls it “tootie” – (just) to make up for the girls. I won’t go there They must be passionate about music. You have to find this. I can tell right away. I can tell if they love music or just the idea of playing music to attract girls. This is what you are looking for. Still, you have to look and see if they are thinking and engaging with their tools. “
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“I totally agree with everything Miles said and he has the truth about it. Yes, I am looking for the same. I was very lucky with the musicians I had the opportunity to interact with. I’m watching and – of course – I’m looking for Miles. They are also looking for Miles, even though he is no longer here. For many musicians today, yes, they are young, of course they will like girls – or whoever they want; they are not limited to girls.
“But they have good vision to know that the most important thing is to present something to the people who support and encourage them. Hopefully they can hear that from me because that’s what I’m trying to do.”
Hancock’s 47th studio album, the Joni Mitchell star’s 2007 tribute River: The Joni Letters, is only the second jazz artist ever to win a Grammy for album of the year. Like Davis before him, the delightfully eclectic keyboardist embraced jazz when it refused to buy into it.
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In the process, he inspired countless jazz, funk, rock, techno and hip-hop artists. Among his admirers is Oscar- and Grammy-winning rapper Common, who was happy to praise Hancock in a recent interview with the Union-Tribune.
“He changed me right away because we tested him and his music influenced J Dilla, who is one of the biggest producers I’ve ever worked with. The fact that he loves Herbie and uses a lot of Herbie’s music samples, let’s see more of Herbie’s voice, including “Sunshine”, “Thrust” and all the albums. Herbie is one of the best musicians and he is from my city, Chicago, I am happy and encouraged just to meet him. I hope that when you talk to him you tell him that I hope to participate in his new work – at least we talked about it and did something about it (2017 Monterrey Jazz Festival).
Does Common have a shot at the album, which will be Hancock’s first release since 2010’s star-studded “The Imagine Project”?
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“Of course he does,” Hancock replied. “We’re just waiting to find a good way to release it, so I’m very happy that he’s willing to help us with this record.”
In 2015, Hancock promised that the new album would be released in the spring of 2016. In an interview with the Union-Tribune last year, he said that it was close to completion. Well, he said, 2020 is likely to be even more so.
“But we will leave it in a different way than mine,” he promised. “Many things have changed in this technological era. One of these changes is not having to worry about the emotions that are limited by CDs or LPs that are tied to time and the release of (full) albums. So we don’t do that. Maybe we’ll release one song at a time, with a few months in between, for the first few tracks of the new record. And then, later on, we’ll release more. This is all from the general concept that I have a lot of new things that I want to embrace, starting with this new information.
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“We got some news from the stuff we did on the new record. In San
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