Happy Monday, Everyone! This week’s featured artist is Mr. Herbie Hancock.
Herbert Jeffrey “Herbie” Hancock (born April 12, 1940) is an American pianist, keyboardist, bandleader and composer. Starting his career with Donald Byrd, he shortly thereafter joined the Miles Davis Quintet where Hancock helped to redefine the role of a jazz rhythm section and was one of the primary architects of the “post-bop” sound. He was one of the first jazz musicians to embrace synthesizers and funk music (characterized by syncopated drum beats). Hancock’s music is often melodic and accessible; he has had many songs “cross over” and achieved success among pop audiences. His music embraces elements of funk and soul while adopting freer stylistic elements from jazz. In his jazz improvisation, he possesses a unique creative blend of jazz, blues, and modern classical music, with harmonic stylings much like the styles of Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel.
Hancock’s best-known solo works include “Cantaloupe Island”, “Watermelon Man” (later performed by dozens of musicians, including bandleader Mongo Santamaría), “Maiden Voyage”, “Chameleon”, and the singles “I Thought It Was You” and “Rockit”. His 2007 tribute album River: The Joni Letters won the 2008 Grammy Award for Album of the Year, only the second jazz album ever to win the award, after Getz/Gilberto in 1965.
Hancock practices Nichiren Buddhism and is a member of the Buddhist association Sōka Gakkai International. As part of Hancock’s spiritual practice, he recites the Buddhist chant Nam Myoho Renge Kyo each day. In 2013, Hancock’s dialogue with Wayne Shorter and Daisaku Ikeda on jazz, Buddhism and life was published in Japanese.
Mr Funk (Full Album) 1998
Early life and career
Hancock was born in Chicago, Illinois, the son of Winnie Belle (Griffin), a secretary, and Wayman Edward Hancock, a government meat inspector. He attended the Wendell Phillips High School. Like many jazz pianists, Hancock started with a classical music education. He studied from age seven, and his talent was recognized early. Considered a child prodigy, he played the first movement of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 26 in D Major, K. 537 (Coronation) at a young people’s concert on February 5, 1952, with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (led by CSO assistant conductor George Schick) at the age of 11.
Through his teens, Hancock never had a jazz teacher, but developed his ear and sense of harmony. He was also influenced by records of the vocal group the Hi-Lo’s. He reported that:
the time I actually heard the Hi-Lo’s, I started picking that stuff out; my ear was happening. I could hear stuff and that’s when I really learned some much farther-out voicings – like the harmonies I used on Speak Like a Child – just being able to do that. I really got that from Clare Fischer’s arrangements for the Hi-Lo’s. Clare Fischer was a major influence on my harmonic concept…. He and Bill Evans, and Ravel and Gil Evans, finally. You know, that’s where it came from.
In 1960, he heard Chris Anderson play just once, and begged him to accept him as a student. Hancock often mentions Anderson as his harmonic guru. Hancock left Grinnell College, moved to Chicago and began working with Donald Byrd and Coleman Hawkins, during which period he also took courses at Roosevelt University. (He later graduated from Grinnell with degrees in electrical engineering and music. Grinnell also awarded him an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree in 1972.) Byrd was attending the Manhattan School of Music in New York at the time and suggested that Hancock study composition with Vittorio Giannini, which he did for a short time in 1960. The pianist quickly earned a reputation, and played subsequent sessions with Oliver Nelson and Phil Woods. He recorded his first solo album Takin’ Off for Blue Note Records in 1962. “Watermelon Man” (from Takin’ Off) was to provide Mongo Santamaría with a hit single, but more importantly for Hancock, Takin’ Off caught the attention of Miles Davis who was at that time assembling a new band. Hancock was introduced to Davis by the young drummer Tony Williams, a member of the new band.