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Herbert Jeffrey Hancock was born on April 12, 1940 in Chicago, Illinois and considered a prodigy as a child. When Herbie was eleven years old he performed a Mozart concerto with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Hancock began taking an interest in Jazz in his teens and transcribed records of Oscar Peterson and Bill Evans and also was into the vocal group the Hi-Lo’s. In his own words, “by 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 really came from. Almost all of the harmony that I play can be traced to one of those four people and whoever their influences were.” After high school Herbie attended Grinnell College where he double-majored in music and electrical engineering. Herbie quickly formed a reputation in Jazz in the 1960s performing with Donald Byrd, Coleman Hawkins, Oliver Nelson and Phil Woods and made his first album on Blue Note called ‘Takin’ Off’ in 1962.
Hancock’s first album caught the attention of Miles Davis and Herbie was asked to join his quintet in 1963 with Wayne Shorter, Ron Carter and Tony Williams. Some of the classic albums recorded by the quintet include ‘E.S.P.’, ‘Nefertiti’ and ‘Sorcerer’ and he also appeared on Davis’ albums ‘Bitches Brew’, ‘In a Silent Way’ and ‘Tribute to Jack Johnson’ among others. It was Miles who first introduced Herbie to the Fender Rhodes and began his interest in electronic keyboards. During the 1960s Hancock also made many albums under his own name including ‘Empyrean Isles’, ‘Maiden Voyage’, ‘Speak Like a Child’ and others. Herbie also began his career in film composing the score to the film Blow Up and in television by composing the soundtrack to the show Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids. In the 1970s Hancock began experimenting more with electronic instruments in Jazz and formed a group with Buster Williams, Billy Hart, Eddie Henderson, Julian Priester, Bennie Maupin, and Dr. Patrick Gleason. Albums this group made include ‘Mwandishi’, ‘Crossings’ and ‘Sextant’. These experimental albums led to the creation of one of Herbie’s most successful groups, The Headhunters, with Maupin, Bill Summers, Paul Jackson and Harvey Mason. The Headhunters were well received and their first album, ‘Head Hunters’, was the first Jazz album to go Platinum. By the mid 1970s Herbie was traveling around the world performing for stadium sized crowds. Hancock also continued with acoustic Jazz in the late ‘70s forming VSOP with the members of the Miles Davis Quintet minus Miles.
In the 1980s Herbie continued with VSOP II with Wynton and Branford Marsalis, Ron Carter and Tony Williams. In 1983 Hancock made an album with Bill Laswell called ‘Future Shock’ which went platinum and their hit song from that album “Rockit” won a Grammy for Best R&B Instrumental and the music video won five MTV awards. Their follow up album ‘Sound System’ also won a Grammy. In 1986 Herbie won an Oscar for his work scoring the film Round Midnight. Highlights for Herbie in 1990s include his Acid Jazz album ‘Dis Is Da Drum’ in 1994 followed by ‘The New Standard’ with an all star band that won a Grammy in 1996. In ’97 Hancock and Wayne Shorter recorded a duo album called ‘1+1’ and the following year The Headhunters reunited and went on tour with the Dave Matthews band. Herbie’s most celebrated achievement of this decade is by far his 2007 album ‘River: The Joni Letters’ with Joni Mitchell, Wayne Shorter, Lionel Loueke, Dave Holland and Vinnie Colauita. There many special guests on this album as well including Norah Jones, Tina Turner, Corrine Bailey Rae and Leonard Cohen. The album won a Grammy for Album of The Year and was the first Jazz album to do so in fifty years and only the second time ever a Jazz album has won the honors.
Herbie Hancock continues on making music and breaking barriers which only seem to exist for everyone except Herbie. The almost literally ageless Hancock has an unbelievable body of work and the thought that he is far from done is mind boggling. Herbie’s influence has reached nearly every genre of music in America and continues to simply make the music he wants to make in that moment without the rationalization that seems to hold back most others from reaching their potential. Herbie has won twelve Grammy Awards, an Oscar, NEA Jazz Masters Award, voted into the Down Beat Hall of Fame and so many others. I can’t wait to see what Herbie Hancock will do next.
“Practicing Buddhism has brought several revelations to me. One that has been extremely important to my own personal development and consequently my musical development — is the realization that I am not a musician. That’s not what I am. It’s what I do. What I am is a human being. Being a human being includes me being a musician. It includes my being a father, a husband, a neighbor, a citizen and an African-American. All of these relationships have to do with my existence on the planet."
“Creativity and artistic endeavors have a mission that goes far beyond just making music for the sake of music.”
“Without wisdom, the future has no meaning, no valuable purpose.”
“Since time is a continuum, the moment is always different, so the music is always different.” – Herbie Hancock
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