Herbie Hancock

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Herbie Hancock

Herbert Jeffrey Hancock (born April 12, 1940) is a jazz pianist and composer from Chicago, Illinois, USA. Hancock is one of jazz music's most important and influential pianists and composers. He embraced elements of rock, funk, and soul while adopting freer stylistic elements from jazz.

As part of Miles Davis's "second great quintet" Hancock helped redefine the role of a jazz rhythm section, and was later one of the first jazz musicians to embrace synthesizers and hip hop. Yet for all his restless experimentalism, Hancock's music is often melodic and accessible; he has had many songs "crossover" and achieve success among pop audiences.

Hancock's best-known solo works include "Cantaloupe Island", "Watermelon Man" (first on 1962's Takin' Off, then on 1973's Head Hunters and later perfomed by dozens of musicians, including bandleader Mongo Santamaria), George Gershwin's "Summertime", and the single "Rockit."


Early life and career

Like many jazz pianists, Hancock started with a classical music education; Hancock studied from age seven. His talent was recognized early, and he played the first movement of Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 5 in D Major at a young people’s concert with the Chicago Symphony at age eleven.

Through his teens, Hancock never had a jazz teacher. Instead, around college age, Hancock grew to like jazz after hearing some Oscar Peterson and George Shearing recordings, which he transcribed on his own time, and which developed his ear and sense of harmony. Hancock also listened to other pianists, including McCoy Tyner, Wynton Kelly and Bill Evans, and studied recordings by Miles Davis, John Coltrane and Lee Morgan.

After Hancock achieved degrees in electrical engineering and musical composition at Grinnell College, Donald Byrd hired Hancock in 1961, and 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, it was the first of dozens of albums Hancock would lead in the coming decades. "Watermelon Man" was to provide Mongo Santamaria with a hit single, but crucially Takin' Off was to catch the attention of Miles Davis, who was at that time assembling a new band.

During the 1960s, Hancock was a popular sideman and appeared as a pianist on dozens of Blue Note sessions.

Miles Davis quintet

Hancock's received considerable attention when, in 1963, he joined Miles Davis's "second great quintet". This new band was basically Miles Davis surrounded by fresh, new talent. Davis personally sought out Hancock, who he saw as one of the most promising talents in jazz. The rhythm section Davis organized was young but effective, comprising bassist Ron Carter, seventeen year old drummer Tony Williams, and Hancock on piano. After George Coleman and Sam Rivers each taking turns at the saxophone spot, the quintet would gel with Wayne Shorter on tenor saxophone. This quintet is often regarded as one of the finest jazz ensembles, and the rhythm section has been especially praised for their innovation and flexibility.

The second great quintet is the place where Hancock found his own unique voice as a master of jazz piano. Not only did he find new ways to use common chords, he also popularized chords then-rarely used in jazz. Hancock also developed a unique taste for "orchestral" accompaniment with stark contrasts then unheard of in jazz (listen to one of the famous live versions of "My Funny Valentine" recorded by the quintet).

With Williams and Carter he would weave a labyrinth of rhythmic intricacy on, around and over existing melodic and chordal schemes. In the later half of the sixties their approach would be so sophisticated and unorthodox that conventional chord changes would hardly be discernable, hence their improvisational concept would somewhat inaccurately be called "Time, No Changes".

While in the Davis band, Hancock found time to record many sessions for the Blue Note label, both under his own name and with other musicians such as Wayne Shorter and Freddie Hubbard. His albums Empyrean Isles and Maiden Voyage were to be two of the most famous and influential jazz LPs of the sixties, winning praise for both their innovation and accessibility (the latter demonstrated by the subsequent enormous popularity of the Maiden Voyage title track as a jazz standard, and by the jazz rap group US3 having a hit single with "Cantaloupe Island" from Empyrean Isles some twenty five years later). Hancock also recorded the not as well known but still critically acclaimed albums Speak Like A Child and The Prisoner which featured flugelhorn, alto flute and bass trombone, and composed the score to Michelangelo Antonioni's film Blow-Up which was to be the first of many soundtracks he would record in his career.

By the end of his tenure with Davis, the trumpeter began incorporating elements of rock and popular music into his recordings. Despite some initial reluctance, at Davis's insistence Hancock began doubling on electric keyboards including the Fender Rhodes electric piano. Hancock adapted quickly to the new instruments and they would be instrumental in his artistic endeavors.

In the summer of 1968, Hancock left Davis's band to form his own sextet, although he was formally kicked out under the pretext that he was late coming back from a honeymoon in Brazil. Davis would soon disband his quartet to search for a new sound himself. Despite his departure from the working band, Hancock would would continue to appear on Miles Davis records for the next few years; noteworthy appearances include In a Silent Way, A Tribute to Jack Johnson and On the Corner.

Fat Albert & Mwandishi

Hancock left Blue Note in 1969, signing up with Warner Brothers. In 1969, Hancock composed the soundtrack for the Bill Cosby TV show called Fat Albert. Titled Fat Albert Rotunda, the album was mainly a R&B-influenced album with strong jazz overtones. One of the jazzier songs on the record, "Tell Me A Bedtime Story", was later re-worked as a more electronically sounding song for a Quincy Jones album.

Hancock was fascinated with accumulating musical gadgets and toys. Together with the profound influence of Davis's Bitches' Brew, this fascination would culminate in a series of albums in which electronic instruments are coupled with acoustic instruments.

Hancock's first ventures into electronic music started with a sextet comprised of Hancock, drummer Billy Hart and bassist Buster Williams, and a trio of adventurous horn players: Eddie Henderson (trumpet), Julian Priester (trombone), and multireedist Bennie Maupin. Dr. Patrick Gleeson was eventually added to the mix to play and program the synthesizers.

The sextet made three experimental albums under Hancock's name : Mwandishi (1970), Crossings (1971) (both on Warner Brothers) and Sextant (1973) (released on Columbia Records); two more, Realization and Inside Out were recorded under Henderson's name with essentially the same personnel. The music often had very free improvisations and showed influence from the electronic music of some contemporary classical composers.

These three records became later known as the "Mwandishi" albums, so-called after a Swahili name Hancock sometimes used during this era (Mwandishi is Swahili for writer). The first two, including Fat Albert Rotunda were made available on the 2-CD set Mwandishi: the Complete Warner Bros. Recordings, released in 1994. Of the three electronically sounded albums, Sextant is probably the most experimental (especially the song "Rain Dance", which is one of Hancock's early Columbia classics.) since the Moog and Arp synthesizers are used in revolutionary ways that still sound fresh today; some extremely advanced improvisation is found on the tracks "Hornets" and "Hidden Shadows" (which is in the meter 19/4). "Hornets" was later revised on the 2001 album Future2Future as "Virtual Hornets".

Among the instruments Hancock utilized were Fender Rhodes piano, ARP Odyssey, ARP Pro-Soloist Synthesizer and the Minimoog. He was one of the first mainstream musicians to use an Apple computer in creating music in the early 1980s.

All three Warner Brothers albums Fat Albert Rotunda, Mwandishi and Crossings were remastered in 2001 but were not released in the U.S.A. as of June 2005.


After the sometimes "airy" and decidely experimental "Mwandishi" albums, Hancock was eager to perform more "earthy" and "funky" music. The Mwandishi records had seen mixed reviews and poor sales, so it is probable that Hancock was motivated by financial concerns as well as artistic restlessness.

He gathered a new band, which he called The Headhunters, keeping only Maupin from the sextet. The album Head Hunters released in 1973, was a major hit, and crossed over to pop audiences, though it prompted criticism from some jazz fans.

Despite charges of "selling out," later ears have regarded the album well: "Head Hunters still sounds fresh and vital two decades after its initial release, and its genre-bending proved vastly influential on not only jazz, but funk, soul, and hip-hop." Allmusic.com entry (http://www.allmusic.com/cg/amg.dll?p=amg&sql=10:3y61mped9f5o~T1)

Hancock released another album with The Headhunters named Thrust the following year, which was almost as well-received as its predecessor if not attaining the same level of commercial success. The Headhunters were to make another successful album (called "Survival of the Fittest") without Hancock while Hancock himself started to make even more commercial albums. Headhunters reunited with Hancock in 1998 for another album.

Back to the Basics and The Future Shock

During late 1970s and early 1980s, Hancock toured with his "V.S.O.P." quintet that featured a rotating lineup that usually featured all the members of the 60's Miles Davis quintet except Miles (there was constant speculation that one day, Miles would join the group and reunite the classic band, but he ultimately never did). He recorded a duet acoustic piano album with Chick Corea in 1979 (who had replaced him in the Miles Davis band a decade earlier) and a solo acoustic piano album titled The Piano which was like so many Hancock albums at the time only released in Japan (though it was finally released in the USA in 2004). Several Japan-only releases have yet still not been released in America, such as Dedication and Sunlight.

Hancock recorded many albums consisting of disco and pop music. They were not especially successful though Hancock's experiments usually provided interest for the listener (for example the Feets, Don't Fail Me Now album, released in 1978, features extended use of vocoder vocals by Hancock, plus disco grooves combined with funk-riffs). Albums such as Mr. Hands, Magic Windows, and Lite Me Up were some of Hancock's most criticized and unwelcome albums, as many fans did not want disco-esque jazz albums (partly due to the market at the time being somewhat saturated with such pop-jazz hybrids from the likes of Freddie Hubbard). The fans wanted something different, which led Hancock towards his biggest hit to date.

In 1983, Hancock had a mainstream hit with the Grammy-award winning instrumental single "Rockit" from the album Future Shock–perhaps the first mainstream single to feature scratching–which also featured an innovative animated music video with a breakdancing robot. The video was a hit on MTV, but become somewhat notorious when it was revealed that Hancock's minimal presence in the video was due to MTV's unwillingness at the time to show black musicians. This single ushered in a collaboration with noted bassist and producer Bill Laswell where Hancock experimented with electronic music on a string of three LPs produced by Laswell, Future Shock (1983), Sound-System (1984) and Perfect Machine (1988). During this period, he appeared onstage at the Grammy awards with Stevie Wonder, Howard Jones, and Thomas Dolby, in a famous synthesizer jam. Another lesser known work from the eighties is the live album Jazz Africa which was recorded with Gambian kora player Foday Musa Suso.

In 1986 Hancock played and acted in the film 'Round Midnight. He also wrote the score/soundtrack, for which he won an Academy Award for Original Music Score. Often he would write music for TV commercials. "Maiden Voyage", in fact, started out as a cologne advertisement. But, at the end of the Perfect Machine tour, Hancock decided to leave Columbia Records after a 15 plus year relationship.

As of June 2005, almost half of his recordings with Columbia have been remastered. The first three U.S. releases, Sextant, Head Hunters and Thrust as well as the last four releases Future Shock, Sound-System, the soundtrack to 'Round Midnight and Perfect Machine. Sparatically, Hancock did release a couple of his Japan-only releases. But everything released in America from Man-Child to Quartet has yet to be remastered. Some albums made and initially released in America, were remastered between 1999 and 2001 were sold in other countries such as Magic Windows and Monster.

1990s and later

After leaving Columbia, Hancock took somewhat of a break. Three years after Perfect Machine was released, his mentor Miles Davis, died in 1991. Along with friends Ron Carter, Tony Williams, Wayne Shorter and also Davis admirer Wallace Roney they recorded A Tribute To Miles which was released in 1994. The album contained two live recordings and studio recording classics with Roney playing Davis' part as trumpet player. The album did win a Grammy for best group album.

Hancock's next album, Dis is da Drum released in 1993 saw him return to hip hop. 1995's The New Standard found him and an all-star band including John Scofield, Jack DeJohnette and Michael Brecker interpreting pop songs by Nirvana, Stevie Wonder, The Beatles, Prince and others. A 1997 duet album with Wayne Shorter titled 1 & 1 was successful, the song "Aung San Suu Kyi" winning the Grammy Award for Best Instrumental Composition, and Hancock also achieved great success in 1998 with his album Gershwin's World which featured inventive readings of George & Ira Gershwin standards by Hancock and a plethora of guest stars including Stevie Wonder, Joni Mitchell and Shorter.

In 2001, Hancock recorded Future2Future, which reunited Hancock with Bill Laswell and featured doses of electronica as well as turntablist Rob Swift of The X-Ecutioners. Hancock later toured with the band, and released a live concert DVD which including the "Rockit" music video. In 2002, Hancock partnered with Michael Brecker and Roy Hargrove to record a live concert album saluting Davis and John Coltrane called Directions In Music: Live At Massey Hall recorded live in Toronto. The threesome then toured together.

It was announced in early 2005, that Hancock will partner with Starbucks' Hear Music to release a duet album. Also in 2005, Hancock toured Europe with a new quartet that included Beninese guitarist Lionel Loueke, and explored textures ranging from ambient to straight jazz to African music.


Hancock is a Buddhist, and writes about the influence Buddhism has had on his life and his music in the introduction he wrote to the nonfiction bestseller The Buddha In Your Mirror. He is a member of the California-based Soka Gakkai International sect, which also counts Tina Turner among its members.

Hancock filmed an infomercial where he served as spokesman for the Bose Corporation.

Solo Discography


  • MTV Awards (5 awards in total) - Best Concept Video - Rockit 1983-84
  • Grammy - Best R&B Instrumental Performance - Rockit" 1983
  • Keyboard Magazine Readers Poll - Best Jazz & Pop Keyboardist 1983
  • Grammy - Best R&B instrumental Performance - Sound system 1984
  • Gold Note Jazz Awards - NY chapter National Black MBA association 1985
  • Playboy Music Poll Jazz Group 1985
  • Playboy Music Poll Playboy Music Poll 1985
  • Playboy Music Poll "Best Jazz Album - Rockit" 1985
  • French Award Officer of the Order of Arts & Letters-Paris 1985
  • Oscar "Best Original Score - Round Midnight" 1986
  • BMI Film Music Award "Round Midnight" 1986
  • Playboy Music Poll Jazz Keyboards 1986
  • U.S. Radio award "Best Original Music Scoring - Thom McAnn Shoes" 1986
  • Los Angeles Film Critics Association "Best Score - Round Midnight" 1986
  • Grammy "Best Original Composition - Call Sheet Blues" 1987
  • Playboy Music Poll R&B Instrumentalist 1987
  • Keyboard Magazine Readers Poll Jazz Pianist 1987
  • Keyboard Magazine Readers Poll Jazz Keyboardist 1987
  • Keyboard Magazine Readers Poll Best Jazz Pianist 1988
  • BMI TV/Film award 25 Years of Affiliation 1988
  • Playboy Music Poll Jazz Instrumentalist 1988
  • BMI Film Music Award "Colors" 1989
  • Grammy "Best Jazz Instrumental by a Group - Tribute To Miles" 1994
  • Grammy "The New Standard" 1996
  • Soul train Music Award "Best jazz album - The New Standard" 1997
  • Festival International Jazz de Montreal Prix Miles Davis 1997
  • VH1's 100 Greatest Videos "Rockit" is "10th Greatest Video" 2001
  • NEA Jazz Masters Award 2004


External links

fr:Herbie Hancock it:Herbie Hancock no:Herbie Hancock ja:ハービー・ハンコック nds:Herbie Hancock pt:Herbie Hancock fi:Herbie Hancock


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