Herbie Hancock pioneered the post-bop style and was among the first jazz musicians to include music synthesizers in his songs. His music combined elements of rock, soul, jazz, funk and African and Indian influences. Hancock introduced electronic piano into the world of jazz, something that had not been done before. His jazz improvisational skills would result into a unique artistic blend of blues, jazz and classical music.
Hancock attended Grinnell College for some time but left afterwards and moved to Chicago to work with Donald Byrd and Coleman Hawkins. While still working with Byrd, he signed up with Blue Notes Records and recorded his first solo album “Takin’ Off” in 1962. He was later introduced to Miles Davis and got considerable attention after joining the famous Davis quintet. This did not stop Hancock from recording his own albums outside the group. In 1964 and in 1965 he released two albums, which earned him much recognition due to their fame and influence in jazz music.
He also recorded some solo recordings that became instant hits such as “Watermelon man” and “Cantaloupe Island”. Over the years Hancock incorporated rock and pop musical elements in his own music and his fascination for musical gadgets would end in a series of recordings in which electronic and acoustic instruments were paired together.
Hancock formed his own band called the Headhunters that recorded a hit album titled “Head hunters”. He loved funk music and was eager to perform music with more funky tunes, which he did. In the mid-1970’s he released two jazz-funk albums titled “Secrets” and “Man-Child”. Hancock has had many accomplishments that have seen him earn numerous Grammy Awards and other notable awards. On the 22nd of July, 2011, he was named UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador for his exemplary work in promoting Intercultural Dialogue.
Herbert ‘Herbie’Jeffrey Hancock born in April 12th, 1940 in Chicago, Illinois is an American pianist, keyboard player, songwriter and band leader. He is a jazz legend popularly known for playing a variety of genres such as, jazz-rock fusion, bebop, dance, hip hop, jazz, instrumental pop and world fusion. As a young lad much like many legendary jazz musicians, he studied music, predominantly classic piano and because his talent was established at an early age, he was considered a child prodigy.
At age 11, he performed the first movement of Mozart with the Chicago Symphony. Although he never had a jazz instructor, Herbie developed a phenomenal ear and was able to pick out harmonies especially from the recordings of vocal group Hi-Lo’s, Oscar Peterson and George Shearing. These were a major influence on his harmonic concept. After leaving Grinnell College, Hancock moved to Chicago, where he worked with Donald Byrd and Coleman Hawkins. In 1960, he studied composition with Vittorio Giannini for a small period of time and later graduated with electrical engineering and music degrees from Grinnell.
It was after joining Byrd’s quintet in 1961 and having moved to New York, that he begun to develop a unique lyrical style that blends bebop, blues and gospel. It was during this time with Byrd that he was offered a contract by Blue Note Records and consequently made his first record in 1962. His supporting group at the time included Freddie Hubbard and Dexter Gordon. His song “Watermelon man”, from his album became a hit and more than 200 artists have recorded this song over the years.
In the mid-1960’s Hancock joined the Miles Davis famous quintet, which included Davis, Ron Carter, Wayne Shorter and Tony Williams. Up till now, this quintet is regarded as one of the finest jazz bands in jazz history. When he was not performing with the quintet, Hancock was recording his albums with Blue Note Records. It was during this time when he recorded some of his timeless and renowned albums Empyrean Isles and Maiden Voyage, which were seen as the keystone of the post-bop style. Some of the other Hancock’s critically acclaimed albums include “Speak like a child”, “The Prisoner” and “My Point of View”.
By 1968, Hancock had left The Davis group and had formed his own sextet where he ventured into electronic music. Before long, Davis had disbanded his quintet in quest for a new sound and despite Hancock leaving the group; he would continue to appear in some of Miles Davis recordings such as, “On the Corner”, “In a Silent Way” and “A Tribute to Jack Johnson” over the next few years.
In 1969, Hancock left Blue Note and signed up with Warner Brothers Records. He composed a soundtrack titled “Fat Albert Rotunda” that was used in the Bill Cosby’s, “Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids”, children’s television show. Between 1971 and 1973, Hancock had released three albums that were later known as “Mwandishi”. His music exhibited influence from electronic pop merged with jazz, and rock. He embraced the electronic keyboard, something that jazz pianists had never done.
In 1973, he formed a new band called The Headhunters, which merged rock, funk and instrumental pop. They released the “Head hunters” album, which became a major hit. Later he went ahead to play more pop music. In the 1990’s, it was clear that he had not abandoned his acoustic roots as he played both electronic pop and acoustic jazz. So far, Herbie Hancock has had many accomplishments and achievements including multiple Grammy Awards, an Oscar and Alumni Award from Grinnell College.
Videos and Recordings
Herbie Hancock plays Maiden Voyage: