art that makes life . . .
Herbie Hancock is a true icon of jazz. His explorations of music have transcended limitations and genres, while at the same time he has maintained his unmistakable voice. Hancock's success at expanding the boundaries of musical thought has placed him in the annals of this century's musical visionaries. Herbie Hancock has not only changed the face of music in this century, but he continues to amaze and expand the public's vision of what music, particularly jazz, is all about today.
Herbie Hancock's creative path has moved fluidly between almost every development in acoustic and electronic jazz and R&B over the last third of the 20th century. To say that he is a consummate musician is really understating the case, particularly when one looks back at the keyboardist-composer's professional achievements over the past 39 years. Hancock has attained an enviable balance of commercial and artistic success, arriving at the point in his career where he ventures into every new project motivated purely by the desire to expand the boundaries of his creativity.
Symbols of Hancock's Midas touch range from his 1987 Academy Award for his soundtrack to the film Round Midnight, to the five Grammy's that he received in the 1980s and 1990s. Underlying all of these awards is the fact that there are few artists in the music industry who have gained more respect for their talent than Hancock. As Miles Davis said in his autobiography: "Herbie was the step after Bud Powell and Thelonious Monk, and I haven't heard anybody yet who has come after him."
Born in Chicago in 1940, Hancock has always attempted to run the musical gamut, even from the beginning of his career. he started playing piano at the age of seven and by the age of eleven the young prodigy performed a Mozart piano concerto with the Chicago Symphony. He began playing jazz in high school where he was influenced by Bill Evens and Oscar Peterson. His twin passion, electronic science, also began to develop at this time. Later, at Grinnell College, Hancock majored in both electrical engineering and music.
when Hancock was 20 years old, trumpeter Donald Byrd heard him playing in Chicago, asked him to join his group, and then brought him to New York where he introduced him to executives at blue Note Records. After two years of session work with such jazz artists at Phil Woods and Oliver Nelson, Blue Note Records offered Hancock a solo contract. His 1963 debut album Takin' Off, which featured guest musicians Freddie Hubbard and Dexter Gordon gained great attention with Herbie's first top 10 hit, "Watermelon Man." Also in 1963, Hancock's reputation came to the attention of Miles Davis who asked him to join his new group. This began Hancock's five year association with the legendary group, with whom he recorded the history-making recordings of Miles' Nefertiti and Sorcerer with saxophonist Wayne Shorter, bassist Ron Carter and the late Tony Williams on drums. This quintet became on of the most influential jazz groups of the 1960s.
Performing with Miles would have been enough for most musicians, but Hancock's solo career was blossoming on Blue Note, putting forth classic compositions like "Maiden Voyage," "Dolphin Dance," "Cantaloupe Island" and "Speak Like a Child." He also played on many East Coast recording sessions and in 1966 provided a ground breaking score to the film Blow Up, which made the pop charts and led to additional movie and television work. Included in his work for television was the music for Bill Cosby's special Hey, Hey, Hey, It's Fat Albert.
Hancock left Miles Davis' group in 1968 and began to divide his time between acoustic piano work and electronic keyboard playing. His acoustic jazz dates included the V.S.O.P. group (which was the old Davis quintet with Freddie Hubbard substituting for Davis) and albums with fellow keyboardist Chick Corea and other jazz greats. His jazz-rock and fusion albums included the platinum-selling 1973 release Headhunters. This record, released at the beginning of the fusion movement, became, at that time, the best-selling jazz album in history with its Sly Stone-influenced hit single "Chameleon." This track demonstrated Hancock's refusal to be pigeon-holed into any one musical category. By 1974 Headhunters was on the charts, along with three other Hancock albums; Thrust, Treasure Chest, and his score for the film Death Wish. These were followed by other ground-breaking LPs such as Manchild, Sunlight and the dance influenced Feets Don't Fail Me Now.
In 1974 Hancock was so successful, he had four albums on the pop charts at the same time. In total, he charted 11 albums during the 1970s. At this critical juncture in his career, Hancock returned to his roots as an acoustic pianist, recording and performing with the V.S.O.P. Quintet, the Herbie Hancock Quartet and Quintet, Chick Corea and Oscar Peterson. In addition to all this, Hancock produce Wynton Marsalis' debut album as well as introduces the young trumpeter to the world by having him tour with his Quartet.
Throughout the '80s Hancock received numerous awards. In 1983, "Rockit" (from the platinum-selling Future Shock album), rocked the dance and R&B charts and won him a Grammy for "Best R&B Instrumental." The video of that track, by the award-winning Godly and Creme, was one of the most inventive and entertaining in music video history, garnering five MTV awards. in 1984, the title song from his next album, Sound System, also won a Grammy for "Best R&B Instrumental." In 1986, Hancock won an Oscar for the score that framed the movie Round Midnight as well as acted in the film. This Bertrand Travernier film was one of the most highly acclaimed of the year and celebrated the proud yet painful history of American jazz. Following this success, Hancock continued to compose soundtracks for other films including Colors, Jo Jo Dancer, Your Life is Calling, Action Jackson and Harlem Nights. In the early 80s, Hancock hosted an innovative educational music show on PBS called "Rock School." From 1989 to 1991, he hosted a television series for ShowTime entitled "Coast to Coast." Through concerts and interviews, this series offered a unique cross-section of today's most important and exciting musical personalities.
In 1994, Hancock signed the first multi-label deal under the PolyGram Label Group umbrella which will enable him to record in a variety of genres on the appropriate affiliated labels. The first release under this agreement that same year was a venturesome pop-oriented project for Mercury Records, entitled Dis Is Da Drum. Hancock then made his official Verve debut with the Grammy Award-winning 1996 recording The New Standard. This album reasserted Hancock's inventive spirit by making his mark on tunes by some of today's most popular composers, backed by the incredibly distinctive and dynamic talents of Michael Brecker, John Scofield, Dave Holland, Jack DeJohnette and Don Alias.
1997 brought Hancock and Wayne Shorter together again in the studio for the first time since they joined forces on the 1994 Grammy Award-winning A Tribute To Miles album. Shorter on soprano saxophone and Hancock on acoustic piano, wended their way through 10 extraordinary and daring improvisations producing the critically acclaimed, acoustic jazz album 1 + 1 for Verve Records.
Hancock embarks on yet another chapter of his career in 1998 with the launch of Hancock Records, an artist-driven imprint under the Verve Records umbrella headed by Hancock and David Passick. This alliance allows Hancock to spearhead its artistic direction and create releases for Verve, Verve Forecast and Antilles. Hancock asserts, "The idea was not to make a label for myself, but to create a platform for both established artists and new talent I might discover . . . I've worked in the industry a long time and I look forward to using my knowledge and experience to help these artists find a wider audience."
Twenty-five years ago, Hancock emerged with a new band he called "Headhunters," with an album now considered a classic in the jazz canon. Almost immediately, a generous audience took to the band's sound, a slinky and smart blend of jazz, R&B and experimental elements. Flash forward to 1998: Return of the Headhunters is another landmark as the first new recording from the group in nearly twenty years and the maiden voyage release on Hancock Records.
In 1996, Hancock founded the Rhythm of Life Foundation. The mission of Hancock's brainchild is twofold: to help narrow the gap between those with and without technological knowledge, and to find ways to use technology to help improve humanity. The philosophy of the foundation is prefaced on communicating multi-cultural awareness and tolerance among communities, instilling a sense of courage and creative initiative in children, and educating one another about our rich ethnic heritage.
In addition to his performing career, Hancock holds several prominent artistic positions. Since 1991 he has been the Distinguished Artist in Residence at Jazz Aspen Snowmass in Aspen, Colorado, a non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation and performance of jazz and American music. In 1997, Hancock became the Artistic Director of the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz at the Music Center of Los Angeles County, a newly formed association that presents an innovative year-round jazz education and performance series at the Music Center. The Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz develops jazz programs for a diverse audience and works with jazz masters, historians and others in the music industry from various disciplines. The program offers master classes, seminars, lectures and workshops for musicians and the public. In addition, the resources will be available to music teachers in private and public schools as well as a summer jazz program for high school students. The partnership between the Institute and the Music Center offers young people one of the finest jazz education programs in the world.
Three decades since his emergence on the New York jazz scene, Hancock has lived up to Miles' assessment of him as the heir apparent to Powell and Monk. From there he has progressed onward to create an aesthetic that combines the vanguard of synthesized, acoustic and computerized space with funky dance music. Hancock also recognizes the importance of the new information super highway which combines all of the art forms - music, film, television, video and computer technology - and points to new creative arenas in the 21st century.
Now that jazz has come full circle back to traditional forms with younger players, Hancock is always prepared to return to his Steinway to show that he hasn't lost touch with his original, inimitable style.
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