Herbie Hancock: An Introduction
Herbie Hancock is a true icon of modern music. Throughout his explorations, he has transcended limitations and genres while still maintaining his unique, unmistakable voice. Herbie's success at expanding the possibilities of musical thought has placed him in the annals of this century's visionaries. With an illustrious career spanning five decades, he continues to amaze audiences and never ceases to 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 since 1960. He has attained an enviable balance of commercial and artistic success, arriving at a point in his career where he ventures into every new project motivated purely by the desire to expand the boundaries of his creativity.
There are few artists in the music industry who have gained more respect and cast more influence than Herbie Hancock. As the immortal 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."
Beginnings: Early Life and the Miles Davis Quintet
Born in Chicago in 1940, Herbie was a child piano prodigy who performed a Mozart piano concerto with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra at the tender age of 11. He began playing jazz in high school, initially influenced by Oscar Peterson and Bill Evans. Also at this time, an additional passion for electronic science began to develop. As a result, he took a double major in music and electrical engineering at Grinnell College.
In 1960, at age 20, Herbie was discovered by trumpeter Donald Byrd, who asked him to join his group. Byrd also introduced Herbie to Alfred Lion of Blue Note Records, and after two years of session work with the likes of Phil Woods and Oliver Nelson, he signed to the legendary label as a solo artist. His 1963 debut album, Takin’ Off, was an immediate success, producing “Watermelon Man,” a big hit on jazz and R&B radio. Also in 1963, Herbie received the call that was to change his life and secure his place in jazz history. Miles Davis invited Herbie to join the Miles Davis Quintet. During his five years with Davis, Herbie and his colleagues thrilled audiences and recorded classic after classic, including the albums ESP, Nefertiti, and Sorcerer. Most jazz critics and fans regard this group, which also included Wayne Shorter (tenor sax), Ron Carter (bass), and Tony Williams (drums), as the greatest small jazz group of the 1960s. Even after he left Davis' group, Herbie still made appearances on Davis' groundbreaking recordings In a Silent Way and Bitches Brew, which heralded the birth of jazz-fusion.
Simultaneous with his work for Miles, Herbie's own solo career blossomed on Blue Note, creating such classic albums as Maiden Voyage, Empyrean Isles, and Speak Like a Child. In 1966, he composed the score to Michelangelo Antonioni's film, Blow Up. This led to a successful career in feature film and television music, including music for Bill Cosby’s Emmy-winning Hey, Hey, Hey, It’s Fat Albert and many other film scores in following years.
1970s: The Headhunters and VSOP
After leaving Miles Davis in 1968, Herbie stepped full-time into the new electronic jazz-funk that was sweeping the world. Herbie gathered a new band called The Headhunters and, in 1973, recorded Head Hunters--a hugely successful crossover hit which became the first jazz album to go platinum. With its Sly Stone-influenced hit single "Chameleon," this album (and its follow-up, Thrust) signaled once and for all that Herbie Hancock would not be pigeonholed or categorized.
By mid-decade, Herbie was playing for stadium-sized crowds all over the world and had no fewer than four albums in the pop charts at once. In total, Herbie had eleven albums in the pop charts during the 1970s. What's even more remarkable about Herbie's ’70s output is the inspiration and inexhaustible supply of samples he provided for the generations of hip hop and dance music artists that followed almost twenty years after these recordings were at their peak popularity. This, though, would not be the only time in his career that Herbie’s work would have such an influence.
Not content to travel one creative path, Herbie also stayed close to his love of acoustic jazz in the ’70s. He recorded and performed with VSOP (a reunification of the ’60s Miles Davis Quintet, substituting the great Freddie Hubbard for Davis), with various trios and quartets under his own name, and in duet settings with fellow pianists Chick Corea and Oscar Peterson.
1980s: Future Shock, Film & TV
In 1980, Herbie introduced the trumpeter Wynton Marsalis to the world as a solo artist, producing the young musician's debut album and touring with him as well. In 1983, a new pull to the alternative side led Herbie to a series of collaborations with the notorious musical architect Bill Laswell. The first, Future Shock, again struck platinum, and the single "Rockit" rocked the dance and R&B charts, winning a Grammy for Best R&B Instrumental. Moreover, the video of the track, created by Kevin Godley and Lol Crème, won five MTV awards. Sound System, the follow-up to Future Shock, also received a Grammy in the R&B instrumental category. Once again, Herbie Hancock had blazed a new path for younger musicians to follow.
In addition to his Grammy and MTV Award successes, Herbie won an Oscar in 1986 for scoring the film 'Round Midnight--in which he also appeared as an actor. During this time, he composed the soundtracks for a number of other films including Colors, Jo Jo Dancer, Action Jackson and Harlem Nights. Numerous television appearances over the years led to two hosting assignments in the 1980s. The first, Rock School, was an innovative educational music show for PBS, the second, Showtime's Coast To Coast, was a unique series of in-concert performances, interviews and collaborations, and ran from 1989-91.
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Takin' Off (Blue Note 1962)
My Point of View (Blue Note1963)
Inventions and Dimensions (Blue Note 1963)
Empyrean Isles (Blue Note 1964)
Maiden Voyage (Blue Note 1965)
Hancock (Blue Note 1968)
Speak Like a Child (Blue Note 1968)
The Prisoner (Blue Note 1969)
Fat Albert Rotunda (Warner Brothers 1969)
Mwandishi (Warner Brothers 1970)
Crossings (Warner Brothers 1971)
Sextant (Columbia 1972)
Head Hunters (Columbia 1973)
Dedication (CBS / Sony 1974)
Thrust (Columbia 1974)
Death Wish (One Way 1974)
In Concert, Vol. 2 [live] (CTI 1975)
Flood (A & M 1975)
Love Me by Name (A & M 1975)
Man-Child (Columbia 1976)
Secrets (Columbia 1976)
Happy the Man (Arista 1976)
Kawaida (GB 1976)
The Herbie Hancock Trio  (Columbia 1977)
V.S.O.P. The Quintet (Columbia 1977)
Live in Japan (Columbia 1977)
V.S.O.P. the Quintet: Tempest in the... [live] (CBS / Sony 1977)
Tempest in the Colosseum (Columbia 1977)
Sunlight (Columbia 1978)
An Evening with Herbie Hancock and Chick... [live] (Columbia 1978)
Direct Step (Columbia Japan 1978)
The Piano (Columbia 1978)
Live Under The Sky (Columbia 1979)
In Concert [Duets] [live] (CBS 1979)
Feets, Don't Fail Me Now (Columbia 1979)
Jingle Bells Jazz (Columbia 1979)
Direct Step (Japanese Sony 1979)
Mr. Hands (Columbia 1980)
Monster (Columbia 1980)
Quartet (Columbia 1981)
Herbie Hancock Quartet (Columbia 1981)
Double Rainbow (Columbia 1981)
By All Means (MPS 1981)
Magic Windows (Columbia 1981)
Lite Me Up (Columbia 1982)
Future Shock (Columbia 1983)
Sound-System (Columbia 1984)
Village Life (Columbia 1985)
Jazz Africa [live] (Verve 1986)
Third Plane (Carerre 1986)
Perfect Machine (Columbia 1988)
Songs for My Father (Blue Note 1988)
Dis Is Da Drum (Mercury 1993)
Jamming (Royal Co. 1994)
Jammin' with Herbie (Prime Cuts 1995)
Canteloupe Island (Blue Note 1995)
New Standard (Verve 1995)
In Concert [live] (Tristar 1996)
Living Jazz (Graphix Zone 1996)
1+1 (Polygram 1997)
Gershwin's World ([Japan] Import 1998)
Gershwin's World (Polygram 1998)
Night Walker (Direct Source 2000)
Future 2 Future (Transparent 2001)
Possibilities (Warner Brothers 2005)
River: The Joni Letters (Verve 2007)