Encyclopedia  |   World Factbook  |   World Flags  |   Reference Tables  |   List of Lists     
   Academic Disciplines  |   Historical Timeline  |   Themed Timelines  |   Biographies  |   How-Tos     
Sponsor by The Tattoo Collection
Herbie Hancock
Main Page | See live article | Alphabetical index

Herbie Hancock

Herbie Hancock (born April 12, 1940) is a jazz pianist and composer from Chicago, Illinois, USA.

Hancock embraced elements of rock and soul while adopting freer stylistic elements from jazz. Familiar chord changes in bebop were replaced by fewer, but more exotic chord changes. Hancock also was influenced largely by funk, particularly the music of James Brown and Sly and the Family Stone. The walking bass pattern associated with swing music was replaced by repetitive bass ostinatos and vamps that emphasized a groove. In 1969, his Fat Albert Rotunda, was a return to ’66 Rhythm and Blues. In that album, solos were in short supply. It sounded more like a big band covering rock music.

Table of contents
1 Early life
2 Miles Davis quintet
3 Electronics
4 More commercial ventures
5 Other aspects of his life
6 Discography
7 Awards
8 External link

Early life

Like many talented jazz pianists, Hancock started a classical education at age seven. Immediately recognized for his virtuosity, he played the 1st movement of a Mozart concerto at a young people’s concert with the Chicago Symphony at age eleven. Growing up through his teens, he never had a jazz teacher. Instead, around college age, he grew to like jazz after hearing some Oscar Peterson and George Shearing solos, which he transcribed on his own time and thus developed his ear and sense of harmony. He also listened to a lot of other pianists like McCoy Tyner, Wynton Kelly and Bill Evans. He also learned musicianship from listening to recordings by horn players like Miles Davis, John Coltrane and Lee Morgan.

His most famous solo works included "Cantaloupe Island", "Watermelon Man" (from the Head Hunters album) and his rendition of George Gershwin's "Summertime". "Watermelon Man" would later be covered by over 200 artists in the future such as Latin bandleader Mongo Santamaria.

Miles Davis quintet

His claim to fame was joining Miles Davis’ second great quintet, which was more forward thinking and experimental than the Kind of Blue crew. This new band was basically Miles Davis, surrounded by fresh, new talent. Being that Herbie Hancock one of the most talked about up-and-coming jazz pianists at the time, Miles just had to have him on his band, and he sought him out personally. The rhythm section he brought together was young but effective, comprised of bassist Ron Carter, seventeen year old drummer Tony Williams, and Herbie Hancock on piano. After a short period with Sam Rivers and George Coleman, the quintet would settle with Wayne Shorter on (tenor)saxophone.

Today, this rhythm section is compared to the ’61-’65 Coltrane rhythm section of Tyner, Garrison, and Jones as one of the most important rhythms in contemporary jazz.

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 voice common chords and did he popularize then obscure chords as the sus4 (maiden voyage is solely comprised of sus chords) chord, he also developed an unique taste for 'orchestral' accompagniment with stark contrasts then unheard of in jazz (listen to one of the famous My Funny Valentine live renditions of the quintet). Together with Williams and Carter he would weave a labyrinth of rhythmic intricacy on, around and over existing chord schemes. In the latter half of the sixties their approach would be so sophisticated that conventional chord schemes would hardly be discernable, hence their improvisational concept would somewhat misguidedly be called 'Time, no Changes'.

In 1969, Hancock left Miles' 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. Miles would soon disband his quartet to search for a new sound himself. Herbie Hancock would on and off appear on records by the 'Electric' Miles.


Hancock was fascinated with accumulating musical gadgets and toys. Together with the profound influence of the Bitches' Brew album by Miles Davis (to which he actually contributed) this fascination would culminate in a series of albums in which electronic instruments are coupled with acoustic instruments. It was actually on a suggestion by Miles Davis that he started to play the Fender Rhodes electric piano. His first ventures into electronic territory started with a sextet that made three experimental albums, bordering on free jazz and electronic music from contemporary classical composers. These albums became later known as the Mwandishi albums. Of these three albums Sextant is the most pregnantly experimental.

Besides the aforementioned Rhodes piano he accumulated such electronic instruments as the ARP Odessey, ARP Pro-Soloist Synthesizer and the Mini Moog. He was one of the first mainstream musicians to use an Apple computer in creating music in the early 1970s.

More commercial ventures

His 1973 adventure into improvisational funk, "Headhunters", was his first official crossover into more mainstream music. By that time, however, his music became barely recognizable by many purists as "jazz". During 1982 Hancock had a mainstream hit and Grammy award with the 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. 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 and Perfect Machine.

In 1986 he played and acted in the film 'Round Midnight. He also wrote the score, 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. He also wrote the theme music to Bill Cosby’s show, “Fat Albert.”

Other aspects of his life

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.



External link