Friday, 13 April 2012

Still Herbie (Hancock) After All These Years

The old saying 'I wasn't born yesterday' is not something Herbie Hancock can use today because he was, 72 years ago - phew - but I wonder if he's even aware of the saying...and if he is, he's one person who would be justified in using it because he strikes me as one of the smartest folk in music. He performed Mozart's Piano Concerto No.5 at a concert, aged 11, but wasn't schooled in Jazz until later, making his first solo album, Takin' Off, in '62. The rest is history.

Everything's history, in a sense, except the future, even the start of this post, although I'm not sure many would agree, preferring to think in terms of years, except when wishing to dismiss a recent calamity in a fit of positive forward-thinking and declare it to be 'history', even though it only happened last week.

What does Herbie see as he examines his story since '62? Nothing but success, I imagine, although he may not be one to gloat, having been a Buddhist since the 70s - I presume Buddhists never gloat; they're too humble for that. What musical revolutions he's seen, and not just seen but been part of - from joining Miles in '63 for the great modal adventure, on to the evolution of Fusion and the forming of his own great contribution to the genre, the Mwandishi band, then the Headhunters - boom! In retrospect, whilst criticised by purists at the time, those albums now sound like some of the very best marriages between Funk and Jazz ever made. But Herbie always had an ear for what would cross over, as in 'Watermelon Man' ('62), or 'Cantaloupe Island' ('64).

The first Herbie Hancock tune I heard was the 1975 single, 'Hang Up Your Hang Ups' - and it came through the radio - WHAM! - I had to buy it. But I remained oblivious to the hidden depths and complexities carried on a Funk riff that called out to this skinny white boy who liked to go wiggle at the local disco. I always say it planted the seed of Jazz in me that would grow and blossom several years later. In truth, that was more down to post-Punk disillusionment with Rock than anything else.

'In order for something to have value it has to in some way work towards serving humanity, otherwise it's self-serving and shallow and disruptive,' he once said. Ah, Herbie, you have served humanity well...the part of it that listens, anyway.

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