Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music



(b 12 April 1940, Chicago; aka Mwandishi, Swahili name meaning 'composer') Keyboards, composer. From musical family; to NYC with Donald Byrd early '61; worked with Phil Woods, Oliver Nelson, Eric Dolphy; with Miles Davis '63-8 in an important quintet: the rhythm section with Ron Carter and Tony Williams was one of the finest ever, and Davis's working band of that period one of his best.

But even then Hancock freelanced, and immediately began to influence all of pop music with Blue Note LPs: quintet Takin' Off '62 with Dexter Gordon, Freddie Hubbard (including 'Watermelon Man', no. 10 pop hit by Mongo Santamaria '63) followed by all-star septet My Point Of View and Inventions And Dimensions, a trio with Paul Chambers and Latin percussion including Willie Bobo, both '63 (Dimensions was also a Pausa LP called Succatash). Empyrean Isles '64 (with 'Cantaloupe Island'), with Hubbard, Carter, Williams, and Maiden Voyage '65 adding George Coleman to personnel (including the title track and 'Dolphin Dance') were big sellers by jazz standards. He scored the Antonioni film Blow-Up '66 (a good movie, some said, certainly a trendy period piece), arranging and conducting the soundtrack LP on MGM (charted in Billboard), including good sidemen, one vocal track by the Yardbirds. He continued on Blue Note with Speak Like A Child '68 including 'Riot' and 'The Sorcerer', tunes he also performed with Davis.

He left Davis and began playing both electric and acoustic piano on his own records with The Prisoner '69. Hew moved to WB for Fat Albert Rotunda (including music written for a Bill Cosby TV special), Mwandishi '70, Crossings '71: the last two increasingly used electric instruments (mellotron, synthesizer, electric bass, etc) and featured Bernie Maupin on reeds (b 29 August 1946, Detroit; he played on Davis's Bitches Brew, LPs on ECM, Hancock LPs through '82). Hancock switched to Columbia for Sextant '72, his first pop chart entry since Blow-Up: with Head Hunters '73 (including no. 42 hit single 'Chameleon') and Thrust '74 (both at no. 13), two-disc Treasure Chest (WB compilation of '69-70 material). Hancock had three albums in the Billboard Top Pop LP chart '74: having helped to invent funk he reaped the reward with 17 chart LPs altogether '73-84. Dedication '74 is a solo keyboard Japanese concert issued only on CBS/Sony in Japan. Death Wish '74 was a big band soundtrack for the violent Charles Bronson/Michael Winner film. V.S.O.P. '76 was made live at the Newport Jazz Festival by a quintet with Wayne Shorter, Hubbard, Carter, Williams, other personnel including Maupin on some tracks; in '77 the all-star quintet made a two-disc set at concerts in California (on Columbia). Tempest In The Colosseum made in Tokyo and a trio set with Carter and Williams made live in San Francisco were issued on CBS/Sony; a studio album Sunlight with large orchestra included Hancock's synthesized vocals. Duo-piano sets An Evening With Herbie Hancock And Chick Corea '78 were made live in several locations; two two-disc sets both charted, one on Columbia and one on Polydor under Corea's name. Feet Don't Fail Me Now '78 had lots of background vocals. Septet Direct Step and solo The Piano (both '78) and Five Stars '79 (by the V.S.O.P. quintet) were all made in Tokyo, issued on CBS/Sony, as was another trio set with Carter and Williams '81; two-disc quartet set same year adding Wynton Marsalis was also made in Tokyo but issued more widely.

Monster, Mr Hands, Magic Windows, Lite Me Up, Future Shock, Sound System '80-84 are more or less disco records; a clever video of 'Rockit' from Future Shock produced by Godley and Creme (see 10CC) was extensively played on the MTV cable channel (despite its apparent policy then of not covering black music) and won awards; six chart singles in UK '78-84 included 'Rockit' at no. 8 '83. An album Village Life with Foday Suso was issued '85. Some jazz fans were disgusted with Hancock, but the fan can take his/her choice of many LPs, classic Blue Notes often reissued, others (like Japanese concerts) not widely distributed since better music doesn't sell as well; meanwhile it's hard to blame Hancock for making money. His solo piano version of 'Dolphin Dance' '82 was included in a two-disc album on Palo Alto A Tribute To Bill Evans, with 14 other pianists; he also played as a sideman over the years with Shorter, Hubbard, Bobby Hutcherson, Wes Montgomery, Paul Desmond, Joe Farrell, Milt Jackson, George Benson, the Pointer Sisters, Johnny Nash, Stevie Wonder, etc; other work has included scores for films Death Wish '74, Round Midnight '86 (he played on the soundtrack, which won an Oscar), Back To The Beach '87 (film with Frankie Avalon, Annette Funicello, Connie Stevens and Pee-Wee Herman), also PBS TV series Rockschool, TV show Showtime Coast To Coast '87 with Joni Mitchell, David Sanborn, Bobby McFerrin. Dis Is Da Drum was on Mercury, with Maupin, Wallace Roney and 26 others including 'the Real Richie Rich', whoever he was.

In fact Hancock toured Europe almost every year playing acoustic jazz, and claimed never to have confused the acoustic and electric genres -- 'The two forms appeal to different audiences.' A Tribute To Miles Davis '92 re-created the quintet of the '60s with Roney on trumpet; The Herbie Hancock Quartet Live '92 on Jazz Door included Michael Brecker on tenor sax, as did The New Standard '96 on Verve: the latter was entirely acoustic, but used tunes by Prince, Stevie Wonder and Kurt Cobain, leaving it still pretty light stuff. Hancock can do it all, and jazz fans were glad to have him making their kind of records again, but the time spent on fusion and funk means that he plays the real stuff with no more depth of understanding than he did 30 years ago. Which still leaves him pretty good at it. For those who wanted something more challenging, 1+1 '97 on Verve was duos with Shorter's soprano sax, alternately beautiful and stark.