Herbie Hancock – Music Legend

Early Career

How do you define a career that covers six decades? For Herbie Hancock, to this day he’s still at the forefront of the world! Dabbling in all kinds of things from technology, business, music and the world as a whole! Right there in the forefront of things as well as being an integral part of music since the 60’s. It doesn’t matter what style, if he likes it – he’s a part of it!


He starts his career with trumpet player Donald Byrd’s Group, shortly after he joins The Miles Davis Quintet, where he helps redefine the role of a jazz rhythm section and becomes one of the primary architects of the post-bop sound. Also learning from Miles the importance of experimentation. He starts experimenting on his own with jazz fusion, funk and electro styles by utilizing the use of synthesizers and electronics. This continues on to the release of The Headhunters album. One of his most influential and important albums still to this day.

Herbie Hancock – True Genius!

Herbie Hancock is not just any piano player, he is a true music genius! He’s just someone who can walk up to a piano, keyboards, or any other instrument he decides to take on and pushes them as far as he can and  what he creates is something truly inspiring! I also like his take on how he approaches the music he plays as well as the unique projects that he’s worked on over the years! 


He’s that kind of musician that can take a melody and transform it and give it a completely different feel. Below is a perfect example of how he takes a jazz standard Watermelon Man – that he wrote and how Mongo Santamaria’s influences changes it into something totally different. It’s a timeless jazz piece that he originally created decades ago and it’s still played to this day.


Herbie Handcock & The Head Hunters

The Headhunters was a pivotal point in Herbie Hancock’s career, bringing him into the vanguard of jazz fusion. While he pushed boundaries with the avant-garde music that he did on his own albums and the stunning music he did with Miles Davis. It’s during this time in his career along with some serious over the top talented musicians (including himself) with music, takes a turn down another avenue. Still experimenting and having a blast while doing it.


While it was still considered “jazz” because of the long improvisations occurring. Realistically speaking, it was funk, soul and R&B. But, the music they created had a mass appeal on music fans. Even to this day, the music that Hancock and The Headhunters created, is still very relevant. The ingenuity and creativity of this collaboration of jazz funk fusion is still absolutely exquisite. At the time, while some jazz purist were annoyed because this period of creativity in time wasn’t what they considered his “best work” But, for Handcock, it was what he wanted to do! Stir things up and throw down the funk! Check out “Chameleon”


Early Years – Starting Out

Born in Chicago in 1940, Herbie was a child piano prodigy who performed a Mozart piano concerto with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra at age 11. He began playing jazz in high school, initially influenced by Oscar Peterson and Bill Evans. He also developed a passion for electronics and science, and double-majored in music and electrical engineering at Grinnell College. By mid-decade, Herbie is 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 11 albums in the pop charts during the 1970s. His ’70s output inspired and provided samples for generations of hip-hop and dance music artists. Herbie also stayed close to his love of acoustic jazz in the ’70s, recording and performing with VSOP (reuniting him with his Miles Davis colleagues), and in duet settings with Chick Corea and Oscar Peterson.


In 1980, Herbie introduced the trumpeter Wynton Marsalis to the world as a solo artist, producing his 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 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. The video of the track won five MTV awards. ‘Sound System’, the follow-up, also received a Grammy in the R&B instrumental category. Also a lot of hip hop artists sampling this track!


Other fun facts include: 

  • Herbie won an Oscar in 1986 for scoring the film “‘Round Midnight”, in which he also appeared as an actor. 
  • Two hosting Assignments in the 80’s on PBS and Showtime’s Coast To Coast * Two hosting assignments in the 1980s: “Rock School” on PBS and Showtime’s “Coast To Coast”.
  • The legendary Headhunters reunion in 1998, recording an album for Herbie’s own Verve-distributed imprint, and touring with the Dave Matthews Band.
  • That year also marked the recording and release of ‘Gershwin’s World’, which included collaborators Joni Mitchell, Stevie Wonder, Kathleen Battle, the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, Wayne Shorter and Chick Corea. ‘Gershwin’s World’ won three Grammys in 1999, including Best Traditional Jazz Album and Best R&B Vocal Performance for Stevie Wonder’s “St. Louis Blues.”
  • Herbie reunited with Bill Laswell to collaborate with some young hip-hop and techno artists on 2001’s FUTURE2FUTURE.
  • He also joined with Roy Hargrove and Michael Brecker in 2002 to record a live concert album, ‘Directions In Music: Live at Massey Hall’, a tribute to John Coltrane and Miles Davis.
  • ‘Possibilities’, released in August 2005, teamed Herbie with many popular artists, such as Sting, Annie Lennox, John Mayer, Christina Aguilera, Paul Simon, Carlos Santana, Joss Stone and Damien Rice.
  • That year, he played a number of concert dates with a re-staffed Headhunters, and became the first-ever Artist-In-Residence at the Tennessee-based festival Bonnaroo.

Furthermore, be sure, to check out the other blog posts:https://jbonamassa.com/category/blog/