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Herbie Hancock Reflects On The Influences And Highlights Of His Career

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San Diego will have a chance to hear the pianist, composer and bandleader, Herbie Hancock in concert Tuesday night at Humphrey's By The Bay. Hancock joined Midday Edition Monday to talk about who influenced his sound and creativity.

Show transcript

Speaker 1: 00:00 From jazz to post Bop, even hip hop. Herbie Hancock is one of the architects behind much of the music we hear today. And San Diego. We'll have a chance to hear the pianist, composer and bandleader in concert tomorrow at Humphreys. I had a chance to speak to Herbie Hancock recently about who influenced his sound and creativity. Herbie Hancock. Thank you so much for joining us today.

Speaker 2: 00:23 My pleasure. How are you doing?

Speaker 1: 00:25 Doing just fine. You know, your career in music, it started before you even hit your teenage years. You performed with the Chicago symphony when you were just 11. How did you learn to play piano? It's such a young age.

Speaker 2: 00:37 Well, I started taking piano lessons when I was seven and they started there. I had a great teacher named Mrs. Jordan. She was the one that that entered me into a young people's concert series and I won. I won for the piano and the prize for each of the instruments is to be able to play the concerto that you use for the, uh, audition with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. So I won and I got a chance to play with them.

Speaker 1: 01:08 You draw influences from all over on your debut album, for example, taken off in 1962, your song, the watermelon man pulled from Gospel and Blues Music. And what inspired you to first pull from those genres?

Speaker 2: 01:22 I'm from Chicago enough to say it.

Speaker 1: 01:25 Yeah. That is the sound of Chicago. The sound of home, right?

Speaker 2: 01:29 Oh yeah, yeah, yeah. If you're from Chicago and you can't play the blues, that means you're not really from Chicago.

Speaker 3: 01:52 [inaudible]

Speaker 1: 01:53 you've performed with countless legends, a over your long career. What were some of the highlights and uh, who really pushed you to keep building your skills?

Speaker 2: 02:01 Well first it was Donald Bird. Everybody discovered me, brought me from Chicago to New York with his band and, and he's the first person to tell me to hold on to my publishing that he would set up a publishing company for me. Um, cause cause he liked the songs that I was writing. He's the first person to actually get me a record contract with, with blue note. He told me how to do it. I told them I was being drafted into the army and I wanted to make a record before, uh, I left kind of Tolo I guess they call it a white lie. So they said yes. And anyway, one of the songs was watermelon man.

Speaker 3: 02:52 [inaudible] so,

Speaker 2: 02:53 so is Donald Byrd. Then it was my house because he hired young and uh, miles encouraged us to always try new things, things. And because it was new influences from the avant guard, that was a happening at the time, you know, in the, in the 60s. And Miles wanted that. So he encouraged us to, you know, keep exploring new territory, keep writing tunes. And so that kind of encouragement I've kept since then and I always try to try to encourage my [inaudible] musicians and it's exactly the same way.

Speaker 3: 03:31 [inaudible]

Speaker 1: 03:41 how did you first meet Aretha Franklin?

Speaker 2: 03:44 I was with miles Davis, his band, and we were, uh, to perform in Los Angeles at the time I was living in New York. Anyway, there was an opening act and the opening act was, was the trio led by a very young woman who played kind of bluesy piano. And she saying, I came early, but before we, uh, were to go on to hear with this young lady whose name was Aretha Franklin, I wonder what she sounded like. And she played nice piano, you know, Ken funky kind of piano. That was cool. And then she got up and sang and sang and it was, it was all over then. Unbelievable. She boots everybody away.

Speaker 4: 04:31 [inaudible]

Speaker 2: 04:32 and then, then we had to follow that. Wow.

Speaker 1: 04:34 And now I have to, now I have to ask, what were you all, what was your performance?

Speaker 2: 04:38 We played, well, we played, it was miles Davis, his band. Remember that with Tony Williams owns drums and an at the time, Wayne shorter on saxophone, but we're on Carter was on bass and miles, so we didn't do too badly done.

Speaker 3: 04:53 Let's say it that way.

Speaker 1: 05:01 Your headhunters album was the first jazz album to go platinum and successfully combines funk with jazz. Where did that inspiration come from

Speaker 2: 05:09 prior to putting the head on his band together? I had the, what we call him now in one DC band, which was born off on guard duty, far out untethered, uh, kind of a van with, you know, pretty spacey music, but what I was listening to sly stone and the commodores and then I got tired of playing out in space. I wanted to do something that was, you know, more earthy and, and something that was closer, really closer to my have my own at the same time synthesizers that come out and, uh, being a, you know, former engineering major in college, um, that intrigued me too. Good. All the science part of it. And, and so, you know, I immediately gravitated to that. I had no idea it was going to blow up the way it did, but I'm happy to see it.

Speaker 5: 06:27 [inaudible]

Speaker 1: 06:39 you know, you've had tremendous success on the pop charts and influenced hip hop and electronic music. Um, and as you mentioned, you double majored in music and electrical engineering. Um, how is your passion for electrical engineering influenced your music?

Speaker 2: 06:55 Uh, no way my mind works is I have kind of an analytical mind and that's been a real asset, especially living in a technological age. But even before that, back in 75, I even, uh, uh, ran across this device called a vocoder who knew that that was going at one up being auto tune with all the fingers you, you know, in the pop and R and B world.

Speaker 6: 07:29 [inaudible]

Speaker 1: 07:31 how do you keep successfully reinventing the sound of music and what are you working on now?

Speaker 2: 07:36 I'm always looking to do something that I haven't done before. What I like to do is break things. What I like to do is break rules, things that kind of keep us locked into a comfort zone. You know, and I like to go beyond the comfort zone because every human being has infinite potential. Well, let's open up the walls and explore new territory. It takes a lot of courage to do that, but we have that, we have that equity both inside. Is this a matter of deciding you want to continually grow as long as you live

Speaker 1: 08:17 herby? Thanks so much for joining us.

Speaker 2: 08:19 Thank you. Thank you very much.

Speaker 3: 08:20 Great talking to you.

Speaker 1: 08:25 Herbie Hancock performs tomorrow, August 20th at Humphreys by the bay.

Speaker 3: 08:46 [inaudible].

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KPBS Midday Edition Segments

Maureen Cavanaugh and Jade Hindmon host KPBS Midday Edition, a daily radio news magazine keeping San Diego in the know on everything from politics to the arts.