A FEW jazz musicians have found success in the pop world too, but not many have managed it without leaving the riskier and more unpredictable aspects of jazz improvisation behind. Herbie Hancock, the jazz pianist born in Chicago in 1940, is one of those.
Hancock is that rare breed, who gets respect from jazz, classical, hip hop and drum 'n' bass artists alike. As a composer, he has written many great songs, including ‘Maiden Voyage’, ‘Watermelon Man’ and ‘Canteloupe Island’, and he had chart hits in 1973 with his Headhunters band and ‘Chameleon’, and in 1983 with ‘Rockit’. All this music continues to be regularly sampled by young DJs and producers.
As an 11-year-old, Hancock played Mozart in public with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, when he had only been studying piano for four years. As a student, he pursued music and electrical engineering at the same time, and his engineering interests gave him a lifelong fascination with technology, which he has used very creatively in his work. He’s a brilliant player of regular acoustic jazz, with a dazzlingly fast technique and an ability to improvise in constantly surprising ways.
In 2005, Herbie Hancock was still taking his music in many different directions – visiting Britain to play with a quartet joining jazz and West African music (including teenage drum prodigy Ritchie Barshay), leading several groups exploring cutting-edge electronics, and playing with the London Symphony Orchestra.
Here’s SoundJunction jazz pianist Gareth Williams on Herbie Hancock’s first piano influences.