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Overview for Herbie Hancock
Herbie Hancock

Herbie Hancock



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Also Known As: Herbert Hancock,Herbert Jeffrey Hancock Died:
Born: April 12, 1940 Cause of Death:
Birth Place: Chicago, Illinois, USA Profession: Music ... composer musician actor


One of modern jazz music's true game-changers, pianist, composer and bandleader Herbie Hancock continually helped to redefine the genre by embracing a broad variety of styles and new technology, while still retaining his traditional roots. A former child prodigy, Hancock evolved into a first-rate adult musician when he became both an integral member of Miles Davis' Second Great Quintet and a key signing of the Blue Note label, where he recorded dozens of sessions as a sideman and a string of influential solo LPs which pioneered the post-bop style. Hancock went onto form several of his own forward-thinking backing bands, release a ground-breaking trilogy which introduced the jazz world to synths, and cross over to the MTV generation with a number of pop-oriented hits and attention-grabbing videos. Hancock maintained his impossible-to-pigeonhole reputation throughout the 80s and 90s by tackling everything from Oscar-winning film scores to the standards of Ira and George Gershwin. But it was in the 21st Century where he achieved his commercial peak thanks to various high-profile collaborative records and an Album of the Year Grammy-winning tribute to Joni Mitchell.

Born in Chicago, IL, in 1940, Hancock studied classical music from the age of seven, and had soloed in the first movement of a Mozart piano concerto with his hometown's Symphony Orchestra by the time he reached eleven. After graduating from Iowa's Grinnell College, where he majored in Electrical Engineering and Music, Hancock was taken under the wing of legendary blues trumpeter Donald Byrd, who offered him a place in his New York group, and encouraged him to work with neo-romantic composer Vittorio Giannini. In 1962, Hancock signed to Blue Note Records and released his debut album, Takin' Off, which not only spawned a future hit for Cuban percussionist Mongo Santamaria ("Watermelon Man"), but also attracted the attention of Miles Davis, who then invited him to join what would retroactively be known as his Second Great Quintet. Hancock spent five years in the group where he influenced Davis almost as much as Davis influenced him, popularizing chords previously unheard of in jazz, absorbing modern classical influences and developing an improvisational concept known as "time, no changes."

Hancock also continued to enjoy a fruitful solo career during this period, in addition to recording dozens of sessions as a sideman with the likes of Creed Taylor, Bobby Hutcherson and Lee Morgan. 1964's Empyrean Isles and 1965's Maiden Voyage, a concept album intended to create an oceanic atmosphere, were hailed as two of the finest jazz albums of the decade. 1966's Blowup, the official soundtrack to Michelangelo Antonioni's murder mystery, proved to be the first of many successful ventures into the world of film. After parting company with Davis in 1968, Hancock signed with Warner Bros. Records, formed his very own highly-influential jazz-rock sextet, and veered into funk territory on the score for Bill Cosby's animated television show, "Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids" (CBS, 1972-1985). Having doubled up on the electric keyboard during his final year in Davis' band, Hancock continued to incorporate various new instruments into his work, most notably the synthesiser on an avant-garde album trilogy titled in honor of his Swahili name, Mwandishi.

A conversion to Buddhism inspired a more positive, and ultimately more commercial, change in direction, and after founding a new Sly Stone-esque funk outfit called The Headhunters, he released one of the best-selling jazz albums of all time with an LP of the same name. Hancock recorded a further two albums (Thrust and Man-Child) with the group, composed soundtracks for politically-charged drama "The Spook Who Sat By The Door" (1973) and vigilante thriller "Death Wish" (1974) and flirted with the sounds of the Caribbean on 1976's Secrets, before joining forces with former Second Great Quintet bandmates Ron Carter, Tony Williams, Wayne Shorter and Freddie Hubbard for several reunion tours and live albums under the name of V.S.O.P. Undeterred at the sell-out accusations levelled at him, Hancock continued to target the mainstream with a string of disco-themed LPs in which he also relied heavily on the vocoder, but still kept one foot in traditional jazz territory with collaborative efforts with Wynton Marsalis and the formation of the Herbie Hancock Trio.

A much younger audience were introduced to his talents in 1983 when Future Shock spawned only his second US Hot 100 entry, "Rockit." One of the first hit singles to feature the art of scratching, the futuristic piece of synth-funk also gave Hancock his first ever Grammy and became an unlikely staple of MTV thanks to a striking Godley and Creme-directed video in which various robot-like sculptures moved in time to the track. Hancock then added to his awards tally in 1987 when his soundtrack to "'Round Midnight" (1986), the Parisian-based musical drama he also appeared in, won the Oscar for Best Original Score. Following a brief foray into techno-pop on 1988's Perfect Machine, Hancock took a six-year break from the studio before returning with the double whammy of A Tribute To Miles and Dis is da Drum, while in 1995, he tackled hit songs from artists as diverse as Nirvana, Stevie Wonder and The Beatles on The New Standard.

Hancock returned to more traditional fare in 1998 when he put his own spin on various Great American Songbook standards composed by Ira and George Gershwin, and three years later, recruited Michael Brecker and Roy Hargrove for a tour and Grammy-winning live LP (Directions in Music: Live at Massey Hall) celebrating the works of his former mentor Miles Davis, and John Coltrane. But 2001's Future2Future, an electronic-based affair which utilized the talents of The X-Ecutioners' turntablist Rob Swift and techno producer Carl Craig proved Hancock still had his finger on the pulse. Likewise 2005 duets album Possibilities, which saw him join forces with pop artists both established (Annie Lennox, Sting) and emerging (Joss Stone, Lisa Hannigan). But it was his next venture, 45 years into his career, that proved to be his crowning glory.

A tribute album to his long-time friend Joni Mitchell, 2007's River: The Joni Letters featured guest appearances from Leonard Cohen, Corinne Bailey Rae and the Canadian folk singer herself, reached a career high of number five on the Billboard 200, and famously beat the likes of Kanye West's Graduation and Amy Winehouse's Back in Black to the Album of the Year Grammy Award in 2008. The record's surprise success sparked a huge interest in Hancock's back catalogue, resulting in a number of reissues and compilations. But 2010's The Imagine Project, a star-studded and cross-cultural affair featuring the likes of Mali collective Tinariwen, Chicano rockers Los Lobos and Somali-Canadian poet K'Naan, proved that instead of looking back, Hancock was still far more interested in pushing jazz music forward.

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