Born April 12, 1940 in Chicago, Illinois
“Jazz is a music that is open enough to borrow from any other form of music, and has the strength to influence any other form of music.” –Herbie Hancock
This living jazz legend was classically trained, like many other jazz musicians. He performed a Mozart piano concerto with the Chicago Symphony when he was 11, but didn’t discover jazz until high school, inspired by Oscar Peterson and George Shearing. He attended Grinnell, a demanding liberal arts college in Iowa, with a double major in electrical engineering and music, but left one course shy of graduation.
Returning to Chicago, he launched his career at the age of 20, playing, composing, and recording with jazz greats like Donald Byrd and Coleman Hawkins, and in 1963 joined the Miles Davis Quintet. In terms of harmonic influences, Hancock lists Clare Fischer (of the Hi-Los), Bill Evans, Ravel, and Gil Evans, and he sometimes used Debussy-like chord sequences. His jazz style drew from the whole landscape of music: with elements of rock, R & B, popular, soul, electronic, world music, classical, jazz-fusion and jazz-funk. He was fascinated with electronic music gadgets, and enjoyed the synthesizer as well as acoustic piano.
His compositions and recordings show a musician whose imagination is ever evolving, and after 50 years he is still at the top of his game (though some jazz purists think he has sold out for more popular and commercial music ventures). He recently performed in the We Are One concert at President Obama’s inauguration. Listen to his many albums, or enjoy his movie soundtracks including Blowup, Death Wish, and Round Midnight (winning an Oscar for the latter). Winner of 12 Grammys and numerous other awards, Herbie Hancock has collaborated with all the great jazz artists, and continues to reign as one of the best.
Hear and watch Herbie’s Blue Note recording of Canteloupe Island with Freddie Hubbard, Joe Henderson, Tony Williams, and Ron Carter.
Read this Wired interview: