Every Friday night we smooth our way into the weekend with music, the universal language. These selections demonstrate that despite what is being passed off as art today, there is plenty of really good music available. Come along and enjoy!
This month music legend Herbie Hancock turned 82. On April 12th to be exact.
With a resume that’s a mile long, Herbie Hancock is, and almost always was, a musical genius. Hancock performed a Mozart piano concerto with the famed Chicago Symphony Orchestra. He was only 11 at the time. His teenage influences were Oscar Peterson and Bill Evans.
At that tender young age, Hancock had, not one, but two passions. Besides music, Hancock was fascinated with electronic science, so he pursued a double major in music and electrical engineering at Grinnell College.
The legendary trumpet player Donald Byrd discovered the 20-year old Hancock in 1960. Three years later, Hancock made his debut album. That same year, he got a phone call that cemented his place in music history. On the other end of the line was another musician destined for stardom asking Hancock to join his quintet: Miles Davis.
Hancock stayed with Davis until 1968 and in the 70’s, Hancock dove head first into electronic synthesized jazz funk and even crossed over into the pop charts.
The versatile Hancock has written for movies and television. Since 1991, he has been the Distinguished Artist in Residence at Jazz Aspen Snowmass in Colorado; a non-profit organization devoted to the preservation and performance of jazz and American music. Hancock also serves as Institute Chairman of the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz, the foremost international organization devoted to the development of jazz performance and education worldwide.
This week terrific covers of some of Hancock’s best. Let’s get rolling.
When Hancock recorded one of his biggest hits, it attracted fans of rock, pop, and R&B. But purists thought Hancock was abandoning his music principles and jazz roots for greater commercial recognition. Hancock had an answer.
“I always enjoy working with new forms, new idioms. I take them on as a learning experience, a challenge,” he said during a 1979 interview. “It’s just like learning to speak a few different languages. Someone might want to write a novel in French because French might be fitting for their concept of the novel. Or they might want to write in Spanish because of a certain concept they have. It’s the same type of thing. If you can use several means of expression, you can choose which one you want to use at any given moment. It’s not so much coming back to this or coming back to that, or leaving this or leaving that. It’s just that there are several choices available.”
Bob Baldwin and friends perform that Hancock classic.
You see above a chameleon. There are about 160 species of chameleon living in Africa, Madagascar, Spain and Portugal, and across south Asia as far as Sri Lanka. Some species of chameleons can change the color of their skins for camouflage, or to signal mood to other chameleons. The word refers to a fickle person who shifts according to the opinions of others just as a chameleon can change its color to blend with its background.
Here in Franklin where I live we have a destination gem, the award-winning Kayla’s Playground. The playground is inspiring and truly all-inclusive for children and families of any age and ability.
This wonderful spot is named after Kayla Runte who was diagnosed with cerebral palsy, and died in 2012 after her eighth birthday.
Kayla loved butterflies, so I’m happy to share Henry Mancini’s interpretation of Hancock’s “Butterfly.”
And listen for the electric bass solo.
Numerous cover versions of “Butterfly” have been produced, but Mancini’s in 1975 coming about a year after Hancock might have the first. Quite the complement.
That bass solo is by Abraham Laboriel. His son Abraham Laboriel Jr. is a longtime drummer with Paul McCartney.
“Cantaloupe Island” is another jazz standard composed by Hancock and recorded for his 1964 album “Empyrean Isles” during his early years as one of the members of Miles Davis’ 1960s quintet. The musicians for the original 1964 recording were: Hancock (piano), Freddie Hubbard (cornet), Ron Carter (bass) and Tony Williams (drums).
In 2000 “Cantaloupe Island” was placed at #19 in the Jazz24.org “Jazz 100: One Hundred Quintessential Jazz Songs”.
You may have heard it. Here’s a brief clip.
In 2018 the vocal group Manhattan Transfer released their first new album in nearly a decade. The album was also their first release following the 2014 death of the band’s founder, Tim Hauser. Bass vocalist Trist Curless joined the group when Hauser fell ill in 2013.
“We weren’t looking to replace Tim’s unique personality, but found in Trist someone who could add a new element to the group, and take care of the bottom of the quartet with his true bass,” said original member Alan Paul.
“Cantaloupe Island” is considered Hancock’s most famous composition.
As for the Manhattan Transfer, this is their 50th anniversary as a vocal group. Wanna see them in 2022? You’ll have to go to Honolulu, the Czech Republic, Finland, or Denmark.
Next, a beautiful rendition of a classic that every jazz fan should know.
I recall a night my wife, Jennifer and I were in Blu at the top of the Pfister enjoying Berkeley Fudge and his ensemble. Jennifer nearly sent the musicians into a group heart attack when she asked if they’d play “Maiden Voyage” (Obviously, they don’t get many requests for that one). It’s a shame more people aren’t hip to Hancock’s wonderful stuff.
As previously mentioned Hancock was once a member of Miles Davis’ band, until Davis let him go.
“What happened with that? Yeah, well I got married in 1968, and my wife and I went to Brazil for our honeymoon. Then I got food poisoning on my wedding night,” Hancock recalled in a 2006 interview.
Hancock wound up missing some performances that didn’t sit well with Davis.
“I don’t think that Miles believed that I had food poisoning because he knew that all the members of the band were thinking about leaving,” said Hancock who was replaced by another great keyboardist, Chick Corea.
“Not only do I not have a gig, I’m not playing with Miles any more. Thinking about getting out the door is one thing, you see, but doing it is another. But actually it turned out to be a blessing in disguise, because then I put my own band together and for the first time I could play the songs I’d written, night after night.”
Those compositions included “Maiden Voyage” in 1965 that originally was the theme for an after shave TV commercial.
“I was asked by an advertising agency to write something that was hip and elite,” said Hancock. “They said the setting was going to be a kinda posh jazz club where the people would be dressed very elegantly and sit on high-backed chairs. And I’m thinking that I never even saw a jazz club like that. They were usually dingy little basements. Well, the Yardley’s men’s cologne is not… uh. Let’s just say that it was, um… a very affordable cologne.”
A few years ago legendary jazz composer and pianist Ramsey Lewis announced his retirement after more than 60 years in the music business.
His music is memorable. The talented Lewis has been able to take his jazz treatments and cross over into R & B and pop.
That’s it for this week.
Have a great weekend.
Gordon L. Goodwin is an American pianist, saxophonist, composer, arranger, and conductor. He is the leader of Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band. With more than dozen of LA’s finest players, the band has a contemporary, highly original sound featuring Goodwin’s hard-swinging style put to swing, Latin, blues, classical, rock and more.
Goodwin has worked with Ray Charles, Christina Aguilera, Johnny Mathis, Toni Braxton, John Williams, Natalie Cole, David Foster, Sarah Vaughan, Mel Torme, Brian McKnight and Quincy Jones. He’s also conducted world-renowned symphony orchestras in Atlanta, Dallas, Utah, Seattle, Toronto and London.
In 1962 Hancock wrote ‘Watermelon Man” for his debut album, then re-wrote it in 1973, infusing a funk sound utilizing modern synthesizers.
“I remember the cry of the watermelon man making the rounds through the back streets and alleys of Chicago,” said Hancock. “The wheels of his wagon beat out the rhythm on the cobblestones.”
The tune is a a standard, and has been recorded more than 200 times.