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Herbie Hancock Memoir

494 posts in this topic

Sorry I'm a bit late to the party, and a lot (all?) has been said already.

I've waned through the 15 pages of this thread, and have been having trouble deciphering whether Allen is serious or trolling. I'm not a regular enough poster on these forums to know. I just have a hard time taking a guy seriously who refuses to listen to Herbie Hancock's SLaC because the "title sounds dumb" - especially if he's a (jazz) musician (is he?). But this comment was eons ago, so we won't go there again.

What rubbed me the wrong way was the "bland" comment from Larry Kart, and his original 2-star DB review. I just have to give my take on it too (the album), sorry.

The first four jazz albums I ever bought were Miles' Nefertiti, Kind Of Blue and Herbie's Speak Like A Child and Headhunters. They not only influenced my jazz pianism, but ignited a passion for jazz (and both artists) in the first place.

"Riot" and "Sorcerer" are not only postbop standards as compositions, but two pure master classes in piano solo motif development (as a reply to Ben Neumann's comment along the lines of "he had nothing else to do so he did that") and in my opinion essential for anyone studying jazz or jazz piano. His time feel along with those melodic lines and motifs is, as usual, impeccable. Yes, they're completely different to the Miles versions - for the better, I for one prefer these clearer and beefier arrangements - and why shouldn't they be, it's his tunes and his solo album.

"Bland" is also not an adjective that I'd use to describe the dark and ominous "Goodbye To Childhood" or the sad, sometimes even menacing but still uplifting "Toys". They joyful version of Carter's "First Trip" is the definitive one, and Hancock's solos on both these latter two are a pure swinging delight. Even the title track, although quite "smooth" on the surface, surprises you with those gorgeous, sometimes dissonant chord changes. The piano solo is a classic acoustic "funky Hancock".

I suppose a lot of the feeling of "blandness" might come from the fact that the drummer is Mickey Roker, who is I suppose a more old school drummer, especially during that rather fiery period in jazz. He provides a solid, steady pulse, without much in-your-face "energy" - and is coincidentally one of my favorite things on the album, especially on "The Sorcerer".

-

As far as the "sell out" claim goes, the ONLY period in Herbie's career I'm willing to give credence to that is the really late 70's / early 80's disco fluff. You know, the "Stars In Your Eyes" (Monster) Herbie. I'm not a fan of the Bill Laswell "Rockit" era discs at all, but it's yet again a pretty damn impressive feat that not only managed to score a MTV hit with it, but pretty much introduce the art of scratching (even if it was D.S.T. who did it, not Herbie).

Even so, there are some seriously cool moments on easily overlooked albums like Sunlight and even Feets Don't Fail Me Now, in all their vocoder disco ridiculousness. Sunlight includes the gorgeous "Come Running To Me", and one of his best Rhodes solos on "No Means Yes". JSngry mentioned Lite Me Up, it has that superb Temperton-composed donaldfagenish tune "Gettin' To The Good Part".

As a musician, the whole concept of crying for "sell out" baffles me. Is (jazz) music not supposed to sell? Is it only of value to people like Allen and Dave James if the album sells two copies? And like someone said, if you're going to call Herbie a sell out, you'd better do so from the get go: it was the money from "Watermelon Man" that got him his first sports car.

enjoyed your post immensely and agree with all of it (although i'm not that familiar with a few of the tunes you mentioned). i had to chuckle with your mention of Herbie's first sports car. would you believe that he still has it???!!!!

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I guess so, Chuck. Back then I was running a residence for slightly damaged beboppers. Well, at least Lundval took my calls.

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Wrong thread for this discussion but after 1949 all beboppers were (at least) slightly damaged.

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The first four jazz albums I ever bought were Miles' Nefertiti, Kind Of Blue and Herbie's Speak Like A Child and Headhunters. They not only influenced my jazz pianism, but ignited a passion for jazz (and both artists) in the first place.

"Riot" and "Sorcerer" are not only postbop standards as compositions, but two pure master classes in piano solo motif development (as a reply to Ben Neumann's comment along the lines of "he had nothing else to do so he did that") and in my opinion essential for anyone studying jazz or jazz piano. His time feel along with those melodic lines and motifs is, as usual, impeccable. Yes, they're completely different to the Miles versions - for the better, I for one prefer these clearer and beefier arrangements - and why shouldn't they be, it's his tunes and his solo album.

I'm not quite sure what you mean in your quick summary of my post, but I don't think we disagree all that much. Herbie has been just as much a formative influence on my playing, in particular the crystal-clear motivic development in that Riot solo.

My post was my attempt to understand why someone with Larry's perspective would label Herbie's playing on that tune and the rest of the album "bland". Larry is coming from a very different perspective than I am. He was alive, conscious, and listening to jazz for years before Herbie came along, while I only started listening to jazz years after a whole generation or two of pianists had digested, aped, regurgitated, and perverted Herbie et. al.

It is certainly true that those tunes are post-bop standards; that the solos are quintessential post-bop solos, an ideal place to start if you want to sound like a good post-bop pianist; that Herbie's whole approach is a very important part of post-Evans jazz piano history. But I wonder if this perspective -- the perspective of the eager, developing post-bop pianist -- is all that useful for critically evaluating post-bop pianism. If you're a post-bop pianist of course you care about everything post-bop pianist, but if you're just a listener who grew up on bebop and hard bop you might find some of what post-bop pianists do uninspiring, and you might have good reasons for this. These reasons might tell us something about why the "general listener"s interest in jazz dropped significantly in the 60s and has been dropping ever since.

I think taking those perspectives seriously and trying to understand them is important if you want to produce good music (good "art", even) rather than just exceptionally proficient post-bop pianism. I don't think Larry's sort of perspective is the final word, nor do I agree with all of it (how can you not love the lush arranging on that album?), but I think I understand it better than I used to. As a post-bop pianist I like the Riot solo a lot, I just wonder more and more if it's my best role model if I want to make art that matters to non-postbopmusicians.

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Allen -- Was it you or someone else who once wrote that by the later stages of his career/life Albany, despite moments of brilliance, couldn't be relied upon to play on the form of many of the tunes he was playing on -- short-term memory loss or something like that? If so...

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it may have been me, because it was true (Joe told me he took a lot of Horse Tranquilizer in his day). As a matter fact, it was a long-time problem (I can hear it even on the live stuff he did with Warne Marsh in '57) - BUT - and this is major - when he was on he played some of the most brilliantly dense lines I ever heard - check out I Love You from the Marsh-home session - and he could do this about 80 percent of the time. So it just required enough takes. But yes, there was definitely a problem. He was best heard solo, where he just put together incredible transitions and lines. (strangely enough, I used to go hear him play at Windows of the World at the top of the World Trade Center. Oi, gives me the creeps, now) -

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If you want to follow Joe Albany's 'track' record (pun intended) read his daughter's autobiography:

'Low Down' (junk, jazz, and other fairy tales from childhood), Amy (A.J.) Albany, Bloomsbury, 2003.

Unless 'horse' tranquilizers is another pun, there's no mention by her of when daddy went out to score.

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I know the book, and I've talked to AJ, when it came out. Joe was a sweetheart but addicted to everything under the sun. By the time he came to NYC he was clean, and lived out his years gigging, before he got sick. As a matter of fact Walter Bishop, who was one of the nicest people who ever lived (now there's a guy who deserved Herbie's millions), was a neighbor of Joe's in his last years and helped him out a lot.

Edited by AllenLowe

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Even if Walter Bishop, Jr. deserved millions, it ain't Herbie's millions. Completely different career trajectories. You're either a dreamer or a nut job.

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it may have been me, because it was true (Joe told me he took a lot of Horse Tranquilizer in his day). As a matter fact, it was a long-time problem (I can hear it even on the live stuff he did with Warne Marsh in '57) - BUT - and this is major - when he was on he played some of the most brilliantly dense lines I ever heard - check out I Love You from the Marsh-home session - and he could do this about 80 percent of the time. So it just required enough takes. But yes, there was definitely a problem. He was best heard solo, where he just put together incredible transitions and lines. (strangely enough, I used to go hear him play at Windows of the World at the top of the World Trade Center. Oi, gives me the creeps, now) -

Very interesting, Allen. I heard Albany in 1981 and as I recall his piano playing was completely lucid. Though the setting was a quartet and Jimmy Knepper had to coerce him into playing a solo piece.

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when he was on the money he was on the money - and sometimes incredibly so. One night at the West End he was playing Ornithology - and the last phrases - the final riff that Bird used to play, based on a 2/5 bebop riff - he kept playing, like a record skipping - it went on for about one minute until Joe snapped back in and ended it. Everybody in the club was staring, wondering what was going to happen.

and Pete C - what are you talking about? First of all, it's a figure of speech; second of all, no, Bish deserved Herbie's millions, as a Jazz Nobel Prize. Herbie should have written him a check. As a matter of fact, I think Val agrees with me, which would make this the only thing on which she agrees with me. But, since it's too late for Bish, I would be happy to put the money into a trust for future generations of smooth jazz wannabees.

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I remember Joe Albany when he was 'resurrected'-early '80. Everyone so far here either missed, won't face, or is dancing around the real and obvious problem: time. He couldn't keep it anymore-and it wasn't b/c he wasn't a good musician. His mind was hanging by a thread b/c of the substance use-a kind of damage Allen alluded to in his superb piece here on Al Haig. It's not repairable and triste indeed. As to 'form' there was an interview on WKCR where he roved so much Phil Schaap lamented his not staying on the subject. I know. I know. Sch-yap. But that's simply too easy a road to be any fun at all.

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agreed Joel - BUT - interestingly enough, there is a "live" 1957 recording of Albany with Marsh (not the Riverside one, I think this one was recorded at Donte's) - where he gets lost in exactly the same way - and I have more than a few personal recordings of Joe from the comeback period when he played very well, including, somewhere, a long solo set. Also, he used to play very nicely in his living room (he proudly once showed me a lead sheet for Ruby My Dear which he said Monk gave to him).

Haig also had a post-alcohol problem that I have heard, for some reason, particularly in pianists - a loss of continuity, we might call it, the line gets interrupted. With Haig, it's apparent as early as a 1956 recording (I think that's the year) he made with Phil Woods (it's on OJC) -

one other amusing thing was that someone, at some point, wanted to do a Haig/Albany duo record. Haig refused because he had trouble following Albany's inconsistencies.

Edited by AllenLowe

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I was 17 or 18 when it came out, and many of the white kids and all the black kids my age really dug it. Then I went to college, got involved in the black frat-party band circuit, and everybody on that scene all dug it - and were the ones buying the Sunlight/Secrets type stuff as well.

You didn't work a black fat party back then without playing looooooonnnnggggg jams on Mister Magic, Chameleon, Summer Madness, etc. People liked to find that groove and ride it for 15 minutes on up to....whenever it ran out. Still is like that - you play in a band that plays for black dancing, you better be ready to go long on the real jams. None of this three minutes and out crap. No. I could tell you stories...

At the same time as that, I had a good buddy, an uber-whiteguy from Overland Park, Kansas, who transcribed Spank-A-Lee and orchestrated it for the 1:00 lab band. He was quite enthusiastic about scoring the clavinet parts for the sax section.

That music captured a lot of imaginations and filled a lot of dancefloors in its time. I was there and I do not lie.

I often wondered how Miles felt about Herbie being so successful with the Black audiences that Miles claimed he wanted to reach. IIRC when Miles did that concert in Paris where he was joined by old bandmates, the only tune they played that wasn't associated with Miles was Watermelon Man which he played when Herbie came on stage.

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I was talking about the '80s, Allen. I heard that duet w/Warne. Quite a conversation. But it's a sad story, ne c'est pas? (correct my knucklehead French if needed).

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I often wondered how Miles felt about Herbie being so successful with the Black audiences that Miles claimed he wanted to reach.

I bet he was more excited about the return of Joe Albany.

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sorry Joel, misunderstood, By that time I'd moved out of town.

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For the record Al Haig held up way better. Maybe his touch changed. But he sounded focused, purposeful, and like he grew-a result maybe of listening to the younger pianists (as did Hampton Hawes on As Long as There's Music. He played some hair-raising arpeggios in a classic set up for Invitation on Strings Attached w/Jimmy Raney. He was an evolved and searching pianist who moved past the Bird days when he was the ultimate group pianist, and an agile but not really interesting soloist. He became a parer and distiller-a la Samuel Beckett. Strings Attached is more than a reunion, it's triumphant.

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I know that he has me on his "ignore" list (which is good), so I can speak freely (i.e. without inspiring 10 to 12 YouTube links :smirk:) when I strongly suggest that nobody tell Jim that the Mac, and Apple in general, has no more devoted friend than Herbie..

I understood why Herbie at one point diluted his music, but I was curious to find out if he had a problem living with it. A piece I wrote for Stereo Review dealt with this and led to us sitting down for a discussion. That became an article that is buried somewhere in my piles of SR, but I will try to dig it up. Let me just say that his explanation had something to do with people leaving his club gigs looking confused. He concluded that his unadulterated music was giving them too much to think about—that it somehow troubled them. So, rather than attempt to give them an appreciation for that which the rest of us dug so much, Herbie brought his music down to their level. It was a little bit like putting something on a scale: the lower the music went, the more his income rose.

That lst sentence is my own analogy.

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thanks Chris, interesting, and confirms my personal impression.

And Joel, I agree with you about Haig, and I was about to post his favorite pianist, someone pretty well known then and still alive, and damn I can't think of the name - but it speaks to your impression that he was definitely making stylistic adjustments.

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and Pete C - what are you talking about? First of all, it's a figure of speech; second of all, no, Bish deserved Herbie's millions, as a Jazz Nobel Prize. Herbie should have written him a check. As a matter of fact, I think Val agrees with me, which would make this the only thing on which she agrees with me.

I think we should let her speak for herself. Somehow I have a feeling her intellect and emotions are more nuanced than you give her credit for...

By the way Allen, just so this back and forth isn't mistaken for animosity, I suspect I'd like you if we met, and I love your music, which gives you one up on the late Brookmeyer. I did like his music...

Edited by Pete C

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Chris:Do you remember Herbie asking rhetorically or otherwise if his music was 'performing a service for people?' as he made a big point of in a WKCR interview during a retrospective of his post-70s music? I alluded to this back in the Bronze Age of this thread? The answer would intrigue me as playing and especially writing music-undiluted but strongly melodic music that perhaps has something to do w/everyone's life is sort of a major personal goal-one having nothing to do w/commercialism or 'dumbing down', but everything to do w/communicating and a certain artistic utilitarianism (as in not changing a note or playing down to anyone-but going beyond mere self-expression and playing TO people, bringing out the best in all yet unafraid to plunge into dark ravines emotionally that are part of life). Allen:Cedar Walton? He recorded his tunes. Finally-apropos of everything and nothing-allom to heartily recommend a book of interviews : The Black Composer 'Speakers': HH, Oliver Nelson, Coleridge Taylor-Perkinson.

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I often wondered how Miles felt about Herbie being so successful with the Black audiences that Miles claimed he wanted to reach.

Isn't it a pretty widely acknowledged fact that he was fuming? And blamed Columbia, Clive Davis and their marketing or supposed "lack thereof" - the fact that his On The Corner failed to do what Headhunters did.

Let me just say that his explanation had something to do with people leaving his club gigs looking confused. He concluded that his unadulterated music was giving them too much to think about—that it somehow troubled them.

Well, isn't this the Mwandishi / Headhunters transition story? It's on many of the albums' liner notes (cd reissues, that is), and he's told it many times: how they would either play a gig with the Mwandishi band at a club, or he would be at a house party and someone would put on a Mwandishi LP...and "kids" would leave the room in disgust and confusion. :)

It is certainly true that those tunes are post-bop standards; that the solos are quintessential post-bop solos, an ideal place to start if you want to sound like a good post-bop pianist.

Actually, I only used the term "post bop" to distinguish that record and style from modal and hard bop, both of which it is a combination of, I didn't mean it that literally. It's often more advisable (if someone is a training jazz pianist for instance) NOT to jump straight into an "advanced" style/solo/record/tune like Speak Like A Child/"Riot"/"Sorcerer" but to gradually get there via bebop and hard bop pianism. It provides a much firmer grounding and helps tremendously with your time feel, for instance.

When I said Herbie's time feel -along- with the melody line was impeccable on those solos, I meant that it's easy to transcribe the NOTES for example and sort of "play it through" (both have been transcribed into books, I think) - but you lose one crucial aspect as to why the notes sounded so damn good in the first place.

There are plenty (ok, some) of examples on YouTube, where guys transcribe a solo like Herbie's "Chameleon" and completely lose the rhythmic and time feel in "translation" - they just repeat the notes.

Edited by Kari S

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Joel - Cedar Walton it was. Thanks,

Pete - I understand, and appreciate what you said in your last post.

But Val did send me an email and ask me to speak for her going forward on this thread.

I hope, maturity wise, I'm up for it. I would hate to speak like a child........

Edited by AllenLowe

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Just listened to as much of the Imagine project as I could. It really is a waste of megabytes. Why is it only Rock players seem to be able to make redeeming late career albums (Dylan, McCartney and probably others I am forgetting or not aware of).

Can't someone like Hancock, and even George Benson, at least try to finish their careers as artists with some actual artistic works. Hancock, given the right collaborators, could possibly make some great final music. Benson is possibly good for some great old style ensemble albums . It would at the very least be a statement of validity towards substance over style. Yes they would lose a few million, but unless their families are common idiots their financial futures must surely be secure by now.

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