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Herbie Hancock Memoir

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On the two ballad-like pieces, Speak Like a Child and Goodbye to Childhood, the rhythmic impulse almost disappears, and the playing anticipates the Muzak of the 1970s....

You said this in 1968?

Yes -- "anticipates" as in "anticipates what I think the Muzak of the 1970s will be like."

Here's what the Muzak of the 1970s ended up sounding like:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FiyUbjEuOc4

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well, here's what I wrote in 1956 -

"where is jazz going? One alto player from the Southwest got us here; maybe it will take another Southwestern alto player, this time from, say, Texas, to get us to the next place. It would take ESP to really know."

Edited by AllenLowe

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The letters column exchange:

Robert Budson:

"In his review of Herbie Hancock's latest album SLAC, Larry Kart demonstrates his complete lack of sensitivity to and understanding of Hancock's playing.

"To say that 'Hancock depends on harmony at the expense of melody and rhythm' is absurd. The type of playing Hancock has emphasizes melody and rhythm, not harmony. Kart mistakes a novel approach to voicings and the harmonic structure of a tune as a whole as a dependence on on harmony. Rather, [Hancock] uses this approach as a means to enhanced melodic epression. Instead ofa never-ending barrage of changes, H. uses fewer changes spread out over a greater space. When a player must improvise over a harmonic structure that is constantly changing, it is only logical that there must be some loss in improvisational creativity. So much of the melodica variation stems from the changing harmony itself. If the listener's mental set is tuned into 'changes,' there may indeed be little 'melodic interest.' as Kart observes, since the type of variatgion he is expecting simply is not going to happen.

"The most unforgivable criticism of all, though, is when Kart accuses H. of lack of rhythmic variety because of the 'evenness with which he plays his lines.' Playing eighth-note lines evenly is a difficult and important accomplishment that all instrumentalists strive for. It is sa facility which frees a player to be rhythmically inventive, not which hamper him. To break up the rhythm and play choppy lines are two different things. I have heard many critics speak of the rhythmic complexity of H.'s lines ... and one important factor which ensbles him to do this is his unsurpassed ability to play eighth-note lines evenly.

"I hope that the next time Kart listens a H. side he does not listen with his mind in a Barry Harris bag burt rather criticizes the playing within the context rather than criticizing the context itself."

My response:

".... 1) I deon't think I'm insensitive to H.'s music since I've enjoyed his playing in other contexts.

2) The use of fewer changes spread out of greater space does not by itselfg uarantee freedom foom harmonic dependence. If a player is harmonically oriented, fewer changes may only hamper him.

3) The ability to play eighth-note lines evenly is a valuable tool but only a tool. It's what you do with the tool that counts.

4) My mind is not exclusively in a 'Barry Harris bag.' I mentioned Harris because the comparison seemed fruitful. I admire all kinds of pianists, from Eubie Blake to Cecil Taylor."

P.S. That "If a player is harmonically oriented, fewer changes may only hamper him" is an incomplete and/or semi-askew thought. What I meant is that if you're thinking harmonically by and large and the changes are relatively evanescent and spaced out, you may mostly get "melodies" that are evanescently spaced-out harmonic shifts. See IMO a whole lot of the piano playing in so-called "modal" jazz.

On the two ballad-like pieces, Speak Like a Child and Goodbye to Childhood, the rhythmic impulse almost disappears, and the playing anticipates the Muzak of the 1970s....

You said this in 1968?

Yes -- "anticipates" as in "anticipates what I think the Muzak of the 1970s will be like."

Here's what the Muzak of the 1970s ended up sounding like:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FiyUbjEuOc4

I'll submit for the moment to your superior knowledge, but I seem to recall a fair amount of sub-Hancock playing in elevators at one time or another.

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In Chicago, yeah, sure. That's where Herbie was from, and that's Dr, Hartley worked, so..yeah hip elevator music there, fersure. But the rest of us? We weren't so lucky.

And that Robert Budson...geez...you were just wrong, but he's ALL kinds of wrong! :g

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In Chicago, yeah, sure. That's where Herbie was from, and that's Dr, Hartley worked, so..yeah hip elevator music there, fersure. But the rest of us? We weren't so lucky.

Actually, in elevators in Chicago there were actual guys playing Fender Rhodes.

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QED!

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Normally I'm all about energy and pace (fast!) in the jazz I like best.

But for many years I used to cite "Speak Like a Child" as my favorite Herbie leader-date (though I've changed that to "The Prisoner" in the last 5 or 6 years).

In any case, "Speak Like a Child" is such a damn beautiful date -- and those of you who know my tastes, "beauty" is rarely the quality I'm most drawn to in music. Gonna put it on tonight in a bit. Especially love the horn-less solo-piano version (alternate) of one of the tunes, which may have first surfaced on the domestic RVG (or perhaps the complete Herbie BN box) - in any case, I've always pined for more of Herbie's "Gil Evans"-esque type material.

Edited by Rooster_Ties

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Normally I'm all about energy and pace (fast!) in the jazz I like best.

But for many years I used to cite "Speak Like a Child" as my favorite Herbie leader-date (though I've changed that to "The Prisoner" in the last 5 or 6 years).

In any case, "Speak Like a Child" is such a damn beautiful date -- and those of you who know my tastes, "beauty" is rarely the quality I'm most drawn to in music. Gonna put it on tonight in a bit. Especially love the horn-less solo-piano version (alternate) of one of the tunes, which may have first surfaced on the domestic RVG (or perhaps the complete Herbie BN box) - in any case, I've always pined for more of Herbie's "Gil Evans"-esque type material.

i'm with you, Mr. Rooster!

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Just in after a long night of wildly diverse music -- free music from Matthew Shipp Trio in one spot, followed by straight-ahead music from bassist Rodney Whitaker and Co. at a another. A good night in Detroit. But quickly:

I think Larry's initial revue is misguided as it relates to Herbie and McCoy, though I see where he's going and admire his chutzpah to put it all out there and I do on some level agree with the ideas expressed in his response to the letter writer. who, by the way, I also don't think is as necessarily misguided as Jim suggests. But here's what's more interesting to me at 3:30 a.m. I am 95% sure that one Robert Budson is "Buddy" Budson, a fine Detroit pianist who is about Larry's age and who is still working productively here (and married to a good singer named Ursula Walker). I will certainly ask him about this next time I see him. Man, sometimes the world is very, very small.

Edited by Mark Stryker

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I will not listen to Speak Like A Child unless somebody pulls one of those Clockwork Orange interventions on me - strap me in a chair, tape my eyeballs open, and put on the stereo.

Until then I remain a "Child" virgin.

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Just in after a long night of wildly diverse music -- free music from Matthew Shipp Trio in one spot, followed by straight-ahead music from bassist Rodney Whitaker and Co. at a another. A good night in Detroit. But quickly:

I think Larry's initial revue is misguided as it relates to Herbie and McCoy, though I see where he's going and admire his chutzpah to put it all out there and I do on some level agree with the ideas expressed in his response to the letter writer. who, by the way, I also don't think is as necessarily misguided as Jim suggests. But here's what's more interesting to me at 3:30 a.m. I am 95% sure that one Robert Budson is "Buddy" Budson, a fine Detroit pianist who is about Larry's age and who is still working productively here (and married to a good singer named Ursula Walker). I will certainly ask him about this next time I see him. Man, sometimes the world is very, very small.

Mark -- I feel I was wrongish in that review in pointing so much toward Coltrane (pianists are by and large pianists, no?), and certainly I was off about McCoy, whose finest work was yet to come. Herbie the accompanist with Miles et al. was something else, but I admit to never having been that interested in most Herbie piano solos (an exception would be one track on that terrific Blue Note Bobby Hutcherson quartet album with Albert Stinson and Joe Chambers) because they so often seem to ... I don't know, rather pre-determined and "glassy" to me. The concept, so to speak, and the execution seem to separate; not much sense of in the moment (but I can see where that might be a partial goal on his part). The electronic Herbie is a whole other ballgame, I would say.

P.S. OTOH, about McCoy, weren't the glories to come in good part because he stepped away from his version of patterned glassiness and became much more rhythmically and harmonically turbulent and in the moment? (Albeit, in later McCoy rhythmic and harmonic turbulence were essentially one.)

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Just in after a long night of wildly diverse music -- free music from Matthew Shipp Trio in one spot, followed by straight-ahead music from bassist Rodney Whitaker and Co. at a another. A good night in Detroit. But quickly:

I think Larry's initial revue is misguided as it relates to Herbie and McCoy, though I see where he's going and admire his chutzpah to put it all out there and I do on some level agree with the ideas expressed in his response to the letter writer. who, by the way, I also don't think is as necessarily misguided as Jim suggests. But here's what's more interesting to me at 3:30 a.m. I am 95% sure that one Robert Budson is "Buddy" Budson, a fine Detroit pianist who is about Larry's age and who is still working productively here (and married to a good singer named Ursula Walker). I will certainly ask him about this next time I see him. Man, sometimes the world is very, very small.

Mark -- I feel I was wrongish in that review in pointing so much toward Coltrane (pianists are by and large pianists, no?), and certainly I was off about McCoy, whose finest work was yet to come. Herbie the accompanist with Miles et al. was something else, but I admit to never having been that interested in most Herbie piano solos (an exception would be one track on that terrific Blue Note Bobby Hutcherson quartet album with Albert Stinson and Joe Chambers) because they so often seem to ... I don't know, rather pre-determined and "glassy" to me. The concept, so to speak, and the execution seem to separate; not much sense of in the moment (but I can see where that might be a partial goal on his part). The electronic Herbie is a whole other ballgame, I would say.

P.S. OTOH, about McCoy, weren't the glories to come in good part because he stepped away from his version of patterned glassiness and became much more rhythmically and harmonically turbulent and in the moment? (Albeit, in later McCoy rhythmic and harmonic turbulence were essentially one.)

I understand the idea of "glassiness" but would suggest that relates to Herbie's impressionistic touch and harmony. Perhaps your aesthetic tastes lay elsewhere and "Speak Like a Child" in particular emphasizes the qualities you respond to the least, which are also italicized by what Jim identified earlier as an unusually gauzy recording mix for Blue Note. Is it a coincidence that you have always had issues with Bill Evans who has similar impressionistic qualities and who influenced Herbie in those areas?)The disconnect you feel between concept and execution might be a registering of the intellectualism in Herbie's playing that to you sounds too on the surface and thus hits you as overly pre-determined. Forgive the armchair deconstruction of your analysis.

I don't hear it this way at all. For me Herbie is one of the most truly spontaneous improvisers in jazz. When he starts a solo, to a degree unusual even in an art based on in-the-moment invention, you really don't know what's about to happen. Now, obviously, he's incredibly studied on some level and has a language that he employs, but he is in no way a "lick" or "pattern" player" in the sense of constructing solos out of pre-practiced materials or applying them in an overly studied way. (Which is not to say patterns don't sometimes crop up as they do in everybody's playing.) Miles used to tell the guys, "I pay you to practice on the bandstand." I think Herbie exemplifies that quality in the best sense.

For me, Hancock's achievement was to reconcile a bunch of previously disparate pianism -- impressionistic harmony and refined touch of Bill Evans, swinging momentum of Bud Powell, drama of Ahmad Jamal, funkiness of Horace Silver and ebullient bounce of Wynton Kelly and Red Garland. That synthesis then becomes a new and highly influential template, enriched by Herbie's own newly advanced harmonic palette, his linear invention, his rhythmic independence and, again, his spontaneity. I'm in no way claiming his infallibility. I recognize the track record gets less consistent in more recent decades, the issues of taste, etc. I also know a good many people, including some great musicians, who respect Herbie more than they love him and who have never been as emotionally moved by his work as they are by, well, McCoy for starters. I also recognize that someone's weaknesses are often lodged inside their strengths and vice versa. I'm just just trying to articulate what it is that I'm responding to, and with Herbie it's a lot. At his frequent best I find him more stimulating and satisfying than any other pianist in the contemporary post-bop idiom.

There is also a remarkable diversity, an adaptibility, that's worth noting. Here are two sideman appearances that illustrate the range. I think he sounds great in both on every level but would particularly note the variety of phrasing and rhythm and the spontaneity elements since that's what started all of this in the first place. As always, everyone's mileage may vary.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_CXsIMakAJo

Edited by Mark Stryker

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Re: "OTOH, about McCoy, weren't the glories to come in good part because he stepped away from his version of patterned glassiness and became much more rhythmically and harmonically turbulent and in the moment? (Albeit, in later McCoy rhythmic and harmonic turbulence were essentially one."

Hmm. I would separate the idea of "patterns" from the other concepts. Later McCoy is indeed much more texturally dense and harmonically and rhythmically turbulent, but in some ways the music is actually more pattern oriented because it relies even more on ideas carved from endlessly juggled melodic-rhythmic cells derived from pentatonic scales. Is later McCoy more in the moment than early McCoy? Never thought of it that way but's he's definitely more volatile and freer in many ways. But you could also say it's a lot more congested too and perhaps not as melodic. For the record, I love McCoy from all periods but some of the Milestone LPs do reach a saturation point in terms of density for me. I remember breathing a sigh of relief when he returned to a trio format for his working band. His own style lightened a little bit, but the bigger impact I think was from getting rid of other horns and percussion to unclog the arteries.

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Herbie from this time is always in the moment. It's just that he sometimes takes his time to survey what that moment is before contributing to it. Sometimes he's proactive, sometimes he's reactive, but seldom is he exclusively one or the other.

But as far as being "pre-planned" in any way, I've never gotten that. He's got his "cells" sure, but what he does with them could go (and quite often did go) anywhere, based on the moment.

As he got older, I think it did get a little less spontaneous. The VSOP thing was, like all retroactive actions, retroactive, which almost by defintition means preplanned to one degree or another. But we're not talking about that then, we're talking about another then, when then then was the now.

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I love McCoy from all periods but some of the Milestone LPs do reach a saturation point in terms of density for me. I remember breathing a sigh of relief when he returned to a trio format for his working band. His own style lightened a little bit, but the bigger impact I think was from getting rid of other horns and percussion to unclog the arteries.

& my favorite McCoy recordings are the Milestones with Azar Lawrence, Sonny Fortune and George Adams. He also perfected his very individualistic compositional style during that period, IMO.

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Re: McCoy on Milestone.

To be clear, I do really like the earlier Milestones with Fortune and Lawrence, and especially love "Enlightment" (Walk Spirit, Talk Spirit" -- Yeah!!)

Re: Jim's VSOP point. There's a difference between the macro -- this band will reunite 4/5ths of the Miles quintet and deal with that repertoire -- and the micro, as in when Herbie's solo starts on any particular tune does what come out sound preplanned or freshly in the moment. Still, it's certianly true that macro decisions can present such a strictly prescribed frame that it can overwhelm whatever micro spontaneity might arise in the execution. I have mixed feelings about VSOP, but this isn't one of my issues.

Also, I don't know what' more troubling: That you wrote, "but we're not talking about that then, we're talking about another then, when then then was the now," or that I can actually follow the train of thought. :)

Edited by Mark Stryker

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The older you get, the more thens there come to be, which means the more nows there once were.

Gotta know which is/was which. Otherwise, it gets confusing!

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Mark -- Yes, to the Bill Evans qualities, but for me there were at least three versions of Bill Evans, and I admire the first two -- 'New Jazz Conceptions"-"Everybody Digs," and then "Portraits in Jazz" through the first Vanguard recordings. After that, not so much or at times not at all, though the last stuff from the Keystone Korner ("The Last Waltz," right?) is often lovely --can't take the latter-day Vanguard recordings. As someone who knew him well once said, after the first Vanguard recordings there were three further phases of Evans -- Heroin Bill, Methadone Bill, and Cocaine Bill, though Heroin Bill began before the first Vanguard recordings (see the cover of "Explorations").

Jim -- "Herbie from this time is always in the moment. It's just that he sometimes takes his time to survey what that moment is before contributing to it." So he's in the moment except when he's not? Gotcha.

Also, to be serious, Herbie surveying things as an accompanist is to me rather different in effect that Herbie surveying things as a soloist. I can handle a good deal of surveying from a player in the latter role if I feel there's a sufficient pay off -- strong musical material emerges that couldn't have emerged otherwise. With Herbie in a solo role, I often feel that his "surveying" pauses and ponderings just don't lead to much. To me, a classic case of a sometime surveyor where the surveying can have a big payoff would be Duke Jordan. When Duke ponders/takes his times -- e.g. on his great trio recording of "They Can't Take That Away From Me" with Blakey and Percy Heath -- the results can be overwhelming. And then there's the probably all-time surveyor, at least some of the time -- Monk.

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I love Herbie's playing in virtually any context. Jazz, funk, pop...the guy can do it all and do it all well.

And the break at approximately 8:36 of "Chameleon" is easily one of the funkiest sounds ever recorded. Listening to that album now...I still love it. However, I have a great affinity for music which builds around a funky rhythm. Some jazz fans tend to get bored with the repetition. You "get" it if you dig The Meters, or The J.B.'s. If not, oh well.

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Jim -- "Herbie from this time is always in the moment. It's just that he sometimes takes his time to survey what that moment is before contributing to it." So he's in the moment except when he's not? Gotcha.

Also, to be serious, Herbie surveying things as an accompanist is to me rather different in effect that Herbie surveying things as a soloist. I can handle a good deal of surveying from a player in the latter role if I feel there's a sufficient pay off -- strong musical material emerges that couldn't have emerged otherwise. With Herbie in a solo role, I often feel that his "surveying" pauses and ponderings just don't lead to much. To me, a classic case of a sometime surveyor where the surveying can have a big payoff would be Duke Jordan. When Duke ponders/takes his times -- e.g. on his great trio recording of "They Can't Take That Away From Me" with Blakey and Percy Heath -- the results can be overwhelming. And then there's the probably all-time surveyor, at least some of the time -- Monk.

If being "in the moment" meant that everybody was being their own proactive self all the time, there would be no such thing as interaction. No. Being the reactor is every bit as much a part of being in the moment as being the proactor, perhaps even more, because if an action does not cause a reaction, was it really an action?

Glad we cleared that up.

I likeHerbie's soling from this period quite a lot. You don't. Difference of opinion, nothing more, even if the physics are on my side. :g

Duke Jordan, though...I have yet to be impressed, much less moved, by anything of his past the early 1950s. And I've tried.

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[

Duke Jordan, though...I have yet to be impressed, much less moved, by anything of his past the early 1950s. And I've tried.

To quote yourself back at yourself, "You're just wrong." :)

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I always thought the final Evans trio recordings were so intense and edgy because they were cocaine fueled (though Joe LaBarbera was surely a factor too). I suspect You Must Believe in Spring, OTOH, was the result of some other substance.

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Jim -- "Herbie from this time is always in the moment. It's just that he sometimes takes his time to survey what that moment is before contributing to it." So he's in the moment except when he's not? Gotcha.

Also, to be serious, Herbie surveying things as an accompanist is to me rather different in effect that Herbie surveying things as a soloist. I can handle a good deal of surveying from a player in the latter role if I feel there's a sufficient pay off -- strong musical material emerges that couldn't have emerged otherwise. With Herbie in a solo role, I often feel that his "surveying" pauses and ponderings just don't lead to much. To me, a classic case of a sometime surveyor where the surveying can have a big payoff would be Duke Jordan. When Duke ponders/takes his times -- e.g. on his great trio recording of "They Can't Take That Away From Me" with Blakey and Percy Heath -- the results can be overwhelming. And then there's the probably all-time surveyor, at least some of the time -- Monk.

If being "in the moment" meant that everybody was being their own proactive self all the time, there would be no such thing as interaction. No. Being the reactor is every bit as much a part of being in the moment as being the proactor, perhaps even more, because if an action does not cause a reaction, was it really an action?

Glad we cleared that up.

BTW, leaving aside the slight tinge of irony in your "Glad we cleared that up," can you see how it's kind of annoying to be lectured about obvious aspects of jazz performance/creation?

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[

Duke Jordan, though...I have yet to be impressed, much less moved, by anything of his past the early 1950s. And I've tried.

To quote yourself back at yourself, "You're just wrong." :)

Yeah, that happens. I live with it. ;)

Jim -- "Herbie from this time is always in the moment. It's just that he sometimes takes his time to survey what that moment is before contributing to it." So he's in the moment except when he's not? Gotcha.

Also, to be serious, Herbie surveying things as an accompanist is to me rather different in effect that Herbie surveying things as a soloist. I can handle a good deal of surveying from a player in the latter role if I feel there's a sufficient pay off -- strong musical material emerges that couldn't have emerged otherwise. With Herbie in a solo role, I often feel that his "surveying" pauses and ponderings just don't lead to much. To me, a classic case of a sometime surveyor where the surveying can have a big payoff would be Duke Jordan. When Duke ponders/takes his times -- e.g. on his great trio recording of "They Can't Take That Away From Me" with Blakey and Percy Heath -- the results can be overwhelming. And then there's the probably all-time surveyor, at least some of the time -- Monk.

If being "in the moment" meant that everybody was being their own proactive self all the time, there would be no such thing as interaction. No. Being the reactor is every bit as much a part of being in the moment as being the proactor, perhaps even more, because if an action does not cause a reaction, was it really an action?

Glad we cleared that up.

BTW, leaving aside the slight tinge of irony in your "Glad we cleared that up," can you see how it's kind of annoying to be lectured about obvious aspects of jazz performance/creation?

Sure. Can you see how it's also kind of annoying to have to respond to something like "So he's in the moment except when he's not? Gotcha."?

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