Sign in to follow this  
Followers 0
brownie

Herbie Hancock Memoir

494 posts in this topic

Hancock is as polarizing a figure as there's been in the history of jazz. His early recordings all the way back to the Donald Byrd days are, IMO, indispensable. After a certain point, though, when popularity, money and fame became more important than credibility, he sold-out. There's no denying his talent, but when you focus that talent on the kind of projects he seems to have been drawn to over the last 30 or so years, who cares?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Hancock is as polarizing a figure as there's been in the history of jazz.

Quit dissing Wynton Marsalis. :D

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

when popularity, money and fame became more important than credibility, he sold-out.

Translated, this simply means "He started making music for which I was not the intended audience".

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

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.

i think your brain is a virgin also!! LOL

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

i think your brain is a virgin also!! LOL

Oh, I'll bet people have been fucking with it for years.

Edited by Pete C

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

[

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."?

Yes, but my next words were "Also, to be serious..." which implies that before I was kidding, no?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Of course. But that "slight tinge of irony" tinges a lot of things I say, and could fairly be applied to the lecture as well.

although, with there being no fee involved, it's not much of a useful lecture, is it... :g

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

when popularity, money and fame became more important than credibility, he sold-out.

Translated, this simply means "He started making music for which I was not the intended audience".

No argument there. However, other mainstream artists who were in the same position as Hancock chose to honor their roots. I don't begrudge him the choices he made, I just don't have the same respect I would have had for him if he'd stayed the course.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I have to agree with Mark's response to Larry's critique of Herbie. I find "early" Herbie (anything from the 60s, more or less), remarkable for how spontaneous and "in the moment" it is. I don't understand how you can listen to the Plugged Nickel material without concluding that Herbie is one of the most organic fountains of melodic ideas in the history of jazz piano -- e.g. his solos on All of You, both takes on If I Were a Bell, the Stella from the last disc.

It's true, he doesn't execute his ideas with fiery pedal-heavy "passion" like McCoy does. But I count that as a virtue, not a fault, and I think it means Herbie is more spontaneous, not less. It is much harder to hear organic ideas and execute them in such a complete, clear, and relaxed way that they sound almost as if they were composed than it is to bang out endless permutations of pentatonic cells with sufficiently frenzied fire that it sounds as if the ideas are coming from the very (fiery) soul of the improvisor.

McCoy's Enlightenment-era material used to be some of my favorite jazz, but the last few times I listened to it I thought it sounded pretty bad. The pentatonic stuff is just as patternistic as it was 6 or 7 years ago, but instead of occasionally giving way to real melodic spontaneity, as it does in the late 60s, it occasional gives way to a big pedally mush.

I'm interested in Larry's original point about some fundamental rhythmic divide between bebop (Powell, Flanagan, Harris) and post-bebop (Hancock, Tyner). I'm wondering if this is a similar to Harris's own dismissal of most post-bebop pianists. I'd agree that there's nothing quite like Powell or Parker when it comes to rhythmic punch. I wouldn't agree that any jazz improvisation which lacks this particular flavor of rhythmic vitality is thereby flaccid and uninteresting. Tristano, for one, had different ideas about rhythm, some of which I'd say influenced Herbie's (and Evans's) penchant for detached evenness.

Finally, I'd concede that I've always been uninspired by Herbie's playing on the obscenely fast tunes with the Miles quintet (e.g., Four and More, a few things on Plugged Nickel). It's all blinding technically but it lacks the melodic invention that makes him great and the rhythmic pop that makes fast Powell or early fast McCoy great. Maybe this has something to do with Larry's dissatisfaction with Herbie.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

when popularity, money and fame became more important than credibility, he sold-out.

Translated, this simply means "He started making music for which I was not the intended audience".

No argument there. However, other mainstream artists who were in the same position as Hancock chose to honor their roots. I don't begrudge him the choices he made, I just don't have the same respect I would have had for him if he'd stayed the course.

"Roots"? Which roots are we talking about here?

Seems to me that making music for a R & B audience and/or a "crossover" audience was in the mix from the git-go.

Also seems to me that as opportunities presented themselves, Herbie capitalized.

Initiative and ambition are roots too!

I say it still comes down to, "I don't really like Disco or Techno or Whatever, so Herbie "sold out" when he decided to explore those avenues and had success doing so".

Not that it was all good, it wasn't. But it was not good because it was not good Disco or Techno or Whatever, not because it was Disco or Techno or Whatever.

This notion of "selling out"...it exists, but it's not nearly as black-and-white as a lot of people want it to be.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

"Roots"? Which roots are we talking about here?

Seems to me that making music for a R & B audience and/or a "crossover" audience was in the mix from the git-go.

For me Herbie was at his best and most exploratory as a pianist when he got to stretch out on live Miles gigs, especially the 1967 tour.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Pete -- thanks for posting those McCoy videos. Burnin'. His left hand comes down like a jackhammer here.

Anybody know what kind of personal relationship Herbie and McCoy had? Friendly? Distant? Competitive? Admirers of each other? I've never asked either how they viewed the other, but would be interseting to know, especially during the '60s, when they were the leading figures, holding down the two most prestigious piano chairs in contemporary jazz, and appearing on every other recording on Blue Note. I recall reading once that Herbie got a copy of Nicolas Slonimsky's "Thesaurus of Scales and Melodic Patterns" after hearing that McCoy was practicing out of it (McCoy got it from Trane.)

As an aside, I did once ask Herbie if he ever played with Coltrane and the answer, regrettably, was no. He did say that once when he was playing the Vanguard with Miles, he saw that Trane was in the club listening. Herbie didn't get a chance to talk to him, but Miles told the band that Trane had really dug it and that he had told Miles that he was going to come back the next night and sit in. Hearing this, Herbie said he went home and stayed up most of the night practicing McCoy's vocabularly of 4th voicings, etc., in preparation. However, when the next night came, Trane didn't show.

Edited by Mark Stryker

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Pete -- thanks for posting those McCoy videos. Burnin'. His left hand comes down like a jackhammer here.

Anybody know what kind of personal relationship Herbie and McCoy had? Friendly? Distant? Competitive? Admirers of each other? I've never asked either how they viewed the other, but would be interseting to know, especially during the '60s, when they were the leading figures, holding down the two most prestigious piano chairs in contemporary jazz, and appearing on every other recording on Blue Note. I recall reading once that Herbie got a copy of Nicolas Slonimsky's "Thesaurus of Scales and Melodic Patterns" after hearing that McCoy was practicing out of it (McCoy got it from Trane.)

As an aside, I did once ask Herbie if he ever played with Coltrane and the answer, regrettably, was no. He did say that once when he was playing the Vanguard with Miles, he saw that Trane was in the club listening. Herbie didn't get a chance to talk to him, but Miles told the band that Trane had really dug it and that he had told Miles that he was going to come back the next night and sit in. Hearing this, Herbie said he went home and stayed up most of the night practicing McCoy's vocabularly of 4th voicings, etc., in preparation. However, when the next night came, Trane didn't show.

:g

Very funny story. Really humanises these giants.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

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 improversers 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

Some of the most insightful stuff I've read about Herbie Hancock.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Played "Speak Like a Child" late last night, and found it every bit as amazing as ever.

And upon taking it off the shelf, I remembered that when I saw Herbie the first time, I had him sign my copies of 1) Speak Like a Child, and 2) The Plugged Nickel. And it was only the second time I saw Herbie (a good 8 years later), that I had him sign my copies of 3) The Prisoner, and maybe something else (but I can't find anything else, so maybe not).

In any case, "Speak Like a Child" is da bomb, and ever will be - in my book.

BTW, Herbie's playing on "The Trainwreck" is outrageously interesting - recorded in August '68 (about half-way between Speak Like a Child, and The Prisoner). And when Tyrone lays out, it's a frickin' "free"-ish piano-trio date!! - and FWIW, Herbie's playing mirrors his contributions to "All Seeing Eye" and "Contours" (only even a touch more free).

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

when popularity, money and fame became more important than credibility, he sold-out.

Translated, this simply means "He started making music for which I was not the intended audience".

No argument there. However, other mainstream artists who were in the same position as Hancock chose to honor their roots. I don't begrudge him the choices he made, I just don't have the same respect I would have had for him if he'd stayed the course.

"Roots"? Which roots are we talking about here?

Seems to me that making music for a R & B audience and/or a "crossover" audience was in the mix from the git-go.

Also seems to me that as opportunities presented themselves, Herbie capitalized.

Initiative and ambition are roots too!

I say it still comes down to, "I don't really like Disco or Techno or Whatever, so Herbie "sold out" when he decided to explore those avenues and had success doing so".

Not that it was all good, it wasn't. But it was not good because it was not good Disco or Techno or Whatever, not because it was Disco or Techno or Whatever.

This notion of "selling out"...it exists, but it's not nearly as black-and-white as a lot of people want it to be.

We'll have to agree to disagree on the meaning of "roots". To me, it means where someone came from. In a musical context, the genesis of one's artistry. Frankly, I don't see what Herbie did as being that much different than what Rod Stewart did when he started singing standards. Sell out? To each his own. The only person who knows for sure is the one who made the decision. The rest of us can only speculate.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Who a person plays gigs with is but a small portion of "where they come from".

Life - nor character - does not begin on the bandstand!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

when popularity, money and fame became more important than credibility, he sold-out.

Translated, this simply means "He started making music for which I was not the intended audience".

No argument there. However, other mainstream artists who were in the same position as Hancock chose to honor their roots. I don't begrudge him the choices he made, I just don't have the same respect I would have had for him if he'd stayed the course.

"Roots"? Which roots are we talking about here?

Seems to me that making music for a R & B audience and/or a "crossover" audience was in the mix from the git-go.

Also seems to me that as opportunities presented themselves, Herbie capitalized.

Initiative and ambition are roots too!

I say it still comes down to, "I don't really like Disco or Techno or Whatever, so Herbie "sold out" when he decided to explore those avenues and had success doing so".

Not that it was all good, it wasn't. But it was not good because it was not good Disco or Techno or Whatever, not because it was Disco or Techno or Whatever.

This notion of "selling out"...it exists, but it's not nearly as black-and-white as a lot of people want it to be.

We'll have to agree to disagree on the meaning of "roots". To me, it means where someone came from. In a musical context, the genesis of one's artistry. Frankly, I don't see what Herbie did as being that much different than what Rod Stewart did when he started singing standards. Sell out? To each his own. The only person who knows for sure is the one who made the decision. The rest of us can only speculate.

Wrong. Hancock was working across genres within Black music. Stewart was just ...

Edited by freelancer

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Ben's post is very interesting; lots to think about, especially: "It is much harder to hear organic ideas and execute them in such a complete, clear, and relaxed way that they sound almost as if they were composed than it is to bang out endless permutations of pentatonic cells with sufficiently frenzied fire that it sounds as if the ideas are coming from the very (fiery) soul of the improvisor."

OTOH, re-listening to one of my favorite Hancock solos -- on "My Joy" from Hutcherson's "Oblique" -- I just don't FWIW hear much if any "singing" melodies (not that that is in itself a damning thing). What I do here, though -- and to me this raises doubts -- are passages that seem to me to want to be taken as organic singing melodies when they are instead (or so I feel) essentially harmonic patterns strung lengthwise, with the "melody" being determined by/almost at the mercy of the harmonic flow. So what? you ask. Well, one reason that this kind of music-making is not my favorite thing circles back to what Ben said here: "I'm interested in Larry's original point about some fundamental rhythmic divide between bebop (Powell, Flanagan, Harris) and post-bebop (Hancock, Tyner). I'm wondering if this is a similar to Harris's own dismissal of most post-bebop pianists. I'd agree that there's nothing quite like Powell or Parker when it comes to rhythmic punch. I wouldn't agree that any jazz improvisation which lacks this particular flavor of rhythmic vitality is thereby flaccid and uninteresting. Tristano, for one, had different ideas about rhythm, some of which I'd say influenced Herbie's (and Evans's) penchant for detached evenness."

To amplify, now that I think about it, in Powell's playing for one, all three parameters (rhythm, harmony, and melody; four if you count attack/timbre) tend to be vigorously interactive at all times; thus, I would think (or argue) the potential organic nature of the evolving whole, because anyone one of those parameters can at any moment step to the foreground/take the lead. (By contrast, thinking of another sort of music, Stephen Sondheim's theater scores seems more or less a-melodic to me because, again, they seem to be essentially harmonic patterns strung lengthwise, with the "melodies" being determined by/even at the mercy of the harmonic flow.)

Now the latter part of Hancock's solo on "My Joy" seems quite brilliant to me because there he isn't trying to turn harmonic patterns into what might be called pseudo-melodies. Instead (and I hope this doesn't sound like vague b.s.) Hancock begins to give us landscape of alternately coalescing and opposed harmonic shapes, where melodic flow, organic or disguised, is no longer an issue. The thinking here is virtually Monk-like, though it doesn't sound like Monk, and I think it's really special.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Stewart was/is just "peacocking", which is really what he's always done. It's just the case that life, time, and his own business decisions have put him in/on a different stage on which to do it.

I don't consider anything a "sellout" unless it's something put out with no belief behind it whatsoever and without any intent to do it as well as you can do it. Anything else, even "pure art" also exists as a business decision.

People should ask themselves whether they look at musicians as their own personal servants, there to tickle their own personal fancies, or if they are willing to accept without malice or rancor the premise that musicians are free to pursue business the same as anybody else, which means that their plans may not always include you, and no hard feelings if that happens, best wishes, etc.. And people should really think it all the way through before they answer, because no "jazz fan" wants to admit to enjoying having servants.

Edited by JSngry

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Now, I gotta run to go play a total whore gig. We may or may not play "Watermelon Man" in the "wrong" key and with a pianist who has likely never heard a Herbie Hancock record.

Business decision. All of it.

Edited by JSngry

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

BTW did anybody really care what the music in Round Midnight was like. Wasn't that movie just an excuse for the French to pat themselves on the back for their outstanding historical 'ethics', and for Dexter Gordon to tell a few funny jokes.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Frankly, I don't see what Herbie did as being that much different than what Rod Stewart did when he started singing standards.

Nothing Herbie ever did is as bad as that.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

a few stray points -

1) in Evans last years he was a complete coker, and intravenously so. Pete C nails it.

2) great point Larry about Duke Jordan and the way he paced himself. Duke, who was personally one of the angriest people I ever met, was a sea of calm at the piano.

also, just an aside, he and Bill Evans used to get together to play duets.

and yes, Valerie, my brain is quite virginal. Unencumbered, as they say, by the thought process.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Well gee willikers. I 'look over Jordan' after some time away and what do I see: the board slamming a product by a hugely successful musician and 2 years before it's even out! What a creative departure! No wonder Jon Raney quit boards altogether. So predictable. Quelle ennui...

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Please sign in to comment

You will be able to leave a comment after signing in



Sign In Now
Sign in to follow this  
Followers 0

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.