Herbie Hancock’s Electric-Jazz Journey

A New Orleans music styling that would take America by storm, jazz music was created as a way to express oneself freely through music, using methods taken from church, blues, swing, syncopation, and improvisation, along with general other aspects of Black culture. Herbie Hancock would be one to utilize this genre and put his own wacky, electronic, funky spin on it.

Born and raised in Chicago, 1940, Hancock would grow an affliction to the piano, being able to play said instrument at the Mozart D Major Piano Concerto with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra at just age eleven. Though, by the time he reached high school, he would fall in love with jazz, being inspired by artists Oscar Peterson and Bill Evans. Hancock also had another, more niche interest, and that was his adoration for gadgets, electronics, and science.

Hancock, apparently, would have taken apart clocks and watches as a child, curious as to how each of these machines worked. This interest would lead to the artist originally majoring in electrical engineering at Grinnell College. Though, by his third year, he would switch to music composition, where he would obtain his degree. He would kept electronics close to his heart for a while afterward.

In 1960, Hancock would join up with trumpeter, Donald Byrd, along with his bandmates. By 1963, he would be offered a solo contract by Blue Note Records, then releasing his debut album, “Takin’ Off.” The notable song in this album, “Watermelon Man,” featured a piano, cymbals, drums, and the trumpets. For the most part, the piano, cymbals, and drums would work as the songs rhythm whereas the trumpet and saxaphone would steal the show, often utilizing call-and-response. Though, the piano would occasionally be given its own time to shine, also calling-and-responding to the sax. This album would quite literally take off, though it was far from electronic.

The music has nothing to do with the technology. If you’re doing music, the music has to come first. And the technology is a tool for being able to produce the things that you feel. Not the other way around.

Herbie Hancock

In 1963, Hancock would join up with Miles Davis, who would influence Hancock’s creativity and lead to his discovery of mixing electrics with sound. After leaving Davis and his band in 1968, he would experiment with synthesizers and discover the electric piano. Afterward, he’d revive the Davis group (without Davis), dubbing themselves as V.S.O.P.

In 1974, Hancock would release his album “Thrust,” which was wildly different from “Takin’ Off.” The songs kept their rhythmic drums as well as the dominating sax, though greatly utilized synths and the electric piano.

Regarded as one of the top piano players of his time, Hancock, too, can be seen as one of the most experimental and inspirational artists of his period.

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