A Fireside Chat With Herbie Hancock
“ I was just signing with them (Verve) and I asked some of the executives if they had anybody at the label that was looking into the new technologies... new ways to distribute music. They looked at me as if I was crazy. ”
To know Miles Davis is to know Herbie Hancock. Herbie, having been a member of Miles' infamous quintet with Tony Williams, Ron Carter, and Wayne Shorter, is required reading. But long before I was casually interested in improvised music, I knew Herbie. You see, being a member of Gen-X that grew up on daily feedings of MTV, Herbie was old school for me. In the early Eighties, Herbie had "the" hit on MTV, "Rockit," a pre-house, industrial anthem accompanied by a kick ass video that played in heavy rotation on the before mentioned music video network. From there, I found my way to Thrust, which gave way to Sextant, which bridged Miles Davis, which began Coltrane, and Trane to Ornette, Ornette to Ayler, and so on. Without further ado, Herbie Hancock, folks, as always, unedited and in his own words.
All About Jazz: Let's start from the beginning.
Herbie Hancock: My best friend had a piano when I was about six years old. He was actually several months older than me. He had already turned seven. I would go to his house and ask if I could play his piano. Of course, I couldn't play it. I would just bang on it, but my mother noticed that I was interested in the piano and on my seventh birthday, they bought me a piano. So my older brother, my younger sister and I started taking lessons soon after that. After about three years, my brother and sister stopped their lessons and I continued on. For some reason, my interest never waned. It continued to progress and what really did it was when I was about twelve or thirteen years old, when I first started to pay attention to jazz and get involved with that. That really pulled me in like a magnet.
FJ: Because initially, you were classically trained.
HH: Right, I was playing classical music at first, but the fact that jazz is creative from another standpoint because it is an improvised music. You can express things and find ways of creating your own spontaneous melodies. That was one of the things. In my experience, it felt like I could put more of me into it. When you are playing classical music, you are reading someone else's music and interpreting that music. Whereas in jazz, you may be playing someone else's song, but the interpretation and the rendition is your own, moment to moment.
FJ: Miles had boxing and later, painting to continue his creativity away from the music, how do you approach quenching the creativity?
HH: I'm very much into technology, Fred. And even though, on the surface, it sounds like that is not a very creative pursuit, I'm constantly on the internet searching for things, trying to learn stuff, trying to figure out how things work and a lot of things spark my interest, some of the newer technologies having to do with atomic technology, machines that are on an atomic level, those tiny, tiny machines. To me, all that stuff is fascinating. And things having to do with other planets and other systems in the universe, that is fascinating for me too. So from the very, very small, atomic level, all the way up to macro level, those things are very intriguing to me. Life on Mars, that kind of stuff is intriguing. I just recently came back from Kennedy Space Center where I saw the launch of an Atlas 2 rocket. They were launching a satellite, a tracking and relay satellite. It was fantastic to me. I got a chance to get a real special VIP tour of the Kennedy Space Center and be inside the Atlantis Space Shuttle, which will be the next one going up in January and I hope to be able to see that launch. So I am totally into that kind of stuff. I certainly like my titanium PowerBook. I've got the latest one, the 1.0 GHz one. I just got it, so I haven't even really used it yet. I am transferring some files into it now. But I am also very much interested in humanity. I am interested in the world that we live in and the environment that we live in and the fact that it is very important that we protect all of those, the human beings and the environment.
FJ: With the advancement of technology, the world has grown largely smaller.
HH: (Laughing) Interesting way to put it, largely smaller.
FJ: The flipside being the haves and the have nots. How does the proverbial gap get bridged?