So last Saturday April 12th Herbie Hancock celebrated his 74th birthday, when I read that it was his birthday I started to think about his status in the jazz community and I asked myself – why haven’t you listened to more of his music through the years?? I think I’ve asked that question a dozen time, don’t you think?? And as usual my first response was – “Beats Me” But as I thought about it the only explanation that I can come up with is that when the roots of my music listening were being planted (1970 – 1975) Herbie was making some pretty avant-garde music in those years and since I really wasn’t that into that type of music, I never listened to Herbie – hum – but you did listen to Bitches Brew?? I think that the most likely scenario was that I heard something of his, didn’t really like it that much and from there figured I didn’t like his music, and so I never sought it out! Now as I read this jazz icons biography and realize that he is not only a great jazz musician but also just a flat-out great person – I think I have missed out on a lot over the years!
So one of the first things that I did as I set out to explore Herbie’s music was to go to AllMusic and check out the editor’s picks. The first editor’s pick that caught my eye was Herbie’s 1965 release Maiden Voyage it has a five-star rating as does the album that was released the year earlier, Empyrean Isles. So these two albums went on the iPhone and after listening to them I have confirmed that I made a mistake! On both albums Hancock’s band featuring two of his fellow alums from Miles Davis’ Second Quintet – bassist Ron Carter and drummer Tony Williams along with the trumpet of Freddie Hubbard is outstanding – from Allmusic:
…On Empyrean Isles, he returns to hard bop, but the results are anything but conventional. Working with cornetist Freddie Hubbard, bassist Ron Carter, and drummer Tony Williams — a trio just as young and adventurous as he was — Hancock pushes at the borders of hard bop, finding a brilliantly evocative balance between traditional bop, soul-injected grooves, and experimental, post-modal jazz -Stephen Thomas Erlewine Read More
Less overtly adventurous than its predecessor, Empyrean Isles, Maiden Voyage nevertheless finds Herbie Hancock at a creative peak. In fact, it’s arguably his finest record of the ’60s, reaching a perfect balance between accessible, lyrical jazz and chance-taking hard bop.-Stephen Thomas Erlewine Read More
After listening to both albums I think that I slightly prefer Empyrean Isles but it’s a toss-up Now this morning I did listen briefly to Herbie’s debut album Takin’ Off and I liked it, too.
Now before I wrote that he also is a great person, in reading his biography I discovered that he is a devout Buddhist about which Herbie says…
“Practicing Buddhism has brought several revelations to me. One that has been extremely important to my own personal development and consequently my musical development — is the realization that I am not a musician. That’s not what I am. It’s what I do. What I am is a human being. Being a human being includes me being a musician. It includes my being a father, a husband, a neighbor, a citizen and an African-American. All of these relationships have to do with my existence on the planet. “
He is a family man and has been married to Gigi since 1968 and is the proud father of one daughter Jessica. His philanthropic endeavors includes but is not limited to…
Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz
International Committee of Artists for Peace (ICAP)
Daniel Pearl World Music Days Foundation
Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation
The Rhythm of Life Organization (ROLO)
Alzheimer’s Foundation of America
You can read more about these organizations here!
So in closing let’s wish Herbie a belated “Happy Birthday, and I will apologize for not searching out his music, but now that I’ve found it I once again have a lot of catching up to do!! So let’s go “into the night” with “One Finger Snap” from Empyrean Isles