“Hancock, a Buddhist, writes about his spiritual journey in Possibilities but isn’t preachy about his its effect on his life, relationships, music and philosophy.”
Herbie Hancock is a living legend and at 75, could rest on his laurels, but he remains a dominant force in music and still virtuosic on the concert stage.
Hancock is not only a 14-time Grammy award winner, his last album of the year in 2007 with River: The Joni Letters, he has won numerous accolades including being a 2013 Kennedy Centers Honoree, an ambassador for UNESCO. He has just released Possibilities an intimate memoir less about his successes than his creative heart and mind.
A piano prodigy, Hancock made his professional classical debut performing a Mozart piano concerto with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra at aged 11. As a young man, growing up in Chicago, Hancock preferred playing piano and science to sports and hanging out with friends. His family was tight knit and supportive all the way. Hancock’s father grew up in Georgia in the 30s and aspired to be a doctor, but family poverty forced him to quit school. In Chicago Hancock’s father became a business owner and sent his brothers through college. Hancock’s mother was a guidance counselor for the Illinois state employment department.
While in high school, Hancock became just as interested in jazz as he was classical music, particularly the artistry of Oscar Peterson and Bill Evans. At sixteen, on a scholarship, he went to Grinnell College, a small liberal arts school in Iowa, where he double-majored in music and science.
Hancock’s reputation as a smart student and a musician earned him admiration and respect, but early on in Possibilities, he writes about his shyness and insecurities that led to relationship problems. He describes avoiding confrontations and admits to being in academic-arts environments insulated him from pervasive societal racism, but, at the same time he was maturing developing a broader social consciousness.
Hancock was among the young players that Miles Davis picked to form his second legendary Quintet in the 60s Hancock was also starting to perform with jazz giants from the previous generation. His reminiscences of Davis convey the trumpeter’s towering genius during the period they worked together and citing how personally generous Davis was to other musicians.
But Davis also could come off as difficult, rarely explaining himself, he ran things his way and his players were either on board or not. He was particularly supportive of musicians who wanted to move on after he had given them opportunities—a legacy that Hancock applied to his own professionalism in later years.
Hancock’s came into his own musically in 1965 with the release of “Maiden Voyage,” which sealed his reputation as an innovative jazz master. Later, like Davis, Hancock also kept experimenting with new forms, even as jazz was moving away from mainstream popularity. Hancock achieved crossover commercial appeal when jazz music all but disappeared from mainstream markets.
After he was a success, Hancock was the first to own any new electronic equipment before it was commercially available. His interest in what made things tic, served him well as a composer and musician, he clamored to work with computer innovators and the burgeoning technology in the latest electronic equipment.
Hancock’s interest in jazz fusion was proving a hard sell with record companies, but Hancock always managed to produce hits. He scored giant successes with the jazz-funk album Head Hunters and, with the electronica infused Future Shock.
Hancock also was working in highly commercial ways writing TV commercials and composing what proved a most distinguished film score for Michelangelo Antonioni’s 60s international hit “Blow-Up.” In 1986, he picked up an Oscar for his score to Bertrand Tavernier‘s film ‘Round Midnight’ which starred Dexter Gordon and featured jazz musicians, including Hancock, in the cast.
Hancock chronicles the prejudice he and his wife Gigi faced in the 60s as an interracial couple. They are still together and as solid as the relationship is, Hancock is candid about problems caused by his past drug use. His passages about his family, particularly concerning his sister Jeanne, a composer and singer, who died just as she was starting to see success, are particularly moving.
Hancock, a Buddhist, writes about his spiritual journey in Possibilities but isn’t preachy about his its effect on his life, relationships, music and philosophy. His stories of famous jazz artists are done with reverence and a sense of reporting, for the record, many artists who didn’t achieve as much fame as others but should be given their equal artistic due.