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Herbie Hancock

Pianist and composer Herbert Jeffrey "Herbie" Hancock was born on April 12, 1940 in Chicago, Illinois to Winnie Belle and Wayman Edward Hancock. Hancock began to study music at age seven, and performed a Mozart piano concerto with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra by age eleven. He played jazz in high school and double-majored in music and electrical engineering at Grinnell College.

In 1960, Hancock was discovered by trumpeter Donald Byrd. After two years of session work with Byrd, as well as Phil Woods and Oliver Nelson, he signed with Blue Note Records as a solo artist. Hancock’s 1963 debut album, Takin’ Off, was an immediate success, and produced the hit “Watermelon Man.” Subsequent albums on Blue Note included Maiden Voyage, Empyrean Isles, and Speak Like a Child, among others. In 1963, trumpeter Miles Davis invited Hancock to join the Miles Davis Quintet alongside Wayne Shorter, Ron Carter, and Tony Williams, where he stayed for five years. Hancock also composed the score to Michelangelo Antonioni's 1966 film Blow Up, which led to a successful career in feature film and television music.

After leaving the Davis Quintet, Hancock established his own sextet and recorded several albums, including 1971’s Mwandishi. He then formed a new band called The Headhunters and, in 1973, recorded Head Hunters for Columbia Records, which became the first jazz album to go platinum. Hancock produced eleven albums that were included in the pop charts during the 1970s. He also recorded and performed with the group V.S.O.P. in the late 1970s, toured with trumpeter Wynton Marsalis in 1980, and then collaborated with producer Bill Laswell in the mid-1980s. Hancock later moved to the Verve record label and formed a band to record 1996's The New Standard. He then released 1 1 with Wayne Shorter in 1997. Hancock reunited with The Headhunters in 1998 and, that same year, collaborated with a number of artists on his multiple Grammy Award-winning album Gershwin's World. His albums in the 2000s included Future2Future, Directions In Music: Live at Massey Hall, Possibilities, The Imagine Project, and River: The Joni Letters, which won him the Grammy Award for Album of the Year in 2008.

Hancock has been named by the Los Angeles Philharmonic as Creative Chair For Jazz. He also serves as Institute Chairman of the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz, and as the 2014 Charles Eliot Norton Professor of Poetry at Harvard University. In addition, he is a founder of The International Committee of Artists for Peace, and was designated an honorary UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador in 2011.

In all, Hancock has released over forty albums and received fourteen Grammy Awards. He also received an Oscar Award for composing the score to 1986’s Round Midnight. His other honors include a Soul Train Music Award, a U.S. Radio Award, and multiple BMI Film Music Awards and MTV Video Awards. He was also awarded the “Commandeur des Arts et des Lettres” by French Prime Minister Francois Fillon.

Herbie Hancock was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on November 13, 2014.

Accession Number

A2014.260

Sex

Male

Interview Date

11/13/2014

Last Name

Hancock

Maker Category
Middle Name

Jeffrey

Occupation
Schools

Hyde Park Academy High School

Grinnell College

Forrestville Elementary School

First Name

Herbert

Birth City, State, Country

Chicago

HM ID

HAN05

State

Illinois

Favorite Vacation Destination

Home

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

California

Interview Description
Birth Date

4/12/1940

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Los Angeles

Country

USA

Favorite Food

Meatloaf

Short Description

Pianist and music composer Herbie Hancock (1940 - ) was a fourteen time Grammy Award-winning artist. He played with numerous jazz ensembles and released over forty albums.

Employment

Blue Note Records

Miles Davis Quintet

Herbie Hancock Sextet

The Headhunters

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Herbie Hancock's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Herbie Hancock lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Herbie Hancock describes his father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Herbie Hancock talks about how his parents met

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Herbie Hancock lists his siblings

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Herbie Hancock describes his sister's career

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Herbie Hancock talks about his father's education and profession

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Herbie Hancock remembers his mother's mental illness

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Herbie Hancock describes his earliest childhood memory

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Herbie Hancock remembers his neighborhood in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 1 Story: 11 - Herbie Hancock describes the sights, sounds and smells of his childhood

Tape: 1 Story: 12 - Herbie Hancock recalls the music of his youth

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Herbie Hancock describes the Regal Theater and Metropolitan Theatre in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Herbie Hancock remembers his first piano

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Herbie Hancock describes his early piano teachers

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Herbie Hancock recalls his experiences with sports

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Herbie Hancock recalls winning the Young People's Concerts contest

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Herbie Hancock remembers performing with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra at eleven years old

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Herbie Hancock shares a story from his travels in Africa

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Herbie Hancock recalls learning a new piece for his performance with Chicago Symphony Orchestra

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Herbie Hancock remembers organizing a jazz concert at Grinnell College in Grinnell, Iowa

Tape: 2 Story: 10 - Herbie Hancock describes the racial demographics of Hyde Park High School in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 2 Story: 11 - Herbie Hancock describes his introduction to jazz

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Herbie Hancock recalls listening to George Shearing

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Herbie Hancock talks about his early exposure to jazz music

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Herbie Hancock recalls his decision to attend Grinnell College in Grinnell, Iowa

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Herbie Hancock remembers his classmates at Grinnell College

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Herbie Hancock talks about attending Jack and Jill of America, Inc. events

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Herbie Hancock recalls his academic achievements

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Herbie Hancock describes his experiences at Grinnell College

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Herbie Hancock recalls majoring in engineering at Grinnell College

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Herbie Hancock describes the music department at Grinnell College

Tape: 3 Story: 10 - Herbie Hancock remembers his summer job at the post office

Tape: 3 Story: 11 - Herbie Hancock recalls balancing his music career with his work at the post office

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Herbie Hancock remembers the jazz musicians at Grinnell College in Grinnell, Iowa

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Herbie Hancock recalls his first performance with Donald Byrd and Pepper Adams

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Herbie Hancock remembers joining Donald Byrd's band

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Herbie Hancock recalls living as a struggling jazz musician in New York City

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Herbie Hancock remembers moving in with Donald Byrd

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Herbie Hancock talks about the mentorship of Donald Byrd

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Herbie Hancock recalls finding the courage to write his own compositions

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Herbie Hancock talks about the start of his music writing career

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Herbie Hancock recalls being approached by Miles Davis

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Herbie Hancock remembers buying his first sports car, pt. 1

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Herbie Hancock remembers buying his first sports car, pt. 2

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Herbie Hancock describes his early performances in New York City

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Herbie Hancock describes the process of composing 'Watermelon Man'

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Herbie Hancock remembers performing with Mongo Santamaria

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Herbie Hancock describes his early understanding of the music industry

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Herbie Hancock talks about developing his craft with other pianists from Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 5 Story: 9 - Herbie Hancock recalls meeting Tony Williams

Tape: 5 Story: 10 - Herbie Hancock remembers auditioning for Miles Davis

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Herbie Hancock talks about the formation of Miles Davis' Second Great Quintet

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Herbie Hancock recalls developing the post-bop style of jazz with Miles Davis

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Herbie Hancock remembers recording 'Live at the Plugged Nickel 1965'

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Herbie Hancock describes the Second Great Quintet's improvisational style

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Herbie Hancock talks about the lack of a bandleader in the Second Great Quintet

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Herbie Hancock recalls lessons from his time with Miles Davis

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Herbie Hancock reflects upon his career with Miles Davis

DASession

1$1

DATape

4$5

DAStory

7$10

DATitle
Herbie Hancock recalls finding the courage to write his own compositions
Herbie Hancock remembers auditioning for Miles Davis
Transcript
Now, Horace Silver, his records were his own compositions and his records sold. Why did they sell? 'Cause they were like funky jazz compositions. People seem to like that. So, I started to think, I'm from Chicago [Illinois], that's a blues town. And, if I can't write a funky jazz tune, something's wrong. So, anyway, I decided that I wanted to write something that was honestly from my experience as an African American, from my neighborhood. Something that was, you know, truly ethnic. Because, I mean, that's where the whole funky thing came from. So, since I hadn't experienced being in a chain gang or, or being beaten, or being in the South and abused, I was from Chicago. And, so, I started thinking, okay, who's the most ethnic character I would think of? And, it was the watermelon man. But, I started to think, I don't know if I wanna write a tune called 'Watermelon Man' 'cause there was stigma attached to watermelons. And, that stigma was this image of the (air quotes) pickaninny, you know, with big eyes, you see the white of his eyes and, you know, lip smacking, you know, the watermelon. It was very like a stereotypical negative--that was the idea that it was a negative image of black people. And, so, I didn't wanna call attention to that. I mean, at that time, and it sounds ridiculous today. But, black people would buy watermelons in a black neighborhood. Black people would not buy watermelons in a grocery store in a white neighborhood because of that stigma. It just wasn't done. So, but, I started to think about that, you know. And, I, I thought, okay. Maybe I could call it the vegetable man. But, that didn't fly. So, I said, okay. How can I work this? I started thinking, okay. Is there anything wrong with watermelons? Nope. Tasty, delicious, it's not unhealthy at all. It's a lot of water in it, you know. Okay, that's--the fruit is fine. Is there anything actually wrong with the watermelon man? Nope. Couldn't find anything wrong with that. So, I had no compelling argument to dissuade me from calling it 'Watermelon Man,' except my own lack of courage. So, I couldn't let myself do that. So, I said, I'm gonna have to stand up for what I believe in. It's nothing wrong with the watermelon man. I'm calling it 'Watermelon Man.' And, there was some musicians that when I told 'em I had written a song called 'Watermelon Man,' this was before I actually--yeah, maybe I had recorded it but it wasn't released yet. And, I told them that I'd written a song called 'Watermelon Man.' They said, "You're not really gonna call it that, are you?" And, I said, "Yes. I am," (laughter). And, they'd walk away shaking their head, you know.$So, anyway, he and I became really, you know, close friends, really bonded together and so this is why when Miles called me, the next thing is Tony [Tony Williams] calls me and says, "Hey, did Miles call you?" I said, "Yeah." And, he--we were both really excited about it. So, the next day we show up at Miles' house and Ron Carter, bass player, was player already there. George Coleman who had been playing with Miles along with Ron was, was already there. And, Miles--we started playing something, you know, some, maybe some standard tunes. I don't remember now what, what we started to play. And, Miles played a few notes and then took his horn and threw it on the couch and, and kind of went upstairs like it was, didn't wanna, he didn't wanna be bothered or he was disgusted or I don't know what. But, not with us but he just threw the horn down and left. And, so, Ron Carter kind of took over to proceed with us playing more music. And, this went on for three days. And, the second day Miles came down for a minute to meet two friends of his that came, came by, Philly Joe Jones, a great drummer that had played with Miles in the, in the First Great Quintet. What we call the First Great Quintet. And, Gil Evans who was the arranger of, of, some orchestra pieces with Miles, 'Miles Ahead,' 'Porgy and Bess,' and 'Sketches of Spain.' Two heroes of mine, by the way. Anyway, Miles came down to speak to them, and they listened to us for a while. And, then the third day Miles came down, he played a little bit more and then he said, "Okay, next Monday we're gonna meet at--" he said (imitates Miles Davis), "Monday we're gonna meet at Columbia, Columbia recording studio [CBS 30th Street Studio, New York, New York] at 3:30." And I, I said, "Miles, does that mean I'm in the band?" And, Miles looked at me, first thing was some expletive (laughter), and he said (imitates Miles Davis), "You're making the record." But, he had a little glint in his eye, you know. And, that was fine with me. I just, I'm thinking, I'm gonna make a record with Miles Davis. You know, beyond my wildest dreams. But, it was a combination of rehearsal and audition. And, because after we made the record, we went and played our, our first gig up in, in Maine at a, at a college and that was the beginning of a five and a half year stint with Miles Davis.