“I haven’t heard anybody yet who has come after him.”
Those are words from jazz trumpeter Miles Davis’ autobiography describing his longtime partner and musical collaborator, Herbie Hancock.
And though the book was published in 1990, roughly a year before Davis’ death, the words seem to ring true even 23 years later.
Fifty years and 40 studio albums since his first solo effort, Hancock – the jazz pianist, keyboard player, bandleader, composer and Buddhist – isn’t done yet.
The 73-year-old has played gigs in South America, California and New York in a two-month tour that began Aug. 3 and culminates in his home city of Chicago on Oct. 11. Before his homecoming, Hancock will also make a stop in New Albany at the Jeanne B. McCoy Community Center for the Arts on Oct. 8.
Hancock started his music career in jazz, but he has reached beyond jazz to genres such as funk, blues and even classical. His show at the McCoy Center will lead the audience through all the periods of his work, from the oldest songs to the newest.
“Because my music has covered a pretty wide area, a mixture of genres … I’m going to try to do a little bit of this and a little bit of that,” Hancock says.
The audience at the 750-seat Schottenstein Theatre in the McCoy Center can expect older jazz standards such as “Cantaloupe Island” and “Watermelon Man,” as well as Hancock’s later hits such as electronic-tinged 1980s smash “Rockit.” Never one to stay stagnant, Hancock is giving the songs new arrangements or, as he says, “a new twist using new technologies.”
The new advancements incorporate iPads, which Hancock integrated into his live shows about a year ago to manipulate sounds and access music programs. Technology like this may come in handy for performances of songs such as “Rockit,” which was one of the first popular songs to incorporate turntabling techniques and scratching.
But to Hancock, the show isn’t about the technology; it’s about connecting with the audience.
“What I’m actually doing on stage is communicating to them through this language,” Hancock says, “that I’m real at this moment and have the courage to be vulnerable.”
Accompanying Hancock will be guitarist Lionel Loueke, bassist James Genus and drummer Vincent Colaiuta.
“It’s just a great band that has been working on and off with me for several years,” Hancock says.
A look at Hancock’s successes helps explain the words Davis chose in his autobiography. Now the creative chair for jazz at the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the institute chair at the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz, Hancock has won 14 Grammy Awards, including Album of the Year, making him one of a handful of jazz artists with that accomplishment. He was also the first jazz artist to have an album go platinum. He’s even won an Oscar.
These things aren’t important to Hancock, though.
“Usually by the time it goes platinum, I’m on to another project,” he says. “I don’t dwell on that. I don’t sit there going, ‘Wow, look at what I did.’”
“I got stuff to do,” he adds, laughing.
That “stuff” has spanned five decades. Hancock began his career with his 1963 solo album Takin’ Off. Shortly after that, he joined the Miles Davis Quintet. Hancock started his own band in 1973 called the Headhunters, whose self-titled debut was the aforementioned first jazz album to go platinum. In 1983, he collaborated with Bill Laswell on the platinum Future Shock, featuring the single “Rockit,” known as much for its quality musicianship as for its music video loaded with dancing robots.
2007’s River: The Joni Letters – a tribute to Hancock’s longtime friend Joni Mitchell and a collaboration with artists including Tina Turner, Leonard Cohen and Mitchell herself – received the Grammy for Album of the Year. Other co-collaborators throughout Hancock’s career include Sting, Stevie Wonder, Carlos Santana and Paul Simon.
He’s also made forays into film, composing the score for the 1996 film Blowup and the 1986 film ’Round Midnight, which won him an Oscar for best original score.
Even though his expansive body of work would attest otherwise, Hancock doesn’t just focus on his music. Much of his inspiration comes from his Buddhist faith, which he has practiced for 40 years.
“I concentrate more on how I can grow, not only as a musician, but as a human being,” he says. “That makes for a larger palette from which to grow my music.”
Indeed, his 2010 effort, The Imagine Project – featuring musicians such as Jeff Beck, Seal and Pink – tackled the themes of peace and global responsibility.
Buddhism has influenced not only his music, but also his world view. Through numerous organizations, Hancock has been an advocate for world peace, good will and global understanding.
Hancock is the founder of the International Committee of Artists for Peace, and in 2011 he was designated an honorary UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador, becoming part of a group of celebrity advocates for intercultural dialogue.
It’s hard to say what Hancock will do next or where he will go, but one thing’s for certain: After more than 50 years of music, he won’t be stopping anytime soon.
“It’s a bottomless well of creativity and cultural development that is connected to my heart and my life,” he says. “I enjoy making people feel something, I enjoy encouraging people, making them even ponder questions, perhaps thinking another way about things.”
“This is a great joy for me,” he adds.
Eric Lagatta is a contributing writer. Feedback welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.