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Tuesday, April 12, 2011

April 12 -- Happy Birthday, Herbie!

Another April birthday repost jant, this.



Today marks the anniversary of Herbie Hancock's 70th trip around the sun, give or take the amount we lose to the idea of time being a still inexact science, thus necessitating leap years.

As some of you know already, I happen to be one of the biggest fans of Herbie you'll ever come across. I happen to very much dig how easily and effectively he blurs the lines between genres of music without cheapening anything he should happen to involve himself in.

Need someone to play a concert piano? You got it!
Need someone to master the not-so-much-used clavinet? Yep!
Hip hop is taking influence now, could you learn the 808? Damn skippy!

As one of the ones tapped to play in the youngest of Miles Davis' famous quintets -- known as the "second great quintet" -- we saw Herbie come in on what SHOULD have been the coattail of an even-then careermaker in Jazz music, but still find his own right there, using things rarely if ever seen in Jazz music.
Not only "Miles' piano man," Herbie recorded his own stuff during this time as well, including my second favorite of his albums, 1964's Empyrean Isles.
Rumored to be a jealous and assholish employer, Miles kicked Herbie out of the quintet for the reason of returning late from honeymoon, but I have always been of the opinion that it was more because of the success outside of the quintet more than that. Landing on his feet, Herbie started his own band, while still working with Miles on the side here and there.

Soon after that, Puddin' Man Bill Cosby and Warner brothers tapped Herbie to score and soundtrack Fat Albert and The Cosby Kids but it wound up only being the soundtrack and not the score, titled Fat Albert Rotunda.
[Phlip note - and I WILL listen to that tonight after work]

Actions following this are among the reasons I LOVE Herbie's body of work. As music changes, so does he, ever unafraid to tackle new things. The move was to electronic devices and sound, and damn if his 70's stuff did not adapt to the changing industry around him. This period birthed my THIRD favorite Herbie album, Headhunters, which has gotten me through many a day and many more a workout in the gym.
Ever the experimenter, we would also see the employment of more than your 'regular' jazz instruments in this time, also seeing things like trombones and such as well.

As with most things, I am willing to act as if the 80s didn't even happen, and we could probably thank the Reagan administration for that. Well, probably not, but since they were so guilty of all else, why the hell not?
In the 80's, however, we got Future Shock, containing the Grammy/MTV award-winning "Rockit," which helped to validate the presence of hip hop in general, so I will excuse it. He also scored and acted in 'Round Midnight and got an Oscar for his efforts on the musical side of it. I savored tracking down and purchasing that soundtrack, lord knows I did.

The 90s and 'aughts can be lumped together, as now a 50+ and funnily nerdy looking old man -- kinda like that cool ass uncle you waited impatiently to be able to crack a brew with -- Herbie still adapts to the changing landscape around him, while coming from a musical genre that WOULD be damn near dead if not for such sensibilities.
More homage paid to the growing hip hop thing took place, a Tribute to Miles with other former quintet members, my fourth favorite of his albums, Possibilities where he composes and brings along an amazing cast of musicians along for the very entertaining and accessible ride all take place. Pause to release my favorite of his albums, Future2Future in 2001 -- which could be a blog all to itself -- and cap it all off by acknowledging his work with the legendary Joni Mitchell, which netted him an album of the year Grammy in 2008.

My only hangup for anything done in Herbie's career was "RoboCop" from Kanye Zest's 808s and Heartbreak, but I still blame that more on Kanye than Herbie.
A humanitarian, we've seen him do charity events. A generally and genuinely good dude, we've seen him perform for the kickoff of Presidential inaugurations last year.

With every bit of pedigree, training, experience and influence to be a douchebag and elitist, Herbie still remains seemingly quite accessible and easy to talk to just the same. Not having gotten involved in the heroin-fueled jazz of the 60s and 70s, he is also thankfully still with us on his 70th. For that, we should all be thankful.
Here's to many more...
Happy birthday, Herbie Hancock!
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