Fellow artsjournal.com blogger Larry Blumenfeld is in The Wall Street Journal with a piece about Herbie Hancock. His article addresses the pianist and composer’s latest excursion into the arena of popular music in which he won a Grammy a couple of years ago. In fame and societal impact, Hancock has come a long way from Miles Davis, Maiden Voyage and other accomplishments of the 1960s that made him one of the most respected musicians of his generation. Blumenfeld concentrates on what Hancock sees on the wide horizon.
With “The Imagine Project,” Mr. Hancock leverages both his talent and his pop-culture equity in the service of a larger idea. He mentions how a growing economic crisis and recent concerns about climate change have fostered an awareness of globalization. “These things force people to think about how connected we all are,” he says over the phone from his Los Angeles studio, “but in a negative way. So I wanted to find a way to use music as a vehicle for that idea, in a positive light.”
If Mr. Hancock sounds like a cultural ambassador, that’s because he is one: When we spoke, he’d just returned from Beijing, in his role as chairman of the Monk Institute, under the auspices of the State Department; soon he’d be in the East Room of the White House, among the celebrities singing “Hey Jude” as President Barack Obama presented Paul McCartney with the Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song.
To read the article, go here.
I admire and encourage Hancock’s aspirations to cultural diplomacy through world music. But as I listened to “Don’t Give Up,” a song from his new album that is embedded in the WSJ article, I read a quote that he gave Blumenfeld:
“The first thing that came to mind when I thought of making another record,” he says, “was simply ‘Why? What can it accomplish?'”
The implication in that question is that he accomplished what he could infor lack of a more precise termmainstream jazz. It brought to mind the great alto saxophonist Phil Woods a few years ago as he contemplated the pervasive commercial success of his former boss and old pal Quincy Jones. “…but,” Woods said plaintively, “couldn’t he make a jazz record once in a while?”
If Herbie Hancock made a latterday counterpart of Maiden Voyage, Fat Albert Rotunda or 1+1, Iand perhaps others would eagerly accept it along with his ambassadorship.
Rob D says
Once they go “pop” ..it must be hard to go back in the studio and make a legit jazz record. No money, very little acclaim beyond the tiny jazz press and a sense that you have already (in Herbie’s case) done it before and also done it much better.
I don’t begrudge HH’s desire to explore more commercial possibilities with his numerous talents but I also don’t find them very edifying. I’ll just spin his classic stuff and wish him well.
Skip Norris says
I agree with Rob D. However I think there is a two way spin on it for a guy like Herbie. On one hand what is the incentive to make a real jazz record anymore? He’s already played and collaborated with the finest musicians the idiom ever produced. Can you imagine playing with any other drummer than Tony Williams? On the other hand the financial rewards and media exposure is too attractive to look away from. I think Santana is a good example of this as well. He’s been chasing “Supernatural” for 10 years now. It would be more interesting to hear Herbie with a band like Tain, Warren Wolf, Chris McBride, Daniel Sadownick, or maybe a Terrell Stafford. Or even a badass latin project with Ray Vega and Pedro Martinez. In the end, those days are gone….