NPR logo 5 Musicians Pick Their Favorite Herbie Hancock Recordings

Take Five: A Jazz Sampler

5 Musicians Pick Their Favorite Herbie Hancock Recordings

Herbie Hancock. Douglas Kirkland/Courtesy of the artist hide caption

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Douglas Kirkland/Courtesy of the artist

Herbie Hancock.

Douglas Kirkland/Courtesy of the artist

When you talk to jazz aficionados, you often hear about a ground zero, a Eureka moment of musical awakening that opens up the bounty of the music. For some of us (myself included), that moment was hearing Herbie Hancock for the first time.

Perhaps that's because Hancock, more than most artists, is never afraid to explore the musical zeitgeist — from hard bop to jazz-rock, funk, hip-hop and beyond. He's recorded music over many decades (since 1962, to be exact) and has a deep repertoire to draw on, as he mentioned in a recent conversation. But that doesn't deter him from constantly searching for something new. "Possibilities" is one of his mantras, and the name of his recent memoir.

At age 76, Hancock is ready to pen the next chapter, this time inked with some of the innovators of today: Flying Lotus, Thundercat, Jacob Collier, Terrace Martin and Robert Glasper, among others. Some of those artists will join Hancock in an outdoor concert in Brooklyn this Thursday, Aug. 11. NPR Music, Jazz Night In America, and The Checkout from WBGO will be there to capture it for later broadcast.

As we gear up for the concert, I asked some of Hancock's newest musical allies, closest old friends and admirers from afar to share their favorite Herbie Hancock music from over the years.

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Musicians On Herbie Hancock

  • Ron Carter

    Ron Carter, Herbie Hancock, Tony Williams, "Dolphin Dance" from Third Plane. Herbie Hancock, piano and composer.

    This is 2016. I met him in 1962. He still sounds like Herbie to me. Got the same touch, the same harmonic ambitions, the same rhythmic curiosities. Doesn't matter who he's playing with or what he's playing on, I hear Herbie, and that's fantastic to me. In 1965, Herbie was starting to write on another level. And he's making the guys who played with him play to the level of his writing. George Coleman played differently. Freddie Hubbard played differently. One of the things about "Dolphin Dance" is that it has a long life because it's able to work in various-sized formats. Before, you have really high-powered horn players with Freddie and George. Ten years later, it's pared down to just a rhythm section of me, Herbie and Tony Williams.

    YouTube
  • Leland Whitty of BADBADNOTGOOD

    Miles Davis, "The Sorcerer" from Sorcerer. Herbie Hancock, piano and composer.

    It's an amazing song. The first time I heard it was one of the weirdest melodies I ever heard, but it still had really catchy elements to it. I heard it in music school and I wanted to learn it, and instead of transcribing it, I just pulled up all of these lead sheets, and every one I found had completely different chords in it! And then, even listening to each recording of it, the bootlegs, the form of it is constantly changing – he's changing the chord progressions as it's happening! So I just ended up lifting the melody and not even worrying about it.

    YouTube
  • Terrace Martin

    Herbie Hancock, "Butterfly" from Thrust. Herbie Hancock, piano and co-composer.

    To the person that may not be familiar with the professor, the master and the beautiful person [who is] my homeboy Herbie Hancock, the song I would tell you to start with is "Butterfly." It's a very sensitive song that touches your heart and it's a soothing, very sexy song. You can talk to your lover with it. You can touch somebody with it. It's from the album Thrust — that sounds so porno! That's so '70s!

    YouTube
  • Lionel Loueke

    Herbie Hancock, "Maiden Voyage" from Flood. Herbie Hancock, piano and composer.

    I've been playing with Herbie for more than 10 years now. He never plays "Maiden Voyage" solo the same way twice. And every time he does it, I can't believe what I'm hearing. It gets to the point where I go offstage when he plays it — solo. He finishes. And then we have to play another tune and I'm like, "Do I really have to go back onstage?" It's just such a strong melody, and it's so simple! All the melodies we love are simple. What makes the difference is how he plays the harmony underneath it to carry the simple melody.

    YouTube
  • Flying Lotus

    Flying Lotus, "Tesla" from You're Dead! Herbie Hancock, keyboards and co-composer.

    He's so hip! He's always in the know of anything new, technologically, sending music to different planets. Making "Tesla" with Herbie was done in the early days of the recording of You're Dead! It was really good that I did that with him first because it gave me the confidence to pursue the ideas on the album once he told me he was really into it.

    YouTube