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Season 1 Episode 10

Herbie Hancock

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Aired Wednesday 9:00 PM Feb 04, 2009 on Sundance Channel
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The legendary Herbie Hancock is the next stop on Elvis' colorful, eclectic interview/performance 'tour' of the western worlds variegated music scene. A child prodigy, Herbie's career has spanned almost 60 years - from performing with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra at age 11 to recording with Sting, Annie Lennox, John Mayer, Christina Aguilera, Paul Simon and Carlos Santana in 2005. And, while perched behind a beautiful grand piano, he discusses all of it - from Miles Davis to Joni Mitchell and Jimi Hendrix. He also ably demonstrates and illustrates various masterful keyboard styles and techniques. Herbie is then joined by Karriem Riggins and Christian McBride on drums and bass for what the Sundance website describes as "a couple of riveting performances". To top everything off, "Elvis and Herbie join forces to tackle a song from River, the album of Joni Mitchell songs released in 2008 which earned him a Grammy for Album of the Year.moreless

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    • TRIVIA (1)

      • Song List

        Embraceable You (Written by George/Ira Gershwin)
        Performed by Herbie Hancock (Piano)

        Watermelon Man (Written by Herbie Hancock)
        Performed by Herbie Hancock (Piano)
        With Christian McBride (Upright Bass) and Karriem Riggins (Drums)

        Chan's Song (Never Said) (Written by Herbie Hancock)
        Performed by Herbie Hancock (Piano)
        With Christian McBride (Upright Bass) and Karriem Riggins (Drums)

        Edith And The Kingpin (Written by Joni Mitchell)
        Performed by Herbie Hancock (Piano) and Elvis Costello (Vocal)
        With Christian McBride (Upright Bass) and Karriem Riggins (Drums)

    • QUOTES (7)

      • Herbie: I'm interested in human beings and, and … uh, what kinds of avenues I can find that … can possibly relate to people on various levels.

      • Elvis: Miles Davis was, uh, quoted as saying he went to the library to look at cal scores … when he was comin' up - and was surprised that other jazz musicians didn't do so. Now, there are a few notable jazz musicians who don't read music, but more of … most of them do. (Herbie agrees) But not all of them invest in a curiosity in cal music. Do you feel it gave you extra ammunition, as a composer, to study these fundamentals and the, and the works of the cs?
        Herbie: Well, for me, because I started with classical music, even though I started taking piano, classical piano lessons, I was also listening to rhythm and blues. I'm from Chicago, you know. If you from Chicago, you're gonna hear the blues. So I was listening to both classical music and rhythm and blues; but, jazz I wasn't into because I thought, I thought you had to be older to, to play jazz, you know, you had to be at least 19.

      • Elvis: In 1960, I think, you, you had a, a hit record with your first … derived from your very first album as a leader. So, "Watermelon Man", which … was a big hit with the groovy pop crowd and groovy R&B crowd as well, beyond jazz musicians - did you have a sense when you were recording that that this might travel out?
        Herbie: Well, actually, I, uh, at the time, um, I was, uh, Donald Byrd's roommate - great jazz trumpeter from Detroit … and, and I was really his protégé, he discovered me and brought me from Chicago to New York to play in his band. He was the one that told me, "Okay, it's time for you to do your, your first record as a leader. I said "No, I'm not ready." "You're ready." So, so he said, "Here's how it works with record companies," he said, "half the record is for you, half is for the record company." And I said "What does that mean?" He says, "Well, half the tunes can be your originals and the other three have to be something that people actually know, or, or get a sense of, you know, that they know, you know. So I said, "Let me … I wonder … if I can approach that." And I started thinking about, what can I write, honestly, about … the black experience, my own personal black experience, you know, since the funky sound really comes from, from the black experience, you know. Uh, what can I write about? I couldn't write about chain gangs, 'cause I'd never been in jail, you know … I couldn't write about, about work songs because I hadn't worked in the cotton fields. I was born in Chicago, right? "The Watermelon Man", what could be more ethnic than that? Watermelon man going thru the alleys of, of Chicago, you know? So I said, "Well, how can I capture that … feeling of the watermelon man?" And I started thinking about the cobblestone alleys of Chicago, that … it was a horse-drawn wagon and the cart going over the cobblestones, you know, maybe I can capture something that, that has a, a rhythm that's inspired by that.

      • Herbie: But what I didn't know was something that I found out, again, thanks to Donald Byrd, when he had a conversation with Mongo Santamaría, when I played for my first time with a Latin group; and Mongo Santamaría, a great Cuban, uh, conga, congero, that passed away quite a few years ago. They were having a conversation about relationship between Afro-Cuban and Afro-American music - and Mongo had said that he never found a thing … that was a link between the two. So, I'm half-hearing the conversation and finally Donald says "Hey, Herbie, why don't you play "Watermelon Man" for Mongo." And so … I went up on, on the piano and started playin'. (plays bit of "Watermelon Man") And I started playin' this, and little by little, the musicians start pickin' it up. Pretty soon, everybody was dancin', Mongo got on his congas. When he got on his congas, all of a sudden, something clicked … and … he said "It's a, it's a Guajira, uh, beat", you know, and, and it worked with "Watermelon Man" perfectly.
        Elvis: And so, now we call it World Music, but, I mean, it was just a spontaneous, a spontaneous beat.
        Herbie: Yeah, and so it became a huge hit, you know, not only here in the States but, but all over Latin America too.

      • Herbie: When I was, um … 18 years-old, that's when the Grammy's started; but the Oscar's started long before I was born, and so, for me … the Oscar's were like the major thing … So I have this one Oscar, right, and so I have a … a place where I put awards, you know, and it, it sits at the top shelf, you know, and … right in the front place, and I thought nothing would ever be able to make that Oscar be in the background - until I got Album of the Year, the Grammy. Oscar went back.

      • Elvis: You made a record and one of the songs from it, "Rockit", it actually won five MTV Awards at the first VMA's. I mean, it's - it's not something that's … you know, this is a period of time where music video was just starting to be the way in which people heard a lot of music, but you were represented in the video by a robot. Did the humor of that video clip appeal to you? Did you have input into the, you know, the representation?
        Herbie: Number one, I had no input into, into the creation of that video because I didn't particularly want any input. I didn't understand anything about makin' music videos. And I remember watching it the first time - I didn't have a clue as to what it was about, and what … whether it was good or what, you know? I had no idea … and then I presented it to the record company, they were flippin' out. They loved it, they were "Congratulations!" and I … "What, is … is it any good?" You know, I had no idea. Shows you how stupid I am.

      • Herbie: Well, when … I did the album, uh, The New Standard, uh, what I was attempting to do was to, to beg the question : would we, 2,000 years from now, be talking about the standards being Cole Porter's tunes and George Gershwin's tunes - or will there ever be standards by other people? As a matter of fact, the standards were called jazz , the time that they were written. That was the music, it was … the word "pop music" didn't come up till, till later, you know, but it was, I mean, Frank Sinatra was a jazz singer.

    • NOTES (3)

      • Herbie's first hit, "Watermelon Man", from his debut album, Takin' Off (1962), reached the Top 100 on the pop charts as an edited single. The very next year, however, Cuban congero, Mongo Santamaría, released a version which went all the way to #10 on the pop charts and was later inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1998. In 1973, Herbie released a rearranged funk version of the tune on his trend-setting jazz-fusion album, Head Hunters.

      • Although unused in this performance, completely different lyrics for Chan's Song (Never Said) have been written by both Stevie Wonder & Leonard Cohen.

      • This Week's Guest Musicians

        Christian McBride (Upright Bass)
        Karriem Riggins (Drums)

    • ALLUSIONS (0)

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