Herbie Hancock was on the New York City jazz scene making some young musical noise a few years before I arrived in 1959, fresh out of high school in Chelsea, Mass.
I remember seeing him live for the first time when I went to the old Birdland at 52nd St. and Broadway. It was a Monday night. Mondays were the jam session nights at this venerable old club, and there was Herbie onstage with Joe Chambers and some horn players sitting in. I distinctly remember being amazed by the free and creative approach he and the band were taking with the standards they were playing. They were changing the rules and not asking for a license to do it. Right away, I connected with Herbie’s sense of adventure and musical exploration, which I myself had just begun realizing.
The amazing thing about this adventure of his is that for a whole lifetime the adventure hasn’t stopped. Miles set a powerful example for all of us — and Herbie was an integral part of that groundbreaking quintet that changed the face of jazz and music in general. But he has taken it several steps further by making full use of every new keyboard and sonic possibility, bridging new musical forms to combine the richness of our music’s past with the unknown of the new creative ideas from his seemingly infinite imagination. With his ongoing creativeness and successes in movie scores and both pop and classical music, he’s certainly never been afraid to explore and to change — and does so frequently and unabashedly.
From his first solo albums Takin’ Off, Empyrean Isles and Maiden Voyage, to his reach-out-to-the-world collaborations such as Possibilities, River: The Joni Letters and The Imagine Project, his ever-evolving musical creativeness continues to inspire and soothe souls the world over.
Ever since I’ve known Herbie, he has always inspired me and the music world to be free and reach for greater heights of accomplishment. His validation of the artist’s imagination and his demonstration of its ultimate purpose through the amazing music he has created — and continues to create are a touchstone for every future culture to aspire to.
The world without Herbie Hancock is unimaginable. His contributions to music and to humanity on this planet are immeasurable. Congratulations, Herbie. You are simply the best!
Herbie Hancock, who received a 2016 Lifetime Achievement Award from The Recording Academy, was among the artists saluted at the “GRAMMY Salute To Music Legends — a special all-star concert honoring The Recording Academy’s 2016 Special Merit Awards recipients.
Armando Anthony “Chick” Corea is a jazz and fusion pianist, keyboardist, and composer who has been nominated for 63 GRAMMY Awards — and has won 22. As a member of Miles Davis’s band in the late 1960s, he participated in the birth of the electric jazz fusion movement.
Photos by Douglas Kirkland