"I do listen to those musicians," Hancock said recently, savoring some morning downtime in his home's tranquil garden filled with African sculptures and sashaying felines. "But there's more than that. Actually, what I try to listen to is life."
Life must be sounding pretty good to Hancock these days, and not only because as a practicing Buddhist for 38 years he cultivates personal equanimity like a well-tended flower bed.
Last month he was feted at Carnegie Hall. On
Hancock also is marking the launch of his eighth
decade with the release of his latest record, "The Imagine Project"
(issued on his personal label, Hancock Records), and an extensive
summer tour that will take him from
"I've got this window of all of this year and part of next year up 'til
A lifelong self-identified "techie," Hancock said that, in addition to pushing the mix of guest jazz musicians at the Bowl and Disney Hall, he's hoping to incorporate more dance and performance, as well as computer graphics and film clips, into jazz presentations.
"The idea of employing visuals is two things," he
said. "One of them is: other ways to attract an audience, other
pathways that they can use in order to get to the heart of the music.
And it's also the 21st century. It's not like 40 years ago, it would've
been just financially impossible to do. A blank CD costs, what,
Although the classically trained Hancock has explored R&B, pop, rock and world beat, jazz remains the alpha and omega of his career, "the springboard for any project that I do." And it's a springboard with a very broad base. Although other jazz orchestras and programs, such as Jazz at Lincoln Center, have attempted to articulate a sort of classic jazz canon over the years, Hancock is careful in avoiding drawing boundaries about what jazz is or isn't.
"If you feel it's necessary for you, in your own mind, to define jazz, make sure that the definition is broad enough," he said. "I think you're putting the death knell on jazz when you try to narrow it. It's not the nature of jazz to be narrow."
In keeping with that expansive view, Hancock is frank in acknowledging how jazz and jazz audiences have changed over the years, and must continue to do so.
"The mainstream jazz audience, just like the musicians that have come through or from the mainstream, including myself, we're getting older and older, right? And we're dying off, you know? It's a natural process of life. But the audiences are getting older and older too. And they're dying off, right?"
Part of the genre's regeneration, Hancock believes, will come from outside the country where jazz was born. "Jazz is a gift of America to the world, and it has affected people from all cultures. That's why the new flock of jazz musicians is not just coming from America. They're from all over the planet now."
Reflecting that reality, his first-year's
programming for the Phil is integrating such genre-stretching artists
as the reggae-pop-rock influenced
"He can do it all," Jones said. "He hasn't talked to me about any plans, but Herbie will try anything he feels, man."
As one example, she cited a 2006 Bowl program in which
Borda also pointed to the performance of a piece by L.A. pianist
"The beautiful thing about Herbie is he views music
without boundaries and he loves making music with everybody," said
Reeves, who'll be performing Wednesday at the Bowl in one of Hancock's
programs that also will include
Few ventures in Hancock's voluminous career demonstrate that more than "The Imagine Project," which takes its title from
"This record is like a call to arms, in many ways," Hancock said. "If we don't want globalization to be what we don't want, why don't we create the globalization we do want?"
Of course, coordinating recording sessions with a
group of artists separated by multiple time zones can be almost as
tricky as, say, getting the U.S. and
"Things started falling apart, almost like unraveling," he said. "A lot of the people on my team are like flipping out. And I'm really glad I practice Buddhism because I didn't flip out."
Hancock's chilled-out outlook also derives from his
sense of connection to life's mundane rhythms. He absorbed that ability
from one his foremost teachers,
"If you're walking down the street with Miles, and you get to a corner, and somebody else is walking and you both happen to see this person, and they sort of make a misstep and they stumble, Miles would say, 'Play that!'"
Hancock, grinning, affected Davis' raspy whisper. "I mean, who else would think like that, you know? Like, 'Do that musically!' Because that's life."
At least it is for those who, like Hancock, have the ears to hear it.
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