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Interviews

Herbie Hancock: Inspired By the Written Word of a Friend

By Published: November 19, 2007

AAJ: Larry Klein then got involved...

HH: Yeah. That was another suggestion from the head of A&R from Verve. Larry had already done a couple records with them. Madeline Peyroux was one of them. I know Larry Klein. When the suggestion was made that I consider Larry Klein I thought that would be a really great idea. I know Larry is a very bright guy. He's a real thinker. Maybe a better way to state it is: he's a very aware person. Aware culturally, as well as aware of what's happening in the world.

Herbie

I had worked with Larry before. I used to have a TV show called Coast to Coast (Showtime, 1989-91). I was hosting it. My first guests for the first show that we had included Joni Mitchell and Larry Klein. Wayne Shorter was also on that. And Bobby McFerrin, David Sanborn. I'd see him [Larry] on several occasions, we used to hang out, with Joni. Larry used to be married to Joni Mitchell, as well as work with her. What I found, by working on this project, was that Larry also wrote some songs with Joni. So I thought, what better first person could I have than the ex-husband. [laughs] He knows so much about Joni and her music and the story behind her writing the songs.

AAJ: He helped in the songs you decided to select from that vast repertoire?

HH: Yeah. I really depended on Larry for that, because I was not that familiar with Joni's repertoire. Some of the highlights, but he knew more details about various songs. He made some initial suggestions as songs to look at. We started with some songs, then it grew and grew. Then we started honing in on certain ones.



We tried to have a selection process that was a natural one.

AAJ: The musicians, I know your association with them, Wayne and Dave and everybody else. You chose those guys when other people might have thought that you would have chosen people from the pop world or folk world, something that people assume in Joni's world.

HH: The reason I didn't do that is because I don't have to do that. [laughs] [Pop musicians] might be obvious choices, but then she's already done that. Why would I do the same things she's already done? What made sense to me that could be interesting—my foundation is in jazz and I'm recording it for Verve as my next jazz record. Why not have a context that's more associated with jazz. How would that work? That would be more of an interesting challenge. It would pretty much ensure that we wouldn't be re-inventing the wheel. You try and re-invent the wheel of songs that somebody not only wrote but they played on, and were an important part of the process of the sound of the record, the arrangements. I knew Joni was the source of those arrangements, from knowing her and how she involves herself in the music. She was certainly there to make so many of those decisions about how she wanted to be rendered. For her records.



I wanted to stay away from doing it the way she did it before. Because anybody can do that. Because it's my record, I wanted it to be that way that I can do it. I would think that would be interesting because people will be hearing many songs that they have familiarity with, but in different way or approach.

AAJ: I know you love harmonies and melodies, but you also said the lyrics were very important this time.

HH: My feeling was Joni's songs really stem from the lyrics. She's a poet first. The songs grow out of the poetry. I felt that if I really wanted to do justice to Joni's songs, I have to work from the lyrics first too. That is, in fact, what we did.



It was also an interesting challenge. I wasn't that familiar with the words to Joni's songs, because I wasn't that familiar with the words to any song. It's kind of difficult for jazz musicians to pay attention to the words. Not so much that it's avoidance. That's not what immediately attracts our attention and what draws us into a song. It's more the harmonies, the melodies, the rhythm that has a special function. And the textures that they use in an arrangement, but not the words.



But here, we had a golden opportunity of having a great poet and finally pay attention to the words. I thought that would be not only appropriate, but intriguing and interesting to the musicians who play the music. We went so far as to give copies of the words to everybody in the band before we even recorded the tracks. Then we'd go into the musician's booth and sit down and discuss the meaning of the lyrics. Larry knew the meaning of the lyrics and he and I had many discussions about the meaning of the words before we even got to the point of making the arrangements, much less recorded.

Herbie

We had those discussions on site, talking about even the environment of the lyrics and the characters that were depicted in the lyrics or in whatever scene it would be; whatever the environment would be for the music. I felt that this would give us not only focus on the words, but give each of us kind of a new source of influence in playing the music. There was something none of us were used to doing in that way. All the musicians loved the idea of discussing the words first and then going out and playing.



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