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Herbie Hancock: Inspired By the Written Word of a Friend

By Published: November 19, 2007

AAJ: The musical treatments you gave it jumped from the words through your musical experience and onto the page?

HH: Right. That was it. [chuckles]

AAJ: Interesting vocalists too. What was your thinking? Luciana Souza, of course, is in jazz. Leonard Cohen and Tina Turner I thought were more unusual for the project, but they worked out great.

HH: Thank you. Larry had told me that Joni's a big fan of Tina Turner ("Edith and the Kingpin ) and that Joni really liked Norah Jones ("Court and Spark ) too. Larry suggested that Corinne Bailey Rae ("River ) is the kind of singer Joni would like. Leonard Cohen was an influence on Joni early on. She has been a fan of his for many, many years.

AAJ: Yeah. He comes from that old folk music background.

HH: Yeah. And they're both Canadians. [Cohen] is one of Canada's cultural heroes. It made sense to have the opportunity to include him on the record. Luciana Souza—I think Joni had already heard Luciana and liked her. Actually, Luciana is Larry's wife. His present wife and Joni's his former wife. But they're all friends. Luciana's a pretty big fan of Joni's music. So she jumped at the chance.

AAJ: Luciana does work with other people's poetry as well, putting it to music.

HH: She's a very talented lady.

AAJ: I'm not going to jump on every song, but "Jungle Line, my goodness. It is so, so different than the original, but the contrast of your piano and the voice—it's stunning.

HH: That was Larry's idea. We were looking to do something non-standard. He thought that it might be a great idea, because of Leonard's voice, to have him do a spoken word. Larry had already heard me in the studio, when we were fooling around trying to look at Joni's words to songs and develop an approach to them that would be a more dramatic or cinematic approach. He heard how I was dealing with that and he thought that was pretty cool. His idea was to do a spoken word with my solo piano accompaniment—an improvised solo accompaniment. That's, in fact, what we did. It only took a couple takes to get it like that.

What I decided to do, because the phrase "jungle line comes up at the end of the verses... Recognizing that it's kind of a theme for the song, I decided the first thing I should do is figure out kind of a theme that captures the feeling of that jungle line. So I found something I felt would work and used that as a jumping off point for the rest of the conversation.

HerbieAAJ: "Nefertiti is also very unique. I saw you guys a couple years ago—you and David and Wayne—you were taking songs and really changing them. It sounds very much in that vein.

HH: Similar in?

AAJ: In the way you stretch it out.

HH: Yeah.

AAJ: And disguise the original vamp, coming from a different direction.

HH: Yeah. What we talked about, it was primarily Wayne's suggestion. We decided early on we didn't want to mess with the way we originally recorded it with Miles. That kind of stands on its own; we better find another direction. That's nothing to try to compete with. So, Wayne... we just sort of started painting pictures, in a way, through a musical dialog, and then slooowly work our way into the melody. At first, create a musical environment, and then, little by little, get to the melody. That's why it came out the way it did.

AAJ: With this album and your last one, Possibilities (Hear Music, 2005), you might hear diehard jazz fans grumble a little. Does that bother you? I know you got criticism in the late '60s as Miles' music started to change, and you were a part of that. Did you learn lessons from Miles in that regard, to not listen to the grumbling?

HH: Well, the only person sitting behind the piano is me. [laughs] They're sitting behind a piece of paper and a pen. I'm the one who makes the music. I have to be responsible for it. It's my vision, not theirs. Anybody can see the music any way they want to see it. That's their choice. My choice is to depict the music as I see it or as I hear it. That's all I need to do. Do I have to prove something to somebody at this point in my career? [chuckles] I don't think so.

Not that you ever have to prove something, but it's a process you go through at the beginning of your career. It's a natural process of establishing your identity, and also there's a sense of proving something, in a way. Usually there is that. Not with everybody, but with most artists there is that to go through. But later on, that ceases to be an issue.

I think in my case, people expect the unexpected anyway. It's not out of character for me to do something that they don't expect. It would be out of character for me to do something that they do expect. [laughs] It's a kind of weird way to look at it. [laughs]

But the thing is, it is all acoustic. Except for the electric guitar, but that's not something that's excluded from the concept of acoustic music. It is improvised and it's kind of open and free. I think one of the main differences is that there aren't solo spaces, per se, on the record. Yes, there is on the trio tune that we play, "Solitude, but for the most part on the record there are dialogs going on instead of individual solo spaces. That makes it a little different. I feel that's a very valid thing to do. Someone like Wayne Shorter, who really knows how to do that. He and I work together very well. And I think that kind of makes it interesting, not to have to depend on guy sticking out and everybody else in the background.

Herbie Hancock

I've already been to Europe, to London, Paris and Berlin. I've done a lot of interviews in those three cities and the response by those reviewers has been really tremendous. And with reviewers here in the States, the response has been tremendous. Many of them are from jazz publications.

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