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Artist Profiles

Herbie Hancock: Seven Decades of Imagination

By Published: June 21, 2010
Which brings Hancock to his newest album, The Imagine Project (Hancock Records/Red, 2010). It may be an even further departure from his jazz roots on the surface. Described by Hancock as "about peace through global collaboration," the pianist recorded a number of pop tunes with an international cast—Anoushka Shankar, Seal, Pink, Jeff Beck, Lionel Loueke
Lionel Loueke
Lionel Loueke
b.1973
guitar
, Ceu, Dave Matthews, Derek Trucks, Chaka Khan, The Chieftains, Oumou Sangare, Juanes—often in his guest's own locales, bringing him from Jacksonville to Paris to Mumbai to São Paolo. "My wish list was to be able to record various combinations of artists, Western artists combined with non-Western artists, and to do the recordings of the non-Western artists in their respective countries, ideally or close to it," Hancock said. "Because I really wanted to get the flavor of the culture and be surrounded by the atmosphere that bore that culture and the best way to do that is to be there. And just smell the smells, taste the food and be around the people."

Hancock was not necessarily very familiar with some of these artist's work and it is unclear how much the guests knew about his own background but as Hancock describes it, "it seemed they didn't have a problem agreeing to do the record so they must have not only known my name, they must have had a sense of my reputation being such that they wanted to be on the record... There are a lot of people in the pop and rock and roll fields that adore jazz. They may not play it themselves but when they get on the tour bus, that's the music they play on the tour bus. That is something that would surprise a lot of people."

Wayne Shorter
Wayne Shorter
Wayne Shorter
b.1933
saxophone
is also on the record, as he has been for many of Hancock's albums over the years. Even if there is no other 'jazz' musician on a Hancock date, it seems that Shorter is always included. Hancock explains it simply: "Wayne is unique first of all and secondly his intuition is uncanny. So no matter where you place Wayne, it'll work. So regardless of the different directions I go in, I put Wayne on there, without him changing from being himself, it'll still work. Somehow, it's like a great actor that finds the character within themselves. So he himself doesn't have to become someone he isn't. Wayne has the capacity to do that."

For Hancock, coincidence or serendipity or maybe even fate, played a big role in putting together The Imagine Project. "Oumou Sangare, who is from Mali, I didn't know of her music. When her name was mentioned, it just so happened that the previous Sunday, there was a big article in the Los Angeles Times about musicians from Mali that were influenced by the music from America, primarily the blues and r&b, which has its roots, not necessarily in Mali, but in the continent of Africa. ...So when Larry Klein, who brought her to my attention, mentioned her name, I had just read something about her. For me that was an indication that this was right. When things seem to converge together, things that look like coincidence... I don't believe in coincidence, I believe they mean something." And as far as facilitating all the travel necessary for the various recording sessions—Hancock financed the project himself and is releasing it on his own Hancock Records/Red imprint—luck played a role. "The first recording, we did it in India," Hancock said. "I was going to be in India anyway, so again this let me know that this was the right thing to do. And Chaka Khan was going to be in India anyway... One of the other recordings was made in Paris; it turned out that some of the African groups that we wanted to record were either in France or in Europe at the time and there was a window of opportunity to record them all in Paris and so we did that. And then we went to Dublin from Paris to record The Chieftains. It all just kind of worked out that way."

When asked about why he chose to take total control of the project as opposed to going the traditional route of label support, Hancock replied emphatically. "This is a new age now. There is no distinct model for the record business today. It's still in transition. And so if anything is a model, it's the idea that artists themselves are creating new ways of exposing their music to the public and generating record sales... The old model was the record label would front the money to the artists, temporarily because you pay it back to them through record sales...so basically they owned the pie and you'd get a piece of it. I'm tired of that ... I looked forward to the day that I was able not to be under the umbrella of a major label and I could actually own my own material, produce it with the people I want, when I want. Basically own myself and do what I want to do."


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