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Herbie Hancock: One World, One Music

By Published: June 21, 2010

AAJ: One of my favorite tracks is "A Change is Gonna Come," with James Morrison.

HH: Oh yeah...he did such a great job. You know, when we did that, he was in England and we made a track here in America, just piano, bass and drums. And because I didn't know how he was going to sing it, we already had the original version that Sam Cooke

Sam Cooke
Sam Cooke
1931 - 1964
did, so we made a very basic kind of track for him to sing over, and then we sent the track over the internet. They got it in the studio, he recorded it that day and then they sent it back over the internet that night. We got it, and man, we heard the vocal and it worked fine...but Larry Klein saw that maybe, now that we had the vocal, we could redo the track and open up the structure, so that it's not just a basic track and it has its own dimension to it. And I'm thinking "Hmmm...he sounds like a soul singer from Detroit!" [laughs] And if we open it up, is that gonna work? And it did, and I think it just gives the whole thing a whole kind of dimension that didn't have the other way. And the end of that piece is pretty far out [laughs].

That's the concept of the lyrics. The lyrics say that a change is gonna come...Well, that's what I wanted to do, to detect the idea of that change coming, and the band is getting more modern and more open and more like painting a landscape, you know? And I think it works. And we found the perfect drummer and the perfect bassist. Drummer Vinnie Colaiuta

Vinnie Colaiuta
Vinnie Colaiuta
, so tasteful! And Tal Wilkenfeld, the bassist on that track, from Australia, only 26 years old. So talented! She's got this command of the instrument and a beautiful, musical sense. And she's full of creative ideas; They're actually going to be in the touring band for this record.

AAJ: The first track of the album, "Imagine"—with the intro of Seal, Pink and yourself—and then the rest that comes after that, with India.Arie and everything else, I thought it was gorgeous.

HH: Ah, thank you. Pink and Seal sounded perfect for that intro. The sound that she gets and the sound that he gets, really worked; just the right elements...And then the rhythm comes in...and the rhythm section is a group from the Congo named Konono No 1, so we hear that, along with regular bass and regular drums, and then India, of course, comes in, and she puts her own signature on the lyrics. I never heard "Imagine" like that. I was very fortunate to be able to get very good people for that track too, like Marcus Miller

Marcus Miller
Marcus Miller
bass, electric
, Lionel Loueke
Lionel Loueke
Lionel Loueke

Then we had an afterthought of recording something else with Pink and Seal, and during the process, at the very end—because I had already played on the track—he was singing more complicated parts than what I had already played, so in a way they were disappointed, because they wanted to sing live with me. So finally, at the end, we were like, "How about we just make some introduction to "Imagine" and do it right?" And they said "Great!" So we did that in the studio, but my favorite piano brand, Fazioli—it's an Italian piano, and I think they make the finest pianos in the world—they didn't have one at the studio, so it didn't quite have the sound that I wanted. Afterwards, I went back and recorded it again in my own studio with my own piano, because I knew the sound of my piano was so much better. So that's what we wound up with. And we just spliced it together with the rhythm part of "Imagine," which I think worked very well.

AAJ: How was it to work with Larry Klein?

HH: It was great to work with Larry. He and I really saw eye-to-eye on the meaning and purpose of doing this project. When I explained it to him, he really wanted to be a part of it. He's a very broad-based producer, and he's produced a lot of singers. I haven't been on a lot of records with singers; in recent years I have been, but not so much before that; most of my records have been instrumental. So that was a plus for me. He's a lot more conscious of the lyrics than I am, although I'm learning that, because my last few records have been with singers, and I see the importance of it. This time I'm a lot more conscious of the meaning of the words when I'm playing, and to have that kind of planted in my ear. Also he's worked with musicians from around the world and his taste is very broad. So he did a lot of research in finding musicians from Congo and Mali.

He's the one that did the research to find these people, but what's interesting is that, at the same time he was getting this information together, there was an article in the Los Angeles Times about the new music of Mali, and that a lot of the newer musicians were influenced by American music—by the blues in particular, and R&B. The roots of American music started in Africa, and then it was created from the African-American experience, like an answer to a flavor, and then it evolved into various forms, with various influences, from blues to jazz, or rock n' roll. And then it went all the way back to Mali. So it's really interesting how that interconnectivity can manifest.

Selected Discography

Herbie Hancock, The Imagine Project (Verve, 2010)

Herbie Hancock, River: The Joni Letters (Verve, 2007)

Herbie Hancock, Possibilities (Hear Music, 2005)

Herbie Hancock, Directions in Music: Celebrating Miles Davis and John Coltrane (Verve, 2002)

Herbie Hancock, Future2Future (Transparent, 2001)

Herbie Hancock, Gershwin's World (Verve, 1998)

Herbie Hancock/Wayne Shorter, 1 + 1 (Verve, 1997)

Herbie Hancock, The New Standard (Verve, 1995)

Herbie Hancock, Dis Is Da Drum (Verve/Mercury, 1994)

Herbie Hancock, Perfect Machine (Columbia, 1988)

Herbie Hancock, Round Midnight (Columbia, 1986)

Herbie Hancock, Future Shock (Columbia, 1983)

Herbie Hancock, Mr. Hands (Columbia, 1980)

Herbie Hancock, VSOP: Live Under the Sky (Columbia, 1979)

Herbie Hancock, An Evening with Herbie Hancock & Chick Corea (Columbia, 1978)

Herbie Hancock, Thrust (Columbia, 1974)

Herbie Hancock, Head Hunters (Columbia, 1973)

Miles Davis, In a Silent Way (Columbia, 1969)

Herbie Hancock, Speak Like a Child (Blue Note, 1968)

Miles Davis, Nefertiti (Columbia, 1967)

Herbie Hancock, Maiden Voyage (Blue Note, 1965)

Miles Davis, Four and More (Columbia, 1964)

Miles Davis, Seven Steps to Heaven (Columbia, 1963)

Herbie Hancock, Empyrean Isles (Blue Note, 1963)

Herbie Hancock, Takin' Off (Blue Note, 1962)

Photo Credits

Page 1: Cees van de Ven

Page 2: Hans Speekenbrink

Page 3: Courtesy of 'StacheMedia

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