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A Fireside Chat With Herbie Hancock

By Published: January 22, 2003

HH: Well, we are all human beings, right? OK, we have the right to decide what we want to do with our lives, at least in theory. Our choice is our right and our privilege. To a certain extent, I have the eye of the public, to a certain degree, and perhaps the ear of the public. That is why I am on your show right now. So my feeling is since I have this opportunity that a lot of people don't have, I would prefer to take advantage of the opportunity to express things that I feel can be catalysts to inspire people to move forward and to bring out the best of what they have to offer. I have been practicing Buddhism for thirty years and the reason I practice this Buddhism. It is Nichiren Buddhism. I practice it because the philosophy is amazing. It is very open and it is very inclusive and doing the practice really helps me get a clearer vision of what it is that I need to do. The next thing is actually doing it, which takes strength and courage and wisdom and I hope to be able to develop those attributes along with others to help me be all that I can be and encourage everybody else to be all that they can be too.

FJ: The musical journey has advanced to the supreme tribute by a recording label, the box set. And Columbia/Legacy has recently issued your material via a four disc set and DVD ( Future to Future ), a testament to your musical legacy.

HH: Maybe it only says that I'm this old, Fred (laughing). That I have been around a long time (laughing). Future to Future, yes, that is a new DVD. Did you figure out how to open the CD box?

FJ: It didn't come with a manual, but I got the gist of it.

HH: (Laughing) Wow.

FJ: The shoe fits.

HH: (Laughing) Well, I'm very happy to have spent many years under, what was then, the Columbia Record label, which is now Sony. They are a class act, that is for sure. My relationship with that label began when I started with Miles Davis because Miles was on Columbia. Then I got to meet a lot of executives at the label and they were interested in me as the years went by. I was always attracted to that label and I spent many wonderful years making a lot of different records, records that I wanted to make with that label. I have been fortunate to have been in a position to pretty much do what I want and not have the concepts dictated to me. I think one of the reasons is because I try to keep an open viewpoint of the reality picture and the artistry picture and try to marry the two in some kind of way. I've done records from very far out stuff, my very first record was called Sextant and that was a pretty avant-garde kind of record and the next one was Headhunters, which was a pretty funky record, but at the same time, had some pretty advanced jazz stuff floating on top of these funky rhythms. That was my entry into the label and Headhunters was a huge album and Sextant was not. It is interesting to me that actually now, that record has come back. Sextant has come back and a lot of people who are into the new electronic music have told me that they were influenced by Sextant.

FJ: I have heard that praise in the DJ community for both Sextant and Thrust.

HH: Right, right, which, I had never thought that record would come back in any way, shape, or form. And here it has, that whole period. So I was very happy and very fortunate in being on that label and adding them to my resume. What is happening the back of my mind is the fact that at this point in time, the record business and next will be the film business, will not be what they have been because again, new technology bringing the possibility of people being able to download music for free. Napster pretty much started that and and some other entities. Actually, ten years ago, I was speaking to the label that I signed with at that time, which was Polygram, now owned by Universal. I am signed to Verve, which is part of that family. Anyway, I was just signing with them and I asked some of the executives if they had anybody at the label that was looking into the new technologies of new concepts and new ways to distribute music. They looked at me as if I was crazy. The answer is "no." They hired somebody to do that, but they never paid attention to this guy and later on, they let him go. If they had paid attention to it, the whole business that we are embarking on, this new scene for the record industry would be totally different. The record industry would have been the Napster. On the other hand, what has actually happened to is that a lot of indiscretions that I feel the record labels in general have been guilty of have now been exposed. So they haven't really been the good guys either. CDs are, at this point, you can get a hundred blank CDs for twenty-five dollars. Why are they charging eighteen, they are charging twenty dollars for those things. I told them about that before. Why are you charging so much money? They always came up with excuses and I didn't buy any of them. Now, it is all out in the open.

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