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Herbie Hancock At Chautauqua Auditorium


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Music is a conversation. It’s not English. It’s a world language that needs no translation.
—Herbie Hancock
Herbie Hancock
Chautauqua Auditorium
Boulder, CO
September 12, 2023

After Herbie Hancock and his quartet settled on the stage, a woman in the crowd yelled, "Nam Myoho Renge Kyo." It's a chant used in the practice of Nichiren Buddhism, which Hancock has said enhances his ability to improvise in his music. "That's the secret to a happy and fulfilling life," he responded.

The sold-out show in the historic Chautauqua Auditorium was filled with a mix of young University of Colorado (Boulder) students and seasoned jazz fans, all of whom seemed to be familiar with his vast catalog of recordings.

Outside the Auditorium, in the cooling evening mountain air, on blankets and in sleeping bags sprawled on the grass, were perhaps the even more faithful fans. The 125-year-old venue is part of a charming retreat at the foot of Boulder's Flatirons. There are visible gaps in the Auditorium's wood structure, that serve a dual purpose: fresh, cool, mountain air for the audience inside, and a way for the outdoor faithful to hear a great concert for free.

The 83-year-old jazz icon brought his four-piece band, featuring five-time Grammy winner and two-time Academy Award nominee, trumpet player Terrence Blanchard. When Blanchard takes center stage, he's joined on his left by former Saturday Night Live bassist James Genus, and the multi-talented West African guitarist Lionel Loueke. The youngest member of the group is drummer Jaylen Petinaud, who, while only in his twenties, is the driving force behind the musicians—so much so that a stagehand had to come out several times to secure his bass drum and cymbals from tipping off the riser.

Hancock announced they would start with an overture containing little bits and pieces of songs he's done over the years. "We just make stuff up like things and animals. We don't even know where it's going, but it'll end up in a nice place. It's a little bit weird, but I hope that's okay with you." The highly responsive crowd never hesitated to cheer their approval throughout the show.

Seated behind his Korg Kronos synthesizer, Hancock summoned pre-recorded voices and gasps in a rhythmic pattern, "Groove, unh, ahh, jay, swoosh, groove," before Blanchard kicked in with swirling funk and fusion melodies, and other bandmates smiled and shook their heads in amazement and appreciation.

"I think to myself while I'm playing, 'What would happen if I do this in front of hundreds of thousands of people?' You gotta try it and figure it out after that," explained Hancock after the 22- minute opening jam. "Music is a conversation. It's not English. It's a world language that needs no translation."

Next, Hancock paid tribute to his recently deceased friend Wayne Shorter with an updated version of "Footprints" that Blanchard arranged. Shorter, like Hancock, was also a practicing Buddhist. "The last thing he said was, 'It looks like I need a new body to complete the mission,' before chanting Nam Myoho Renge Kyo and leaving this planet," recalled Hancock in a touching moment.

Hancock then reached back to the seventies with "Actual Proof" from 1974's Thrust, followed by "Come Running to Me" from Sunlight(1978). Loueke and Genus took stunning solos, often relying on their peddle effects for various melodic phrases. Loueke often tapped strings and produced clicking vocal sounds, a technique he learned from studying tapes of South African musicians. Hancock calls him a musical painter. Genus' bass notes often thundered like a mighty storm across the Flatirons.

At the end of "Come Running to Me," Hancock sung into a special microphone, and with the help of the Vocoder, improvised a sort of sermon with a synthesized robotic voice. At times, specific words were hard to decipher, but phrases like, "If you weren't important, you would've never been born," and "We're all part of one family because COVID taught me that" were clear enough to make out.

The crowd-favorite "Cantaloupe Island" energized the audience. A young woman in the front row jumped up from her seat to join a group of dancers who had gathered just right of the stage. Not only was she an excellent dancer, but she organized the gaggle of aisle-dancing fans into a conga line that paraded around the midsection of the venue up toward the stage. Hancock noticed and smiled as some momentarily turned and paused for a quick selfie with him behind.

Hancock and his quartet received several sincere standing ovations throughout the evening's impressive performance and the audience remained on their feet as Herbie strapped on his keytar for the closer "Chameleon."


Overture; Footprints (Wayne Shorter cover); Actual Proof; Come Running to Me; Herbie's Sermon; Secret Sauce; Cantaloupe Island; Chameleon.

Related Photos

Courtesy Katharina Frim, KMF Photos

Courtesy Katharina Frim, KMF Photos

Courtesy Katharina Frim, KMF Photos

Courtesy Katharina Frim, KMF Photos

Courtesy Katharina Frim, KMF Photos

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